Volunteers renovate home of disabled veteran in Southington
SOUTHINGTON — Dozens of volunteers spent part of their weekend renovating the home of a former Marine through a nonprofit that does free repairs for veterans and first responders.
“It’s huge, they’re making it so I can live. I can live and enjoy my house without worrying every day,” said Frank Russo, who served in an artillery battalion in a variety of roles, including as an expert marksman and instructor.
Many veterans haven’t been properly thanked for their contribution, said House of Heroes Executive Director Carol May, and the nonprofit aims to show its appreciation by recognizing service with service. The state chapter of House of Heroes, which has done work on 152 homes, raises money for supplies and organizes volunteers to do the work.
“A lot of them just need that little leg up, just to get them started,” May said.
The amount of work being done Saturday wasn’t lost on Russo, who ran a handyman service for years until he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. The illness also stopped him from completing projects on his own home. He started installing new molding on the walls around his living room but began blacking out.
“He was a handyman himself, so I’m sure this is hard for him because he knows how to do everything that we’re doing today,” May said. “When they bought this house he was still in pretty good health ... and is now not able to do much of anything."
His wife, Lauri Russo, has had to stop working to care for him. Frank Russo hopes the repairs will make it easier for him to stay home without needing help from her. Volunteers installed a grab bar in his shower, railings on the deck stairs and a stone walkway from the deck to the driveway.
“My wife literally has to take me to the store ... doctor’s appointments — she’s totally strapped. She can’t go back to work because she has to deal with me,” Russo said.
Russo joined the Marines in 1991 just after the Gulf War began. He wanted to join a helicopter unit but was stationed with an artillery battalion in Okinawa and the Philippines.
Despite suffering a torn lateral meniscus while jumping from the back of a helicopter, he completed his service in 1994. Other family members served in World War II and the Korean War.
Mission BBQ provided lunch for the volunteers. In a ceremony after the meal, Russo was presented with a flag box, a tradition started by May’s late husband, Bill May, when he helped found the Connecticut chapter of House of Heroes in 2012.
Volunteers from PCX Aerosystems, a Newington company, helped with the work at Russo’s house and at the home of another veteran in East Berlin. May said they can always use volunteers, regardless of skill set.
“Everybody can help ... we have plumbers, electricians, carpenters,” May said. “And we have people like me — a lay volunteer. I mean, I can paint, I can rake, I can mulch. So we’re always looking for people that want to help out.”