Gratitude welled up in both eyes as he looked at the group of volunteers working on his home.
He grew quiet after having a television camera pointed at him along with a handheld microphone placed next to his face for the sake of a few seconds of a live shot on local cable.
When the two-person broadcast crew scurried back to their editing van, the 1968-69 Vietnam Veteran Joe Bournival, a retired Air Force police officer, took a deep breath, then gently smiled as he told his story in a soft voice.
Nearly two years ago, Hurricane Irma did a number on the roof of his mobile home located in a park in South Pasadena.
The storm did “multiple damage to my roof,” said Bournival. “Water came in and destroyed everything.”
When the roof was properly fixed and he didn’t have to worry about leaks anymore, he realized that his life was still a challenge.
“The walls had black mold and it all had to be washed down with bleach,” he said. Most of his possessions had to be thrown out.
In his home of a little more than four years, he then realized the interior was not built to accommodate his health issues that now include the use of a wheelchair and rolling walker.
The original kitchen layout was cramped. The hallway was too narrow for wheels and the bathroom tub served as a barrier for him to access the shower.
“I veteran I knew gave me Harry Metz’s name and he did a lot of leg work for me,” said Bournival. Metz is the president of the Veterans of South Pinellas County (VSPC).
Recently, on separate days, groups of “civilian troops” or volunteers and key people from three non-profit organizations – the Home Depot Foundation; the Volunteers of America (VOA), Florida; and the VSPC – came to help.
“They did the flooring, took a wall down and widened the hallway by seven inches so I can easily get the wheelchair down there,” said Bournival. “They gutted the entire bathroom, took out the tub and moved things around to make it handicapped accessible. Now, I have a walk-in or wheel-in shower.”
Sounds of a shrill electric saw sliced the calm.
Metz along with a local philanthropist and a neighbor or two joined Bournival on the morning of Thursday, May 9. They put patio chairs in a semi-circle across the narrow neighborhood street from Bournival’s home to watch the transformation show. The day was for delivery of kitchen appliances, door and window trimming along with painting the entire interior.
Wendy Whitescarver, resource development manager for the VOA, said, “This project is in partnership with the Home Depot Foundation for veterans in the community who own their own homes who are physically and financially unable to do home repairs. Joe is getting more acclimated to a wheelchair lifestyle. Now, his home is a place where he can age in place and be peaceful. Our veterans deserve this.” For more information, visit voa.org.
“What’s being done at Joe’s home is going to make his life more enjoyable, more beneficial and it will help him get out of his depression. It’s what we do. Veterans take care of Veterans,” said Metz. For more information, visit vetsofspc.org.
“I’m very, very happy,” said Bournival. “This is going to make my life more simple.”