When we interviewed the Wright family, we expected an empowering story.
What we didn’t expect, however, was Mr. Wright to be so moved by a fellow veteran who happened to be volunteering at their home. We took some time to track down Michael, a volunteer with SVN BlackStream, and talk about his experience connecting with Mr. Wright.
For Michael Lee, volunteerism isn’t an option; it’s the “core of life.” From volunteering as an undergraduate with PUSH America (now The Ability Experience) to serving in the Marines, to volunteering alongside local agencies Habitat for Humanity Greenville and Senior Action and Rebuild Upstate, Michael is motivated by the belief that he must do more than himself.
This fall, the Rebuild team matched SVN BlackStream with the Wright family, a couple who have lived in their home for 30 of their 50 years of marriage, raising not only their children but anyone else who needed a place to stay. Grounded in faith and love, the Wrights open their doors to everyone. SVN BlackStream jumped right into replacing the couple’s old, drafty windows with new, energy-efficient windows to lower the utility bill and keep the Wrights warm and safe.
While the project provided an immediate sense of individual accomplishment and increased community with his coworkers, Michael was most affected by the unique connection he shared with Mr. Wright. Mr. Wright, a veteran, served in the Vietnam War. Michael, a veteran, served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I knew he was a veteran prior to our build day, and I started our conversation teasing. Marines love to tease all the other branches- when I heard he was in the Army, I told him, ‘I won’t hold that against you. Everyone has a soft spot for someone, and mine is for seniors and veterans. There’s a different type of spot for other veterans… We don’t like to see our own having issues, struggling.”
When asked what home means to him, Michael simply said, “Security. Home is a matter of peace, serenity, and security.” Michael knew this poignantly during his deployment overseas, a time when a sense of true home was “back in the States,” a feeling Michael imagines Mr. Wright knows well. Through the repairs, Michael was thrilled to be able to give security and peace of mind back to the Wright family. He shared, “I’m glad I got to help a veteran. In some way or another, we [vets] can all sympathize with what a vet went through. We all went to boot camp and dealt with crappy officers, personalities, and in most cases some kind of war tragedy. Those are all small tragedies we can bond to even if we’re generations apart.”
The Wrights, now enjoying a warmer home, think on Michael with similar warmth. Mrs. Wright shared that she could feel her husband light up when he was interacting with Michael. She wants the world to know that all the volunteers who repaired her home are “good people,” that not everybody would do what they did- make them happy. Michael, who continues to look for ways to volunteer and impact his community, went on to say just how rewarding it was to serve this family and a veteran who had gone before him. “The fact that he was able to give so much at that time [Vietnam], and I was able to give a little bit back? I love that.”