Neighbors on normally peaceful Magnolia Glen Drive in Saugus woke up Saturday to armies of volunteers invading their block.
Football teams, ROTC students, members of youth leadership groups, bikers wearing black leather – their full-sized American flags proudly waving as they pulled into formation, legions of workers volunteering for their companies, set apart by their familiar colors (orange for Home Depot, blue for The Gas Co.), every person there with a single purpose – to roll up their sleeves and rehabilitate the home of Joshua and Windie Murphy.
To use the term “historic” to describe the turnout and effort would be an understatement. SCV Habitat For Heroes, a project of Habitat For Humanity, San Fernando/Santa Clarita Valley will facilitate the reconstruction and repair of 10 homes belonging to veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars during the next twelve months, with more to follow for all Santa Clarita vets in need of assistance.
The Murphy home was the first of the series; Joshua Murphy served two tours of duty with the Army in Iraq. He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other injuries from a mortar blast that hit his guard tower in Iraq and is unable to work. Windie has become his full-time caretaker. SCV Habitat for Heroes gathered resources and manpower, bringing goods, services and about 300 volunteers to the home Saturday morning.
The laundry list of repairs was long – replacing windows, painting the house inside and out, installing solar panels, landscaping the front and back yards, rehabbing a bathroom and some of the kitchen, replacing appliances and making the house more energy efficient.
The project may be headed by Habitat For Humanity, but would not be possible without corporate support from companies like Home Depot and The Gas Company and sponsors such as Champion Windows, Rowland Air, Green Convergence, Creative Design Interiors, Advantage Disposal and Recycling, Stay Green, Inc., KHTS AM-1220 and others.
Along with hard goods, many sponsors provided supervisors for the project in their specialty areas, as well as many workers who volunteered their talents to work side-by-side with community members of all ages and disciplines.
Setup began before the sun came up; signs were erected in front of the Murphy’s home, check-in tables and parking cones went up. Shuttles from Grace Baptist Church brought workers who parked at the church; volunteers signed up for their chosen area – painting, yard work, plumbing, and more.
After being fed by Corner Bakery, volunteers gathered for an official ceremony. Wayne Colmer, Chairman of the board of Habitat for Humanity SF/SCV welcomed the workers. “This is the inauguration of our Habitat affiliate’s program hot ank our servicemen and women for the sacrifices they have made for our country.
“This may be the first home, but it’s not the last,” Colmer said. “Our projects take a village of local community volunteers to complete.”
SCV Habitat For Heroes Co-Chair Carl Goldman said that when word about the project started getting out into the community, volunteers started coming out of the woodwork.
“It’s really no surprise that there are so many people here. Once we put the call out, we had to turn people away.”
Goldman introduced the Murphys, who stood next to the stage with their dog, Princess.
“We know that this critical home modification is only one way that we can pay back our veteran and that it will never amount to the sacrifices Joshua has made for all of us. We only hope that Joshua and his family can accept this as a symbol of our gratitude for him and what he has done for our country.”
Michael Gallagher, Senior Vice President of The Gas Company began with thanks to the volunteers, adding that the Gas Co. is looking for veterans to assist and asking the crowd to pass along the company’s policy of giving veterans an advantage when they are job-seeking.
“We’ve been working with Habitat for Humanity for awhile to do a little bit of what we should be doing as a company,” he said.
Kim Cherney, the manager of the Home Depot on Newhall Ranch Road that provided most of the appliances and hardware for the project as well as manpower, said that the company’s foundation is dedicated to helping veterans, budgeting $30 million to help families.
The ceremony was not without a celebrity touch with two stars of prime time adding their perspective; Kevin McKidd from “Grey’s Anatomy” and Mark Valley from “Harry’s Law.” Valley is a graduate of West Point and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He thanked the volunteers and acknowledged the Hollywood Veterans group that had accompanied him to the build. He joked that he wasn’t sure what they would put him to work doing, since “there aren’t any jobs where I can stand around with my hands on my hips and supervise.”
McKidd, who received a PRISM Award for his portrayal of an Iraq veteran doctor who is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, said he was there to do a little tile work and hopefully set an example for his children.
“Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric condition, not just for those who have been in combat,” he said. “The psychological damage that such experiences cause make it very challenging just to hold down a job or to have any kind of relationship with others.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. Thanks to the security provided by real-life soldiers, who put themselves in harm’s way every single day, I just go to work in Hollywood and pretend to be a doctor who suffers from this ailment. I hope the role I play in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in a small way brings some awareness to this huge mental health challenge that our veterans are dealing with.”
“If there’s anything we can do to serve those who served and given us so much, we have to do it. So when I was asked to be here, of course, I felt honored to help out,” he continued. “I’m here with my wife and kids, I hope as we build today, we can learn from each other and teach our kids that giving back should be a part of our lives and I just want to thank all the veterans for everything they’ve done.”
Assemblyman Cameron Smyth said that the turnout did not surprise him and gave him a sense of extreme pride – and some bragging rights.
“Sometimes you get a little frustrated when you turn on the TV and you think people are really questioning the direction of our country, but then you see the sacrifice that our own community members make every day and their lives are changed forever because they’re willing to put it on the line for all of us.”
“It gives me goosebumps and reminds me and reinforces my faith, in this country, certainly coming here and seeing this turnout, my faith in this community. When you see this turnout, it gives me something to brag about when I go back to the Capitol in a couple of months, because I assure you, no other district, no other community in the state is stepping up like Santa Clarita. I know my colleagues in Sacramento are probably tired of hearing me brag, but I’m gonna do it and tell them, “if you don’t like it, why don’t you do that in your community. Step up because we’re going to keep doing it to support our heroes and support our community.”
As the speeches and presentations came to a close, the volunteers anxious to get busy descended on the Murphy’s house, scraping, sanding, digging, clearing and rolling up their sleeves to show their appreciation for the couple’s sacrifice. It was a giant donation of sweat equity into a home made comfortable for one of our community’s heroes.
Four more projects are planned through SCV Habitat for Heroes; homes approved to receive refurbishments include:
* A Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force, recently disabled and living alone.
* A young widow whose husband served in the Army and died in Iraq, with a 5-year old son.
* A Navy veteran who served in the Korean War who is 100 percent disabled.
* A 34-year old Army veteran who served in Kosovo, he has two children and is low-income.
Anyone interested in volunteering for future projects should contact Habitat for Humanity at 818-884-8808 or visit www.habitatscv.org.