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Volunteers beautify Northport VA Medical Center

Volunteers from The Home Depot work through the

Volunteers from The Home Depot work through the rain to clean the landscaping outside the Northport VA Medical Center. The Home Depot Foundation, a volunteer organization focused on helping veterans, teamed up with Motorola to beautify the landscaping of the federal medical center. (Sept. 28, 2012) Credit: Andrew Kozak

The Northport VA Medical Center received a face-lift this past week as volunteers worked to serve those who have served our country.

The Home Depot Foundation, a volunteer organization focused on helping veterans, teamed up with Motorola to beautify the landscaping of the federal medical center.

“Our mission is to ensure that every veteran has a safe place to call home,” said veteran Fred Wellman, 47, a representative from The Home Depot Foundation.

Veteran Joseph Sledge, the public affairs officer for the Northport VA, requested a grant from The Home Depot Foundation for the project several months ago. After receiving the $21,000 grant, he quickly created project goals.

The outdoor patio was the first project to be tackled. Now, pine trees and pumpkins lay on a bed of fresh mulch, lining the walkways to the entrance where crabgrass and poor vegetation once greeted visitors.

“Joe has done such a great job,” Wellman said. “This has been in the works for months and Joe has been behind every step.”

Valerie Rybecky, of Sea Cliff, worked as the head designer for the patio.

“I picked the plants that I felt would benefit the patients,” said Rybecky, including those that would not only last through all seasons but were manageable.

Outside the post-traumatic stress unit sits a lone tree. There is nothing particularly special about this tree, except that patients find refuge and comfort under it.

“We call it the healing tree,” Sledge said. “We decided to pave around the tree and put a few benches in.”

The inner courtyard received a much needed trimming of the overgrown hedges.

“It is beautiful now,” said Constance Malinowski of Brentwood, whose husband of 63 years, Ted, is a World War II veteran. “Everything was growing over the windows and you couldn’t see.”

Now lamps and patriotically painted bird houses decorate the yard.

"It's great," said Ted Malinowski, who is a resident of the facility. "It's really looking good."

All those who volunteered are Home Depot employees but are “truly volunteers,” Wellman said.

“They have to go out of their way to get the day off of work and they don’t get paid,” he said.

On Wednesday, the first day of the project, 68 volunteers showed. Thursday brought 65 volunteers and a little more than 150 on Friday, Wellman said.

“They kept our country safe,” said Orlando Ventura, 19, a volunteer from Bay Shore. “Why not keep their property clean?”

Volunteers reiterated the same sentiments, often talking of the joy of giving back and working to help those who served.

“We had people coming to us thanking us,” said Shawn Gonzalez, 20, of West Babylon. “We’ve done a lot of maintenance but I’m ready to go back.”

Because of severe thunderstorms, volunteers were sent home early on Friday. The work will resume Monday, as finishing touches are completed.

“They completely transformed the outdoor of our community living center,” Sledge said. "It's a joy to work with an organization that cares so much."

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