Military veteran with special needs children receives home repairs from volunteers
JENISON, MI — A local veteran was gifted thousands of dollars in repairs and additions at her Jenison home where she lives with her four children.
The work done on Friday, Nov. 8, included painting a wheelchair ramp to make it less slippery in the winter, landscaping, yard cleanup – including the removal of a dead tree in the front yard – and the construction of raised garden beds, hammock tree stations, birdhouses, a shed, a patio, a fire pit, a clothesline, a new front storm door, a sliding barn door in her living room and a flagpole in the front yard.
Brandi Secrist, who served as a military police officer from 2006 to 2010, said a local restaurant – The Win Tavern 33 – adopted her family last Christmas and gave the family members presents for the holidays. That’s how organizers at The Home Depot found out about her and decided to give her more.
Each year, The Home Depot Foundation gifts a number of veterans various home repairs and organizes and supplies the funding, tools and volunteers needed for the project. The work at Secrist’s home was among those completed Friday in West Michigan.
“This year, our mission was really to celebrate the spirit of our veterans by surprising them with life-changing moments,” said Jana Vugteveen, Grandville Home Depot store manager.
For Secrist, the repairs really are life changing. She lives and stays home with her two youngest – Lincoln, 4, who has high-functioning autism, and Logan, 3, who has cerebral palsy, is blind and uses a wheelchair.
Her two oldest are Krishtian, 11, and Ella, 9.
“I feel like we’ve moved on, but we’re still struggling,” Secrist said. “We can’t really go anywhere on vacation because of the needs of the special needs kids, it’s just too much. So we try to create our home to be that oasis where we can camp out in our backyard and things like that.”
Vugteveen said the entire project at the home cost more than $10,000 and included a gifted snowblower and grill that was given to Secrist earlier this year.
“It makes it feel like home,” Secrist said. “I have to grow vegetables for my youngest son because he can’t eat food normally… The (hammock) swings and stuff that they’re donating, I’ll be able to sit with him in that swing and get that vestibular therapy that he needs, so he can get out and enjoy his day, too, and his environment.”
Vietnam veteran John Niedema of Kentwood was the second recipient of home repairs Friday. Volunteers installed a new wheelchair ramp, back deck, front screen door, repairs done to the garage door and general yard cleanup. That project also cost more than $10,000 and was a partnership with Senior Neighbors, a nonprofit servicing seniors in the West Michigan community.
The project at Secrist’s home was in partnership with the Heart of West Michigan United Way, a nonprofit that works to reduce poverty. Both home projects were funded by grants from The Home Depot Foundation.
“To be able to support veterans in the community and give back is so important and we hope it inspires other people maybe to do some more things,” said Maribeth Groen, marketing manager for the West Michigan United Way.
All 75 of the volunteers deployed on Friday were employees from Home Depot, community members and local veterans, United Way volunteers and local contracting companies.
“We know that veterans are one group of people that don’t ask for help and some of those really need our help,” Vugteveen said. “We have to be one united front to help in giving back to these veterans.”
Next year, The Home Depot and the West Michigan United Way will do another service project for veterans called Operation United. The first of its kind was last year and helped provide home repairs for 23 veterans. Applications for that will be open in February 2020.