Author: Allison Stevens | October 30, 2023
On a crisp Thursday morning in late September, William Johnson, 89, looked on as a crew of volunteers gathered at his beloved red-brick home in Arlington, Va., where he has lived for over 5 decades.
Johnson—a Veteran who served in the U.S. National Guard and Army in the 1950s—moved into the right half of the “side-by-side” duplex back in 1966, not long after he and his late wife, Daisy, had tied the knot. The couple rode the ups and downs of life together from their cozy colonial until Daisy passed away a couple of years ago. They raised a daughter, who now lives down the street. They were active members in a local church, where Johnson once served as the congregation’s deacon. And, they devoted their professional lives to nursing care and patient services at nearby Virginia Hospital Center, just across the river from the nation’s capital.
As the years passed, Johnson’s sturdy home needed some standard upkeep—paint was beginning to peel, window screens were tearing, a closet door wasn’t closing properly. Railings leading to the basement were too low, and loose cinderblocks served as steps to the back parking area. Johnson, who uses a cane to walk, had fallen a couple of times. Now nearing 90, he’s unable to make the repairs himself and, as a retiree on a fixed income, can’t afford to hire professional contractors to do the work.
In short, living at home was no longer safe, but, after nearly a lifetime there, moving wasn’t a realistic option—nor a good one.
Enter Rebuilding Together, a national nonprofit that makes home repairs for those in need, and Navy Federal Credit Union, which serves military communities and embraces and encourages service among its nearly 25,000 employees. In particular, Navy Federal supported Veterans at Home, a Rebuilding Together program that provides no-cost preventive home modifications for Veterans, many of whom face housing accessibility challenges due to disabilities connected with their military service.
“We’re going to be like soldiers today and work hard,” Patti Klein, executive director Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church in Virginia, told more than a dozen Navy Federal volunteers in Johnson’s front yard. “We’re going to get dirty, and we’re going to get sweaty, but we’re going to get a lot done.”
And so they did.
Together, Navy Federal volunteers and staff of Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church spent their workday not at their desks but rather checking off a long list of jobs involving carpentry, landscaping, painting and more.
The highlight: hanging a bright, new, starch-stiff American flag in place of a faded one that had been on the shed in the back patio for 2 decades—not far from several other star-spangled banners flanking the property. Johnson paused, looked up at the new flag and shared how proud he was to serve his country.
Johnson’s home is one of three that Navy Federal employees are providing safe and health home repairs for this season in partnership with Rebuilding Together.
In Atlanta, more than 20 Navy Federal and Rebuilding Together staff spent a day with a homeowner who served 2 decades in the U.S. Marine Corps. While at her home, they built and planted flower beds, repaired siding and gutters, installed a handrail along the driveway, fixed a leaky water pipe and worked alongside a contractor who installed a walk-in tub. In Dallas, meanwhile, Navy Federal volunteers worked on the home of a disabled Veteran of the U.S. Navy, where they installed a handrail, painted, landscaped and more.
And that’s just this fall.
Navy Federal’s partnership with Rebuilding Together goes back some 2 decades—and is especially strong in Northern Virginia, home of the credit union’s headquarters. The first joint project took place in 2000 on National Rebuilding Day—a Saturday in April when volunteers across the nation come together to repair homes of those in need, including Veterans and low-income seniors. The partnership grew to 2 projects a year and now stands at 3, at least one of which aims to support a Veteran.
“We have a long history together,” Klein told the crowd that Thursday morning. “Thank you for sticking with us, seeing it through and helping us expand it.” The partnership reflects a shared commitment to strength, safety and security, she added, noting that she too has a deep connection to military communities, having spent her early years on a Naval base in Japan and her high school years at an Army base in Germany. She assured the crowd that she loves both branches equally.
Sun Bayless, senior vice president of Real Estate Lending at Navy Federal—and a volunteer herself, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt—echoed the point.
“We believe in coming together for the community and for people who have served our military and our country, and this really embodies that,” she told her fellow Navy Federal volunteers. “We’re ready to roll up our sleeves.”
And with that, the senior veep grabbed a scraper and began chipping away at peeling paint on Johnson’s front railing.
10,000+ Hours of Service
All told, Navy Federal has supported some 30 projects with Rebuilding Together. In addition to 4 low-income homeowners in the area, Navy Federal volunteers have helped refurbish 26 nonprofit organizations, several of which serve the many Veterans in the area. In 2015, Navy Federal worked at the United Service Organization (USO) Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, which serves injured and ill soldiers and Veterans, families and caregivers (and is the largest USO in the world).
One of the more memorable projects took place at the home of a Veteran who was paralyzed after a fall from a ladder. After a long stay in the hospital, the Veteran was eager to go home—but he couldn’t do so until accommodations were made. Navy Federal employees, Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church and the man’s family got to work—and he arrived home from the hospital to a newly retrofitted home. At one point, the family raised the American flag and began singing the National Anthem. “It was so beautiful,” Klein recalled. “It really gave this family community again.”
Because Navy Federal volunteers respond to calls for volunteers in droves, Klein often steers them to larger projects. Over the years, Navy Federal volunteers have fixed up buildings housing nonprofits that address everything from safe housing to food insecurity.
All told, Navy Federal has sent 1,450 volunteers—including President and CEO Mary McDuffie—to Rebuilding Together projects and has contributed more than 10,000 hours of volunteer service—for an estimated value of $380,700. Much of the work—a key team-building opportunity—takes place during workdays, and many Navy Federal staff use paid leave to participate. Indeed, Navy Federal empowers its employees to champion their communities by providing 8 hours of paid volunteer leave annually through its Operation: Give Back program. In 2022, employees served nearly 37,000 hours of paid volunteer leave—and they’re poised to exceed those numbers this year.
The work has “ripple effects” throughout the community, Klein said. “It’s had a huge impact.”
Author Bio: Allison Stevens is a writer, editor and communications professional who specializes in strategic storytelling. A member of Navy Federal’s Corporate Communications team, Allison tells and shares stories about members who achieve their goals with the help of Navy Federal’s products and services and supports the team’s external communications and media relations initiatives. A former reporter, she holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in journalism.
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