The Rapidian

Hundreds of volunteers serve local veterans during Operation United

Heart of West Michigan United Way recruited 318 volunteers for Operation United, a day of outdoor landscaping, repair projects, and construction at the homes of 23 Kent County veterans and their families.
Volunteers from UPS pose with Air Force veteran Steven Pruitt.

Volunteers from UPS pose with Air Force veteran Steven Pruitt.

Underwriting support from:

Operation United Sponsors

  • The Home Depot
  • ChoiceOne Bank
  • BDO USA, LLP
  • Zeeland Lumber and Supply Co.
  • Alpine Rent All & Sales
  • Alger Hardware & Rental
  • Harder & Warner
  • Irwin Seating Company

Additional support was provided by:

  • Home Repair Services of Kent County
  • West Michigan Veterans Coalition
  • Birch Tree Mulch & Stone
  • Calvin College Bunker Interpretive Center
  • Haul-Away Dumpster Rental
  • Newaygo Conservation District
Home Depot volunteers work at the home of veteran Joe Clemens.

Home Depot volunteers work at the home of veteran Joe Clemens.

On Friday, May 17, more than 300 volunteers came together for one purpose: to serve local veterans.

Heart of West Michigan United Way recruited 318 volunteers for Operation United, a day of outdoor landscaping, repair projects, and construction at the homes of 23 Kent County veterans and their families.

United Way’s Volunteer Center manager Katelyn Kovalik says the motivation for this first-time project was simple: to serve those who served our country.

Those veterans range in age from 95-year-old World War II veteran Karl Hofstra to Tim Frazier, a guardsman still on active duty.

Fraizer and his wife Lauren welcomed their first child, Timothy, into the world earlier this month. It’s the latest in a series of life-changing events the Fraziers have experienced in recent years, including the loss of Lauren’s parents and a house fire that destroyed much of the Frazier’s former home.

After the fire, the Fraziers purchased a new home in Rockford. It was affordable, but that was partly because of the astounding amount of trash that had accumulated on the property over the years, including tires, mattresses, building materials and scrap metal.

On Friday, 15 Operation United volunteers spent the morning clearing debris at the Fraziers’ home. In four hours they filled two open-top dumpsters with debris. Tim estimates it would have taken him two full weeks to do all that by himself.

“It was a huge, huge help,” Tim said. “Just to see the dent get taken out of the work was really helpful. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done –” including the renovation of the garage, which Tim is turning into a suite for his parents to live in “—but it was just a huge sigh of relief to see that we’ve gotten so much done.”

Leader sponsor Home Depot contributed $22,500 and more than 100 volunteers to Operation United.

“Absolutely amazing” is how store manager Jana Vugteveen describes the day

Home Depot managed projects at six of the 23 Operation United sites, going so far as to build a deck at one home.

“We were really able to help our six local veterans do things around their home they [wouldn’t necessarily] have been able to accomplish in a short amount of time,” Vugteveen says, adding that Operation United with its focus on veterans aligned well with the company’s values.

“Veterans are a community that don’t ask for help. It’s our job to reach out and offer that assistance to them because there are a lot of veterans in our community that do need help.”

For his part, Tim Frazier, who has served in combat overseas and in flood zones out west, says the most important thing a person can do for veterans is to make a connection. “Servicemembers can tend to feel isolated when they come back home. I know that I felt that way.”

“It’s hard to make connections and interact with people, so that’s really what it needs to be about, is keep making the connections to people.”

To learn more about what Heart of West Michigan United Way is doing to serve members of our community including veterans, visit HWMUW.org.

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