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National Guard members join "Rebuilding Day" projects

By Tech. Sgt. Mike R. Smith | National Guard Bureau | April 28, 2008

LA PLATA, Md. - At least 60 Airmen, Soldiers and civilians with the Air and Army National Guard brought Christmas early to a disabled Maryland resident here Saturday, April 26 by repairing her home on "National Rebuilding Day."

Members of the National Guard Bureau, the Air Guard Readiness Center and the District of Columbia National Guard were among the volunteers here that repaired the home of Michelle Samuel for what they called a "Christmas in April" event.

Known nationally as Rebuilding Day, the annual event's community projects are planned and organized for the last Saturday in April. Orchestrated by the nonprofit Rebuilding Together organization, this was the 20th National Rebuilding Day since its inception in 1988.

Across the country, more than 200,000 volunteers planned 10,000 home and community center projects for the day. The volunteers rehabilitated homes for low-income residents at no cost. Many residents were elderly, disabled, veterans or needy families.

Samuel, a disabled, retired federal worker for the U.S. Army, said her fixed, limited income did not allow her to make needed repairs. She was chosen by the county's chapter after a review of many applicants.

"It needed lots of attention, from top to bottom, the roof, everything," said Samuel through a noise of pounding hammers and buzzing saws. "It's happening, and I'm so happy."

The Guard volunteers shingled her roof, repainted the interior and exterior, installed a new stove, washer and dryer, repaired the ceilings and bathroom, installed a new storm door and made many other repairs.

"It's a great cause," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Regina McDonald from the National Guard's Inspector General office in Arlington, Va. It was McDonald's first time volunteering. She and her cleanup team helped plant flowers and picked up shingles and other construction debris from the yard while other volunteers measured or painted or ran to the hardware store for materials in a rush to finish the home before sunset.

"I was telling everyone, if you want to see what angels look like and a blessing looks like, just drive by and see," said Samuel. "I could kiss and hug everybody all day long, but they have to work, so I have to leave them alone."

"We got started with this 14 years ago through our [Air Guard] Civil Engineering," said Ray Detig, a retired federal worker now employed as a contractor with the Air National Guard. "It's grown to include [National Guard] joint staff and many other units. When it's done, it is such a good feeling, and it's really good for the community." He added that Guardmembers in other states also volunteer in projects.

What some Guard volunteers here may have not known is that their support for National Rebuilding Day here indirectly supports fellow servicemembers.

"It's not just for folks who are over 65 and disabled," said Detig. "The organization helps servicemembers who are overseas, for instance, if some servicemember is deployed and his wife says 'the roof is leaking, what do I do?'."

Thomas J. Cantwell, the organization's national director for Veterans Housing, said Rebuilding Together is assisting more than 150 veterans and their families this spring through their "Heroes at Home" program, and they hope to assist many more in the years to come. This includes modifying veteran's homes to accommodate disabilities or making home repairs.

In the past, volunteers helped Minnesota Army National Guard Sgt. Jonathan VanderWert. They renovated his family's home while he was deployed to Iraq and unable to make repairs. In another event, the organization modified the home of Florida Army National Guard Staff Sgt. John Quincy Adams, who was severely injured in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee.

"Rebuilding Together appreciates the support of the National Guard and all our servicemembers on our home repair and modification projects," said Cantwell. "The National Guard has shown they support our nation and their fellow Soldiers, overseas and at home."