Landscapers donate services to military families and veterans
By Carolyn Mason
Joe Keller gets choked up when he talks about his volunteer work with area veterans and families of deployed military personnel.
The owner of Keller’s Lawn Care in Statesville, North Carolina, committed to donating his landscaping services to help keep up the lawn of Army Chaplain Brad Borders while he was deployed in Iraq. “It was my way of supporting Borders and his family while he served our country,” Keller says.
He utilized the resources of GreenCare for Troops, a national organization that matches lawn-care professionals with military families. In 2009, he gathered volunteers using donated supplies and completely overhauled Border’s lawn. Throughout the deployment he kept the lawn mowed and the shrubs trimmed until Borders returned in 2010.
This year, he chose to work on the lawn of World War II veteran Robert Mathews in Mooresville, North Carolina. He installed trees and bushes and worked on the landscape, but he was struck by the sight of 82-year-old Mathews watching from his window.
“I wanted to add something meaningful to his view,” Keller says. First, he put in a garden of white rocks and then added a flagpole and outdoor lighting, including a spotlight on the flag.
He planted three pencil holly plants on each side and installed a brass plate with Mathews’ name and rank at the base of the flag pole. All materials were donated by area merchants, and Keller and his crew handled the installation. He has to pause and fight deep emotion as he talks about what it meant to him to see Mathews enjoying the flag from his window.
“It’s my honor and privilege to serve those who have served our country,” Keller says.
Matching Resources to Needs
Keller is among thousands of landscape business owners who participate in service projects designed to help military families and veterans around the country. Some volunteer on an individual basis, mowing the lawn or removing snow for a local military family in need, while others prefer being matched by national organizations serving military families and veterans.
GreenCare for Troops, the newly launched Snow Care for Troops; Homes for Troops and Renewal & Remembrance, the annual Arlington National Cemetery landscape effort by PLANET, are grass-root projects with massive appeal for both contractors and recipients.
For landscape companies, the benefits of working with an established association include utilizing the organization’s professional staff, matching services, national networking, corporate funding and media s. Participants report enhanced community image, greater employee satisfaction and the joy of being part of a feel-good project. However, most volunteer contractors say the true motivation behind the time and money involved is a deep desire to give back to those serving in the military.
GreenCare for Troops
Since 2006, more than 3,000 landscape professionals have volunteered for GreenCare for Troops, a nationwide outreach program initiated by Project EverGreen and underwritten by Cub Cadet Commercial with additional funds from private and corporate donations. The organization connects participating landscape maintenance professionals and citizen volunteers with nearly 10,000 families of the men and women away from home serving in the Armed Forces.
“It’s amazing to see communities come together to do this for an injured veteran. The landscape is an integral partof the process.”
Den Gardner, executive director of Project EverGreen, based in New Prague, Minnesota, says the seed idea for GreenCare for Troops came from Phil Fogarty, owner of the Weed Man lawn-care company in Euclid, Ohio. Another of his ideas sparked the Renewal & Remembrance service day at Arlington National Cemetery. Fogarty was doing free lawn care for his military family customers and suggested Project EverGreen pick up the program. The idea blossomed nationally when NBC’s Brian Williams and Mike Rowe of The Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” covered the program.
“It is amazing when you think we have our own army of 3,000 volunteers across the country helping military families when called upon,” Gardner says.
Steve Hill, owner of Turftenders in Raleigh, North Carolina, signed up for GreenCare for Troops this year but wanted to increase the number of military families his company could serve on a regular basis. His solution, a mobile unit designed for the volunteer effort, came about through partnering with Husqvarna, Walker Mowers, Toro and Bayer to supply the lawn-care equipment and an enclosed trailer for easy transporting. He provides weekly lawn maintenance for 10 area military families with active servicemen or women away from home.
“I feel like my landscape operation has been good to me and my 30 employees, many who have military backgrounds,” Hill says. “This is a way to give back more than merely writing a check [for the cause].
My workers get to know their clients and have benefited from being part of a volunteer effort.”
SnowCare for Troops
Last year’s brutal winter left many military families struggling with snow removal. This year, a new nationwide program, SnowCare for Troops—underwritten by The BOSS Snowplow and coordinated by Project EverGreen—will offer free snow removal services for military families with deployed members. Mark Klossner, marketing manager for The BOSS Snowplow, says he’s been amazed by the number of volunteers who have already signed up to offer their services.
The first was Al King, owner of CurbSide Lawn and Irrigation in Savage, Minnesota. In business since 1998, CurbSide offers snow removal in addition to lawn and landscape services. King says he’s volunteering because he served his country for seven years, and many of his friends and family serve.
“I feel indebted to the soldiers who are fighting for our country,” he says. “We can easily make a big difference for those military families dealing with the stress of shoveling their driveway on top of the stress of family members being away serving our country.”
Décorated Family honors men and women serving overseas by décorating their homes for the holidays. Christmas Décor, the nation’s largest outdoor lighting and décorating franchise, installed exterior Christmas lights and decorations for nearly 100 families last year and plans to extend the program this year. Brandon Stephens, vice president of marketing for Christmas Décor, says the program began soliciting applications on July fourth and based on the response, expects to double the number of families served this season. “This program gives us the opportunity to thank American servicemen and women for putting their lives on the line every day and to help light up the lives of the families they leave behind,” Stephens says.
Homes for Our Troops
Army Staff Sgt. Scot Noss was injured in 2007 when the Chinook helicopter he was riding in crashed in the mountains of southern Aghanistan. Eight of the 22 service members died in the crash, and Noss suffered a severe, traumatic brain injury. He’s at the James A. Haley Medical Center in Tampa, Florida, and will soon be the recipient of a new, handicap-accessible home in Trussville, Alabama, courtesy of a national non-profit organization, Homes for our Troops. Based in Taunton, Massachusetts, the program coordinates construction of specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. All homes are built at no cost to the veterans thanks to donations and services from corporate sponsors, community businesses and area volunteers.
“It’s impossible to describe what it feels like to see my counterparts in the industry join together to offer our services in caring for the final resting ground of American service men and women.”
The organization has completed 62 homes since its inception in 2004, according to media relations director Vikki Thomas. Completing a home usually takes about six months from ground breaking to presentation of the keys.
Tommy Trimm, owner of Trimm Landscapers in Trussville, Alabama, volunteered to handle the landscaping for the Noss home. He and his crew built a stone retaining wall, put in an irrigation system and installed plants and trees. All materials were donated. Trimm scheduled a work day, and nearly 25 people showed up with shovels and rakes to help with the installation. Trimm says projects such as these create a good image for his business and give the volunteers a positive working experience.
“It’s win-win,” he says. “My employees feel good about their part in the effort.” Trimm is looking forward to the key ceremony, during which he hopes to meet Noss and thank him for his service to the country.
Renewal & Remembrance
Steve Hill with Turftenders says there’s no greater feeling than to participate in the Professional Landcare Network’s annual volunteer landscape project, Renewal & Remembrance, at Arlington National Cemetery. This year was the 14th year of the event and included more than 400 landscape, lawn-care and tree-care specialists from across the nation who brought their crews to spend the day mulching, cabling trees with lightening protection, pruning, liming, planting and aerating the cemetery grounds. During the years, PLANET has contributed more than $2 million to this national landmark.