Volunteers help make house a home for Bertram veteran and family

Shirley Wright (right) looks forward to moving into her new, 1,472-square-foot home that is taking shape on her Bertram property thanks to Liberty Buildings owner Don Bebee. He shared Wright's story with Home Depot volunteers of her raising two granddaughters in a 288-square-foot home, which, in turn, grew into a Star-Tec Builders house. Team Depot volunteers have descended upon the Army veteran's Betram property to frame in the house and get it ready for Wright's family to move into on or before Veterans Day. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

BERTRAM — Shirley Wright watched as a small army of orange-clad workers nailed, sawed, pounded and did just about everything else needed to turn her new house into a home.

“I’m just overwhelmed by the blessings the Lord has provided,” Wright said. “This will change our lives.”

Wright, a disabled Army veteran who served 18 years of active duty and one year in the reserves, couldn’t believe what she was witnessing on her patch of land off CR 274 just north of Bertram. For the past several years, she and her two granddaughters, whom she adopted, lived in a 288-square-foot house — better described as a cabin. Then, one of her daughters, Renee, moved back in, cramming four people into the small structure.

On or before Veterans Day, Wright and her family will move into a new, 1,472-square-foot home thanks to the Home Depot Foundation, Team Depot, Liberty Buildings and Star-Tec Builders. The project, funded by the Home Depot Foundation, has groups of volunteers descending upon Wright’s property to transform the shell of her house into a four-bedroom, two-bath home.

“I might get lost in this one,” Wright said about the new house. “But I know where my bedroom is. I’ll be waking up every day with the morning sun coming in.”

The house, which arrived Oct. 23 from Star-Tec Builders in Temple, opens a new world for the family, especially the two granddaughters, Marissa Wright, 12, and Cailyn Wright, 7.

“This goes beyond just the house,” said Don Bebee, owner of Liberty Buildings of Liberty Hill. “This is a life-changer for the two girls. And not just because of the house. Seeing all these people come out and help them is going to leave an impression on them for the rest of their lives. So, they’ll pass that idea of generosity and helping others on. It’s just going to keep going.”

In the immediate future, both girls, as well as Wright and her daughter, will get their own rooms. It’s something Wright believes will make a major difference in her granddaughters’ lives.

“They are at the age now where they need their own space,” she said. “They need a room they each can call their own. For girls, that’s so important. I think it’s going to make a big difference for them. And for all of us.”

While Bebee didn’t know he would be helping change the lives of Wright and her family when the 64-year-old veteran walked into his business doors about two years ago, he has done just that. The two met when Wright came to him looking to purchase a shed to put on her property.

As the two were talking, Marissa sat drawing a picture. When the Wright’s left, Bebee saw the picture, picked it up and pinned it to his office wall.

“I just kept thinking about them,” he said. At one point, Bebee went to Wright’s property when he was helping place one of the sheds and saw the family’s home. At the time, he didn’t know if you could help them, but he decided if the chance came, he would.

By chance, Mike Reichert, a Team Depot captain, asked an acquaintance of Bebee if he knew of any veteran in the Liberty Hill or Bertram areas who needed some assistance with their home. The man put him in touch with Bebee.

And Bebee told Reichert about Wright.

The wheels began rolling.

Team Home Depot is a volunteer mechanism of Home Depot, Reichert explained.

“Everybody out here volunteers their time to do this,” he said on Oct. 24 at Wright’s home. “This is something we all believe in. One of the things I’m loving about this is, for the past 17 years, I’ve been able to give back and do things like this because of Home Depot and the Home Depot Foundation. And who better to help out than a veteran who helped us all out by serving.”

The foundation provides funding for a major part of the project.

While Wright might be disabled, Bebee said this isn’t a handout. While the foundation is paying for the supplies and materials that go into the house such as drywall, wood and other items, Wright is paying for the home itself.

Star-Tec worked through Bebee to secure her good financing, but, in the end, she’ll pay off the modular home.

“Shirley is an extremely responsible person,” Bebee said.

Wright moved to the Bertram area about 15 years ago but lived in a nearby house. Bebee said when she decided to adopt her two granddaughters, Wright sold her previous house and land to pay off the mortgage and buy her current property so she would have no debt.

“She wanted to go before the judge completely solvent, so it would help her in adopting her granddaughters,” Bebee said. “She gave up everything to gain everything.”

While it meant living in a tiny structure, it also meant bringing her family together.

And even as she added a new shed, Wright paid it off before purchasing a second one.

Wright always knew her current house wasn’t big enough for her and her granddaughters, and definitely not when her daughter moved in. So she went to Bebee with the idea of purchasing two smaller cabins and putting them together.

“The thing about Shirley you need to know is, instead of complaining about her situation, she comes up with a plan and pursues it,” he said. “I respect that.”

When Bebee shared Wright’s story with Reichert and the Home Depot Foundation, they all agreed it would be a worthy project. Each year between Sept. 11 and Veterans Day, Home Depot conducts its Celebration of Service campaign. Funded by the foundation, Team Depot volunteers across the country conduct projects for veterans, though most aren’t as comprehensive as the one for Wright.

“In that two months, we’ll complete about 400 volunteer projects,” said Kendall McCarty, director of programs for the Home Depot Foundation. “We’ll have Team Depot and community volunteers out here to complete the house so Shirley and her family can move in on or by Veterans Day. Our goal (at the foundation) is to make sure every veteran has a roof over their heads, whether it’s helping a homeless vet who just needs a bed or, in Shirley’s case, helping her get a new home.”

Each day, Team Depot volunteers from various Home Depot stores will rotate through Wright’s new home. The Star-Tec house arrived as basically a shell, leaving the volunteers to frame it in with walls, lay plumbing and wire it. Several of the volunteers were more familiar with boardrooms and finance than pounding T-posts into the ground, but they quickly learned.

“We’re getting faster,” said Kristin Doherty, vice president of finance from Atlanta, with a grin.

The biggest grin, however, came from Wright as she walked around the new house and among the voluteers.

“These are all angels,” she said. “And one of the biggest is Don. None of this would have happened had it not been for Don.”

Bebee, however, shared the praise.

“This is one of those old-fashioned barn raisings people used to do in early America, where the community comes together to build a barn,” he said. “I could not have accomplished this. This is much bigger than me. It’s much bigger than one person. It shows what people can do when they get together for the right reason. And Shirley and her family, well, they’re the right reason.”

daniel@thepicayune.com