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Tinker FCU Renovates Veterans' Homes in Partnership with Purple Heart Homes
Friday, August 5, 2016 7:00 AM

Tinker FCU & Purple Heart HomesOn July 29, the credit union hosted an auction and casino night to honor four Oklahoma veterans, with a goal of raising money to help adapt their homes to accommodate their disabilities. The project is a joint venture between the credit union and Purple Heart Homes, a North Carolina-based nonprofit group that provides free home modifications for veterans who may need more accessibility in their homes.

Credit union officials met the co-founders of Purple Heart Homes, John Galina and Dale Beatty, last year at a banking conference in Las Vegas. The backs of all of the credit union's business cards read, “Helping our members achieve their goals and realize their dreams.” The executive board thought pairing with the nonprofit would help them do just that.

Galina and Beatty were both injured in Iraq in 2004 and had a difficult time reintegrating back into their communities. They started their nonprofit in 2008. “We want their homes to be safe and accessible, and to give (veterans) a dignified quality of life,” Galina said.

Tinker FCU & Purple Heart HomesTinker's casino night raised a total of $26,780 for the veterans. Plans call for the following:

  • Earl Wright, who has cancer and trouble walking, will receive a wheelchair ramp.
  • Charles Lawrence served in the Navy, and also needs a wheelchair ramp.
  • Jacob Anthony was an Army Green Beret, and needs an addition to his house.
  • Gerald Ashley served in the Marines; he needs his kitchen remodeled to be able to reach his cabinets.

Today, thousands share internet videos of returning servicemen surprising their loved ones, being celebrated in jam-packed stadiums or honored in hometown parades. After years of being forgotten by his community and country, Marine Corps veteran Earl Wright, one of the beneficiaries of the Tinker/Purple Heart Homes partnership, now finally feels celebrated, too.

Wright, 68, of Lexington, enlisted in 1965, shortly after graduating high school. He did a tour in Vietnam serving months on a minesweeper team. Yet, when Wright's deployment ended and his stateside flight landed in California in 1969, he wasn't welcomed home by his country. He felt unappreciated. 

Tinker FCU & Purple Heart Homes“When we got home, people wouldn't even acknowledge that we were there,” Wright said. Then he received a call from Tinker FCU with news that still brings him to tears: “I couldn't believe it."

The Veterans Corner, a nonprofit in Newcastle that works with veterans, nominated Wright for the renovation. 

In 2007, shortly after having to quit his job of 25 years in heating and air conditioning due to a heart attack, Wright asked the Veterans Corner to help him write a disability claim for his wartime service. Two years later, the Veterans Corner asked him to become a volunteer. Since 2009, Wright has volunteered every Monday and Thursday to help other veterans write claims. 

In March, doctors diagnosed Wright with an aggressive form of leukemia. Though he doesn't have the ability to volunteer anymore, Veterans Corner has been instrumental in his health battle.

Tinker FCU & Purple Heart HomesThrough tears, Wright explained what the Veterans Corner and those who work there have done for him. “They brought me a motorized wheelchair, a walker, and I've had numerous visits from all of them,” Wright said. “I've never been dependent upon other people until now.”

Months before being diagnosed, Wright realized he couldn't do the things he used to do with ease. When he moved to Lexington, he couldn't stand the rolling hills in his front yard, so he bought a John Deere tractor and leveled out the land himself. Wright single-handedly added a sunroom to his house. He recently built a greenhouse. He used to spend hours working in the garden, but now, he can't walk to the mailbox without stopping to rest.

“First time I came home [from chemotherapy], I was walking up the steps, and I picked my foot up and fell flat on my face,” Wright said. “I had lost all of the muscle in my legs.”

Tinker FCU & Purple Heart HomesThe credit union, which has about 650 employees, hopes the renovations can help older veterans, like Wright, age gracefully in their homes.

“It changes their life if they can get ramps, wider doors or kitchen cabinets,” said Matt Stratton, a senior vice president at Tinker. “We've got so many employees that are willing to volunteer.” 

Home Depot will provide many of the project supplies. Two homes will be renovated in August and two in September. Each is expected to cost less than $10,000.

“There are a lot of folks who have served their country and need help now, and it's within our mission to do that,” said Stratton. “This is just the beginning.”

How Credit Unions Can Get Involved

Tinker FCU & Purple Heart HomesCornerstone Credit Union League has also joined the Purple Heart Homes endeavor, in conjunction with its Credit Unions Care campaign. Credit unions who participate in Purple Heart Homes: Operation Veteran Home Renovation will identify an older veteran whose home needs a ramp, grab bars, railings, a yard cleaned up, or a fresh coat of paint. Credit unions will raise the funds for the projects, most of which can be completed by credit union staff and community volunteers in a day or two. The average cost of a project is $5,000.

There are four ways credit unions all across the Cornerstone region can participate in this tremendously worthwhile effort.

  1. Identify a disabled veteran who needs help. Refer that individual for a project that will make their daily lives much easier.
  2. Sponsor a project such as adding ramps, grab bars, railings, a fresh coat of paint inside or outside of a vet's home, or cleaning a yard. To be a sponsor, please contact Vicki Thomas at vthomas@phhusa.org or 203-984-2138.
  3. Make a donation. No project will exceed $10,000, and the average cost will be about $5,000. To contribute, go to purplehearthomesusa.org and click on the Donate button. When completing the form in the “Please use my donation toward” box, select Credit Unions Care.
  4. Volunteer your time and talents to completing the project work over the course of a weekend.