Special Report: Run Across Georgia helps support local veterans

(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)
(Source: Jason Dennis/WTVM)

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – Military veterans are getting a helping hand from a Columbus-based non-profit, who's getting a big boost from a group of runners.

In the last 3 months, House of Heroes has done a full day's worth of home repairs for at least 21 vets - all of that work paid for with funds raised by the Run Across Georgia, a 260-mile journey which takes place this Memorial Day weekend.

Retired Major Alex Greene Sr., a Vietnam War veteran who spent part of his 20 years of service on Fort Benning is one of those getting a helping hand. This decorated veteran and his wife are getting improvements and repairs done for their home, thanks to volunteers with House of Heroes Chattahoochee Valley chapter.

"It's nice, but don't give me too much credit, I just did my job, I was just trying to stay alive and come back in one piece," Major Alex Greene Sr. (Ret.) said.

"These are people that have given so much of themselves for what we have in our country. There's no better way to say thank you than to give back to them, even in the smallest of ways," House of Heroes volunteer Lanie Hall said.

Susan Wood, House of Heroes Exec. Director, added, "Some of them have never been thanked, so it means so much to them."

She says the mission of their non-profit is to honor military and public service veterans by doing minor home repairs for them.

"The types of things we do are painting, yard work, maybe some plumbing, things that volunteers can do," Wood said. "Since 2000, we have honored over 700 veterans."

They also honor veterans' families, like 100-year-old Ms. Emma Brown in Columbus, who was married to Sgt. Lonnie Brown, a World War II veteran. She's the oldest widow this local organization has helped.

"She's 100 years old, still moving around like she's 40, so to be able to come in and help her," House of Heroes Volunteer Sherry Peterson said. "It's just incredibly rewarding."

"Things I used to do, I can't. They're cleaning the yard and I appreciate it," widow Emma Brown told us.

They painted the inside and outside of her Columbus home. This project and other recent ones are part of the House of Heroes "Redeeming the Block" campaign, all paid for by the Run Across Georgia, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend.

Since 2009, the event that goes from Savannah to the Fountain City has raised nearly $473,000 for this non-profit, funds that have helped them honor 200-plus veterans.

"You got crazy people running across the state, 260 miles, but they love it! And to have a reason to run, a chance to raise money for an organization that's local, 100 percent of the funds stay right here in Columbus GA," Wood said.

"This is huge to be able to give back to them, for all the things they've done for us," Run Across Georgia director John Teeples said.

One of the key parts of each 1-day project by House of Heroes is the 5-minute flag ceremony, with the National Anthem sung and a bio read of the veteran.

Wood described, "What we do is present a flag that's been flown over the US Capitol in the veteran's honor."

They've been making a tangible difference in a day for these military heroes since 1999.

Wood also called it "team building for different corporations such as TSYS."

A team of volunteers from that company recently worked on Major Greene's home.

"We spend an entire day with him (veteran), stop and talk to him, he gets to see what we're doing," Hall said.

"Made our house much nicer, cleaner," an appreciative Major Greene said.

To qualify for the painting or other assistance through this program, they do have some requirements: You need to be a military or public service veteran or the spouse, own the home, and also need that financial or physical assistance with these home repairs.

House of Heroes honored 78 veterans in 2016, a record year for the organization. And this year, it's been giving opportunities for businesses like Envision Retail Services to give back.

"We've got a number of former service members who are employed with us now, so this is just an opportunity to say Thank You to those who don't always get a Thank you," HOH volunteer Peterson said.

The widow of veteran they helped – Emma Brown – said, "They did a beautiful job."

Veterans have to apply to get home repairs done by House of Heroes...that process usually taking at least 6 months. The organization has 178 on their waiting list right now.

Wednesday night May 24 on News Leader 9 at 6:00, we'll give you the ins and outs of running across Georgia, which dozens from around here will do in a few days, including some familiar faces from WTVM.

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