Ten volunteers from the Home Depot Foundation joined with other volunteers last Friday morning to get started on upgrading an existing farm building so it can serve as an indoor gathering place for veterans at New Freedom Farm in Buchanan.
The “phase one” effort included landscaping around the building, planting trees, laying an electric line and connecting power to the building that will eventually provide a climate-controlled space, bathrooms and water on the farm where horses and camaraderie serve as therapy for war veterans from all generations.
For the Team Depot volunteers— all employees at the Hershberger Road Home Depot in Roanoke (along with one former employee)— it was an opportunity to serve a different community, Donna Caldwell explained. The Daleville resident is the leader of the Team Depot volunteers. She noted the team has helped at the Trust House and with TAP in Roanoke, and was looking for something different. That’s when a veteran at Trust told her about New Freedom Farm.
“It’s nice to have something like this in
the area to help the veterans,” Caldwell explained. In fact, she enlisted her husband and two other electricians to help— all electricians at WestRock’s paper mill in Covington. Caldwell said getting electricity to the building was an important part of the project. She noted the trees will also provide shade since there are none currently around the farm buildings and pastures. The next phase Team Depot hopes to help with will be reroofing the building, then putting up studs and drywall, adding an office, bath and laundry. The team will apply for another grant to help with that part of the project, Caldwell said. Hershberger Road Home Depot store manager Alan Cox was among the volunteers spending the day working at New Freedom Farm. New Freedom Farm owner Loiz Fritz said the upgraded building will provide a place for veterans to meet with professionals, their families and with other veterans.
“Currently, we hold support groups and meetings in the barn and there is no climate-controlled area at the farm,” Fritz explained in an email. Fritz named the building after Steven D. Goodwin, a US Army Vietnam veteran who spent a lot of time at New Freedom Farm. He passed away on September 6. His wife Barbara Goodwin was onsite Friday to watch one of Steve’s legacies come true, Fritz added. Fritz said the Lalush family was instrumental in putting together the package needed to upgrade the Goodwin building. Becky and David Lalush are Gold Star parents and have supported New Freedom Farm’s efforts to assist veterans. Their son Michael, a Marine and Lord Botetourt High School graduate, died in a helicopter crash in Iraq in 2003.
“Mr. and Mrs. David Lalush have worked very hard on coordinating this effort/event,” Fritz said. The Lalush family prefers to stay in the background, Becky Lalush explained. Her husband is a contractor, and when Fritz learned that Team Depot was going to help with upgrading the Goodwin building, she called David about what they would need. The Lalushes were traveling back to Botetourt from Richmond when they got the call and started making a list on the ride back. She explained that Fritz is like the others at the farm on Friday.
“She’s a volunteer, too,” Lalush said. “She doesn’t make any income from this.” For Jason Hogancamp, the work on the Goodwin building is another step in taking care of veterans. He’s a mustang trainer, and horses are the foundation for helping veterans at New Freedom Farm. He’s a veteran, too, and found working with horses was great therapy. He had two new mustangs arrive that day. They will be incorporated into the program and will help more veterans, he said. Hogancamp said that in 2000 when he was in a residential PTSD program it was recommended that he try working with horses.
“I found horses to be my salvation,” he said, “and promised then that I would give back.” He said New Freedom Farm helps more veterans than any place he’s been associated with. “It’s an extended family working to save people’s lives,” he said, repeating the farm’s motto that losing 22 veterans to suicide each day is 22 too many. “Not a dime is asked of anybody,” he continued. “This is just proof of what hard work can do when people get together.” Team Depot Foundation has transformed more than 37,000 homes and facilities and has given more than a quarter of a billion dollars to veteranrelated causes since 2011, according to the foundation website. Team Depot associate-led volunteers devote thousands of hours each year to building and repairing homes for those who have served. The activities continued Saturday morning when Team Rubicon met at New Freedom Farm for its morning muster, parking and breakfast.
The team spent the day doing extensive repairs on a veteran’s home on Pico Road not far from New Freedom Farm. The veteran had a collapsed roof, no plumbing and a house that needs extensive repairs. Team Rubicon is an International non-government organization founded by U.S. Marines that identifies itself as a veteran service organization that uses disaster response to help reintegrate veterans back into civilian life.