When terrorists struck America on Sept. 11, 2001, they hoped to make that day synonymous with despair, defeat and surrender. But as they always do in the wake of tragedy, Americans emerged only more resolved to defend their way of life.
Part of the American way of life is looking out for each other, which is the idea behind the Day of Remembrance and Service. Thousands of nonprofits, schools, civic and church groups across the nation will spend this Wednesday remembering that somber day while bringing great joy to others through service work.
In Florida, Leon County Volunteer Services will mark the day by celebrating the completion of several home repair projects for disabled veterans at a program featuring former Gov. Bob Martinez at the Florida State University School of Law in Tallahassee. Tallahassee Fuller Center for Housing volunteers are among those who have rolled up their sleeves to make this effort a success.
Of course, the Tallahassee Fuller Center does such projects year-round but volunteers were excited that their work on Vietnam veteran Sherman Stevens’ home would be included as a Day of Service and Remembrance project. Volunteers have been repairing a leaky roof and widening the front door and other doorways to make them accessible for Steven’s wheelchair. They also have repaired drywall and ceilings damaged by leaks and installed new windows.
“It’s an honor,” volunteer Matt Pellegrino said. “The men and women who serve deserve all of our respect. I remember the days when vets were coming home from Vietnam and were treated so poorly. I just was astounded even back then as a young person. It’s heartwarming to see the reception that our vets are getting these days. Again, they deserve every bit of it. To be able to serve on this project for a disabled veteran is very, very special.”
Stevens is not the only veteran on the work site. Veterans also are among the volunteers — including two retired colonels.
“It’s more fun than a lot of other things I could be doing,” said retired Army Col. Dr. Jim Varley. “I really enjoy it. Mr Stevens is a typical retired Army NCO (noncommissioned officer). He uses few words and says what he means. It’s a real pleasure to be able to help him out.”
Stevens may be a man of few words, but one of them — “blessed” — he uses repeatedly when talking about the work of the Tallahassee Fuller Center.
“I feel blessed, I feel blessed,” Stevens said. “The motto is: Everybody take care of their own. I feel blessed that they’re good enough to come out and do this for me because I need it. And with my situation, I can’t afford repairs. I’m feeling real blessed right now that I can get this done.”
Retired Air Force Col. Norman Mears echoed the theme of taking care of one’s own. He said that working to help Stevens is all about family — the military family.
“Anytime you can help anybody, it’s a great feeling,” Mears said. “But if you can help a veteran that is handicapped as this one is, that’s special. You feel like you’re helping them still be part of the family. We always considered ourselves in the service a family, an extended family. All of the veterans are a part of that family.”