Photo: Mayor Toby Barker of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, talks with Team Depot volunteers who have partnered with the city as part of Celebration of Service to repair the home of a local Vietnam Veteran.
Since 2002, September 11th has been recognized as a National Day of Service. The day is set aside to honor what happened in the face of the horror and tragedy that Tuesday morning in 2001, when the nation rallied in service to each other, illustrating that our unity is part of our national strength.
Unfortunately, today our nation finds itself even more divided politically, economically, and geographically than in the past. Despite these divisions, there are moments – like September 11th — when these divisions temporarily fade away.
In an effort to build and expand a sense of community unity, cities across the country are rallying around a population that we must support: our veterans.
Building on the progress being made to end Veteran homelessness, seven cities are partnering with the National League of Cities (NLC), Purple Heart Homes (PHH), and The Home Depot Foundation to improve coordination and collaboration in support of home repairs and modifications for senior and disabled Veterans.
Participating cities include Rochester, New York; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Tacoma, Washington.
In each of these cities, local officials are bringing together area credit unions, non-profits like the Area Agency on Aging and Community Action Agency, as well as federal partners at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to improve the homes of more than a dozen Veterans and ensure they can safely access their homes and age in place.
One of the Veterans selected for the home improvements is Jerry Holliman from Hattiesburg, Missouri.
In 1970, Jerry Holliman volunteered to serve in Vietnam at a time when nearly all military personnel were drafted. Mr. Holliman served as a squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division over in Vietnam. Later, he was stationed across the globe, including in Egypt and Iraq. Mr. Holliman participated in 37 convoy missions in Iraq from 2004 and 2005, and he ultimately achieved the rank of Master Sergeant. In 2010, he was honorably discharged.
“I served for the flag. The flag is the only thing that unites us as a people,” says Mr. Holliman.
After so many years of service, Mr. Holliman sustained an array of service-connected disabilities. Exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam led to three types of cancers, diabetes and gout in his hands. He is unable to give himself insulin injections because of his hands.
In Iraq, Mr. Holliman was involved in a mortar explosion that resulted in his entire body being injured. On top of the physical injuries, the transition to civilian life wasn’t any easier.
As he describes it, “There was no cool down period once you left the military. You return to society in the middle of a fever pitch.”
In the beginning of 2017, a tornado took out the central air conditioning in his home. His limited mobility made dealing with the Mississippi heat extremely difficult.
Through the city’s collaboration, Mr. Holliman has had a new central air conditioner installed, as well as a wheelchair ramp, and will soon have a new garage door opener to help him move more easily in and out of his home. Thanks to support from the Hattiesburg Fire Department and area police, Mr. Holliman’s property received upkeep and in the coming weeks, it is anticipated that additional work will be performed on his home’s soffit and fascia board.
Financial support for the project was provided by The Home Depot Foundation, which has committed a quarter of a billion dollars for Veteran-related causes. In addition, Keesler Federal Credit Union, committed resources to help cover skilled labor costs.
In marking the National Day of Service at a celebration earlier this week, Hattiesburg mayor, Toby Barker noted, “It is not enough to remember where we were then. It is not enough to reflect on where we are today. We must ask ourselves how we will all now live and what actions we will take of active gratitude and service.”
More on the work in Hattiesburg can be seen here, with additional information found at www.nlc.org/veteranshousing.
About the author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the principal associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter @HarigBlaine.