RUSKIN – A $20,000 infusion of cash from The Home Depot Foundation and volunteer help from employees of 10 area Home Depot stores are moving My Warrior’s Place one step closer to completion.
The Ruskin retreat was founded by Kelly Kowall last fall to provide respite and support for veterans or active duty members of the military suffering the loss of a brother in arms. Kowall lost her only son, Army Spec. Corey Kowall, on Sept. 20, 2009 when he was killed in Afghanistan during a vehicle rollover caused by an improvised explosive device. Her grief was devastating, she said, but working through it led her to start My Warrior’s Place and the Project Corregidor grief and peer mentoring program, both to honor her son’s memory and help others deal with loss.
Thus far, with help from private donations and volunteer groups from organizations like Keller Williams Realty, Calvary Lutheran and Sun City Center United Methodist churches and the Nam Knights, Kowall has cleaned up the grounds and refurbished two houses and five trailers on a 1.7-acre property at 101 22nd St. S.E. on the Little Manatee River. Four of the five trailers are now being rented, and the funds are being used to pay down the property note and utilities.
The fifth trailer, by far the largest, will undergo a complete renovation during the month of September to be used primarily for grief and peer mentoring. Sun City Center Howie’s Plumbing , Mike O’Dell Electric - Riverview, and Dansco Engineering - Apollo Beach, will do preliminary work at no charge before Team Depot volunteers arrive Sept. 23-27 to provide labor for hanging drywall, painting, laying the floor and installing insulation.
“We certainly couldn’t think of a better cause,” said Kevin Kerlow of Sun City Center Howie’s Plumbing, whose employees will be putting in new drains, water pipes, pressure lines and sinks. “We’re not only helping our veterans but also My Warrior’s Place, which is part of the community.”
The Home Depot Foundation grant is paying for all materials and supplies.
Founded in 2002 the foundation is the philanthropic arm of the company, said spokeswoman Catherine Woodling.
Originally its focus was providing healthy, affordable and environmentally friendly homes for low-income families through nonprofit organizations. The goal was to build 100,000 homes in 10 years. But that was achieved in late 2010, and the foundation began searching for another goal.
“As we began looking at what our next focus would be, we saw there was a huge glut of new, vacant homes and homes needing major modifications,” Woodling said. “So we decided not to build new; we would modify and renovate. And when we looked at population groups most in need we kept coming back to veterans. The statistics were too large to ignore.”
As a result The Home Depot Foundation made a commitment of $80 million over five years to provide grants for veterans through national groups like Habitat for Humanity and Volunteers of America and local groups like VFWs, American Legions and My Warrior’s Place to provide safe, accessible and comfortable homes for veterans.
And there’s more.
“We don’t just make the commitment in dollars,” Woodling said. “We also commit the hands-on service of our store associates,” who are called Team Depot.
More than 60 Team Depot volunteers from local stores in Sun City Center/Ruskin, Riverview, Brandon, New Tampa and Valrico and from as far away as Lake Wales, north and south Lakeland, Winter Haven and Sebring will participate.
Woodling said the foundation’s new focus resonates well with employees, since 35,000 associates of The Home Depot are veterans, and 1,500 are on active duty.
“It means so much to me that so many people are willing to step up to get this building completed and make My Warrior’s Place special for our veterans and military service members,” Kowall said. “I’m especially grateful to The Home Depot. Without its support we definitely would not have been able to do this.”
If you’d like to lend a hand, call Kowall at (813) 321-0880. For more information, visit www.mywarriorsplace.com.