Rufus Shannon Jr. served in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1974. Years later, to continue serving his country and community, Shannon joined American Legion Post 77 in St. Louis and became a post service officer.
In a fitting bit of karma, several members of the St. Louis community came together to serve Shannon on Veterans Day this year, providing thousands of dollars in renovations to his home. Employees from area Home Depot stores representing Team Depot spent hours working in Shannon’s home, painting, putting in new kitchen cabinets and a sink, replacing his front door, laying down new carpet and doing other valuable renovations to the Legionnaire’s home. A future renovation will focus on repairing Shannon’s roof.
“It’s a blessing,” said Shannon, 62. “It reinforces your values. It reinforces the goodness in people. As far as the house and the material things, that’s cool. But just watching these guys work and do a good job, having a good time, helping somebody else – that’s a lot more. It means a lot for them to come here and do this – not just for me, but for veterans.”
During the Legion’s 2014 National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., the Home Depot Foundation announced it was dedicating $1 million for American Legion projects, working through Team Depot, an army of some 350,000 employees and volunteers throughout the country.
Shannon’s home was one of five veterans’ homes being renovated on Veterans Day. In 2013, 28 homes were renovated; another 20 are expected to undergo similar renovations this spring. More than 100 area Home Depot employees used their day off to volunteer for the five projects.
“Personally, it’s the most amazing experience,” said Steven Esparza, a Home Depot district manager who headed up the day’s events. “If you think about the effect you have on homeowners and the lives they’re living,
"When you go into the home and you see how their living every day, and they’re still smiling, still happy to be alive, happy to be in their own home,” Esparza said. “They want to stay there. And that’s kind of what our understanding is: How do we keep them in their home?They just need some help."
Esparza said it's easy to develop a rapport with and get to know the veterans they are helping.
“What’s greater is when they’re watching you (work) and they’re happy and you’re having a conversation, they end up telling you stories about the wars they might have been in, the situations they might have been in, and then you really get that emotional connection,” he said.
The veterans, including Shannon, applied through Rebuilding Together-St. Louis. “It’s a wonderful thing that Home Depot does,” said Dave Ervin, ambassador for Rebuilding Together-St. Louis. “You’ve got people who are really having trouble in their homes. You’ve got veterans who can’t keep up, either financially or physically or both. So what Home Depot does is they go into these homes and make people safe, dry and comfortable in their homes. It’s a terrific thing.”
Kirk Ames, manager of Home Depot’s Wentzville, Mo., store and team captain for the renovations at Shannon’s home, was a self-proclaimed military brat. His father is an Army retiree who served in the Vietnam War; Ames grew up on military bases.
“This means a lot to me personally,” Ames said. “I’ve known a lot of soldiers and seen what that does. There’s a lot of guys who carry stuff with them their whole life. If we can do something nice for them … if I can do this, that at least makes me feel like we can give something back. It’s the least we can do.”
In addition to the Home Depot employees, local contractors A-B Contracting Inc. and Superior Flooring volunteered their time at Shannon’s home. “They rearranged their schedule so they could be there today,” Ames said. “Pretty cool deal with them.”
Courtney Smith, a Home Depot Foundation specialist who works in Atlanta and helps support Team Depot’s efforts in 27 states, was on hand for the St. Louis projects. She said Home Depot’s efforts is a perfect example of veterans helping veterans.
“We have over 40,000 (employees) who are veterans throughout the U.S.,” Smith said. “This is something that is personal for our associates. It was a natural fit for us. We feel as though a veteran has touched someone at some point in their life. All of us have been affected. It’s a common thread within our company to help and support veterans.”
Monica Claus-Heseman spent part of the day painting several rooms in Shannon’s home. An employee at Home Depot for 13 years, she’s done "four or five" previous Team Depot renovation projects. “It’s very rewarding,” she said. “It’s a good reason and a good cause. It’s rewarding knowing who we help.”
Jessica Conner, program director for Rebuilding Together-St. Louis, stopped by Shannon’s home to check on the veteran and the progress on his home. She also had a message. “There’s a huge need out there, but we need to get the word out,” she said. “We need our veterans to apply. We have funding available. We have awesome volunteers. We’re ready to go.”
Shannon is looking at having both hip and knee surgery next year, which would make doing the renovations on his home himself almost impossible.
“What these guys are doing saving me years, saved me some pain because I can’t move like them,” he said. “The costs of putting a kitchen together, carpet, repainting … this is thousands of dollars. It’s a nice house, and I’m going to pay it forward like I’m supposed to do.”