Volunteers spruce up O'Hara VA hospital with plants, paint

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

A team of Home Depot volunteers hit the VA Hospital in O'Hara last week to transform an outdoor space into an elaborate garden with vibrant-colored mums, rhododendrons and hostas.

Powered by goodwill, it took only a few short hours of hard work to make it happen.

“I'm just here for the veterans,” said Doug Copeland, an employee at the Greensburg Home Depot, who spent the day putting a fresh coat of paint on a storage shed.

Co-worker Bruce Caperelli had a more personal reason.

“My son just came back from Afghanistan, and he's going back at the end of the year,” he said.

Sponsored by an $80,000 grant from The Home Depot Foundation, the effort was part of the Celebration of Service, a two-month initiative to improve homes of military veterans.

The work was performed in partnership with Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, a group whose mission is to clean up communities. Over the past 20 years, the group has removed more than 87 million pounds of litter from roads, parks and waterways.

It is part of a three-year $50 million commitment by The Home Depot Foundation to improve the homes of economically disadvantaged veterans.

The Home Depot's associate volunteer program enlists thousands of employees who volunteer their time and talents to transform spaces and perform basic repairs to facilities serving veterans. They don't exchange a day of work to visit each site; they give up a day off.

Team Leader Jamie Kunkle said more than 75 employees from 18 stores signed up to revitalize the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System's H.J. Heinz Campus last week.

In all, the team painted, planted and put together a visual treat for the more than 400 patients who call the hospital program, geriatric care facility and recovery center home.

“We're putting in all types of mums and tulips,” Kunkle said. “We've got 300 shrubs and trees to put in. We want to make it a better living experience.”

Ty Hodge, field manager for the Atlanta-based foundation, said the mission is to ensure that every veteran has a safe place to call home.

“We want them to have a great quality of life,” he said, noting that 300 service projects are performed across the country from Sept. 11 to Nov. 11 as a way to highlight those who have served the nation.

Upgrades to the VA hospital last week would have carried about a $52,000 price tag.

When the volunteers called it a day, robust hostas lined the sidewalks, and patches of lawn were manicured with dark mulch.

The highlight of the project includes four wheelchair gardens where patients will be able to tend to tomatoes, peppers, herbs and other plants.

The raised beds sit about 4 feet off the ground, at just the right height to accommodate patients with limited movement, said Cranberry store employee Scott Ness.

“It gives them something to do,” Ness said, “something to get their mind off their issues.”

Home Depot district manager Bob Beachy applauded the employees for sacrificing their free time but said the satisfaction is rewarding.

“It's good to get,” he said, “but way better to give.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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