By Dana Delgado
BERTRAM — This was a day Shirley Wright was beginning to think was never going to come.
The Army veteran, who suffers from lupus, has had to huddle in small make-shift quarters with her two young adopted granddaughters and her daughter braving Texas’ brutally hot summers and the cold of winter for the past 15 years.
A small, barren, ill-equipped wood shed with only one bed has been home for the last several years. Before that, an old ramshackle mobile home and a moldy mobile home found abandoned on the premises when Ms. Wright first purchased the property on the outskirts of downtown Bertram provided shelter for her family.
“I came so close to throwing in the towel,” a teary-eyed but feisty Wright said. “But I’m a fighter.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 23, the former Army vocational nurse saw her seemingly unending struggle come to an end as trucks made the dramatic turn onto her property with a special delivery.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Don Bebee, owner of Liberty Buildings in Liberty Hill, and the commitment of Home Depot to assist veterans for their service and sacrifices, two pre-constructed modular sections were delivered. The buildings were fused together to form her new four-bedroom, two-bath home.
Over the next few days, local and corporate volunteers from Home Depot and the Home Depot Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, as well as volunteers from Heroes Night Out, a regional non-profit veterans support organization, descended on Bertram to completely outfit the home of the 64-year-old, 18-year Army veteran.
Outfitting included the installation of drywall, flooring, insulation, cabinets, wiring and plumbing. The home will be painted and a new air conditioning system will be installed. The new structure increases her living space from 288 square feet to 1,472 square feet.
The support came as a result of The Home Depot Foundation’s third annual “Celebration of Service,” a national initiative conducted Sept. 11 through Veterans Day to honor veterans for their military service and sacrifices with support addressing their particular home needs. Ms. Wright was nominated for the program by Bebee, who befriended her when she was considering purchasing some buildings.
Throughout Celebration of Service, Home Depot associates will complete 350 service projects nationwide to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home. Women veterans and families of those who serve are faced with many housing challenges, and the risk of women veterans becoming homeless is four times greater than for male veterans. Celebration of Service is one of the many ways The Home Depot Foundation addresses these challenges and supports the nation’s heroes.
With a smile from ear to ear, repeated expressions of thanks, hugs and a well of tears, Ms. Wright watched as the home she had longed for finally took shape.
“Finally, we’re going to have a home, a real home,” said an emotional Ms. Wright. “I can’t believe it. I am so thankful for this blessing. I can’t believe what they do for veterans.”
Unsure it was real and not a dream, Ms. Wright’s adult daughter Rene Collette wandered outside early in the morning with a flashlight to inspect the new home and to make sure she hadn’t imagined it.
“It’s awesome,” Rene said. “My mother has always deserved her own home. She asked for help and asked for help and nobody helped until she met Don Bebee. He’s been terrific.”
As volunteers worked about the new home, Bebee, who championed the support for Ms. Wright, walked feverishly about the homesite making sure everything was being addressed. He conferred regularly with Home Depot District Team Captain Mike Reichert, Home Depot Team Captain Jeff Edwards, and Coordinator Wes Pierce of Heroes Night Out.
Heroes Night Out connects veterans with their entire community and networks with local and nationally recognized businesses to make sure they show appreciation and support for veterans and their families. Their Resource Center is fully equipped with a Veterans Claims Specialist, a VA Home Loan Consultant, Counselors, Military veteran Peer to Peer specialists and other convenient veteran-friendly services.
Meanwhile, Ms. Wright’s rescue horses, spooked at first, curiously looked on while her adopted orphaned dogs barked wondering about all the goings-on. Granddaughter Marissa got a glimpse atop one of the rescue horses while her sister Cailyn took notice of all the activity while petting and leading one of the horses around the new home. Shirley led many a tour of her new home for all of the visitors and media representatives.
With all the activity, Ms. Wright and her family could only watch in awe with much disbelief in their fortuitous opportunity and looked ahead with much anticipation of their new home’s finish.
“I’ve always wanted my very own gingerbread house,” said Ms. Wright. “Now I have my very own.”
“My mom’s had the happiest look on her face,” said daughter Rene. “It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve seen my mom smile. We’ve struggled for so long.”
“We’re grateful we had the opportunity to work with Ms. Wright for all her service and sacrifices,” said Kendall McCarthy, Corporate Director of Programs for the Home Depot Foundation. “She is quite a remarkable woman with such a compelling story and a very deserving veteran.”