Teaming up to give a wounded veteran a home

  • Written by Jean Parietti
  • Published in Local

Holy Disciples parishioners swung hammers on Saturdays to refurbish an aging mobile home for an Iraq veteran and his family

By Jean Parietti

When Holy Disciples parishioner Al Drake learned that his neighbor wanted to donate a vacant mobile home to a wounded veteran, he thought refurbishing the property would be a perfect project for his parish.

Wade Wentz works on the window trim of a mobile home in Graham
Wade Wentz of Holy Disciples Parish in Puyallup works on the window trim of a mobile home in nearby Graham that was given to Army veteran Robert Ball and his family. Parishioners spent weeks refurbishing the home, which was donated by the owner. Photo: Stephen Brashear

He approached the parish discipleship council about sponsoring the remodel. “I think they hesitated maybe 10 seconds,” Drake said.

After several months of planning and weekend work parties to do everything from insulating to remodeling the master bathroom,  Army veteran Robert Ball, his wife, Briahna and their year-old daughter, Brylee, moved into the three-bedroom, two-bath home in March.

When the couple first saw the home in December, there was still a lot to be done, and Ball was worried there would be no one to help him finish all the projects.

“To say the least I was proved wrong on that,” said Ball, who was injured in Iraq and now serves in the National Guard. “The house looks great. It’s awesome.”

The project was a natural fit for Holy Disciples, said Father Matthew O’Leary, pastor of the 1,000-family parish.

“The parish has traditionally a deep commitment to outreach of various kinds, and a deep sense of the importance of activating the social teachings of the church,” he said. In addition, “we have a significant sense of the importance of those in the military. At least 20 percent of our parishioners are off-base housing of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and a lot of people are retired military,” Father O’Leary explained.

“With so many veterans, especially wounded service personnel, returning to lost jobs, lost homes, lost relationships, financial ruin … this is a most worthy endeavor,” he said. “It’s at least a way for us to reach out a hand.”

Glad to give back
The military also has a special meaning for Drake: His father served in World War II, his brother in Vietnam, a nephew in Afghanistan. But when Drake graduated from high school, Grenada was the conflict of the day.

Father Matthew O’Leary blesses the new home of Robert and Briahna Ball and their daughter Brylee
Father Matthew O’Leary, pastor of Holy Disciples Parish in Puyallup, blesses the new home of Robert and Briahna Ball and their daughter Brylee. At left is Al Drake, the Holy Disciples parishioner who spearheaded his parish’s project to refurbish the donated home for a wounded veteran. Photo: Stephen Brashear.

“That wasn’t a big enticement to enlist in the Army,” he said. “I always felt I haven’t done my duty, you might say, so I’m glad to have an opportunity to do something (to give back).”

Giving back to veterans was also the wish of 82-year-old Marge Hobble when she found herself with a vacant mobile home — the one next door to Drake’s — after her daughter moved to California.

“All the family decided, why don’t we just gift it to a wounded warrior?” Hobble said. “We just wanted to have this represent a giving to all the veterans who have given to all of us.”

She was glad to accept Drake’s offer to help with the project, and plans for refurbishing the aging mobile home began taking shape late last summer.

“He took over, and of course he did far more than what I expected him to do,” Hobble said.

“Al is a heroic guy,” Father O’Leary said. “He’s just got a wonderful passion. It’s absolutely about helping people. He’s just full of spirit and cares about people.”

Team effort
Holy Disciples allocated more than $3,500 to buy supplies needed for the home, while businesses and individuals donated more than $4,200 in materials and cash, Drake said.

A core of about 16 parishioners — many of them Drake’s fellow Knights of Columbus members — worked on the home nearly every Saturday for more than three months.

New subfloor, insulation and drywall were installed. The bathrooms and laundry room were refurbished and the home got new upper kitchen cabinets, an entry door, carpeting, a fresh coat of interior paint, and a pressure-washing to clean the exterior.

Mike Hodson, a member of the parish discipleship council, said a couple of parishioners worked with local businesses to secure donations, such as a washer-dryer set for the home.

A major difference
While work progressed on the home, Hobble and Drake were working with Operation Home Front, a nonprofit that helps troops, veterans and their families, to find a wounded veteran family that could meet the mobile home park’s minimum credit-score requirement. Finally, the Balls were approved by the park.

The gift of the home is making a major difference to the couple, who are saving every penny possible in anticipation of heart surgery their daughter needs.

“Our monthly rent went down from $800 to $450 a month,” for the mobile home park fee, Ball said. “That’s saving us $375 a month” that is going into their daughter’s savings account.

On April 13, the parish will gather after the 5 p.m. Mass to meet the Balls and give thanks to all those who contributed to the project with their hard work, donations and prayer.

“There’s so much I want to tell them about how much this has meant to me and my family,” Ball said.

Al Drake
Al Drake cuts a hole in the floor so a new bathtub can be installed. Photo: Stephen Brashear.

More projects ahead
Now that the renovation work is completed, Holy Disciples may take on additional projects to provide homes for veterans.

“I think there’s momentum,” Father O’Leary said. “Our intention would be to do it again, to kind of have this be a part of our ongoing ministry,” he said.

Hodson sees an opportunity for the parish to spread its message of discipleship and stewardship.

“The more involved we become with local business, the more the message is that we’re doing things for the community and just not our local parish,” he said. “You’ve got to walk the walk.”

Hobble said she has been amazed at the generosity of all those involved in the project.

“The honor goes to all the people who have been so open and giving,” she said. “This whole thing has been really a blessing. It was just a work of love and caring by the community, which is really what America is all about.”

April 11, 2013