A military man to his core, James “Mike” Curry initially resisted the idea he should be the person to receive a free home makeover. Someone else needed the aid more, and the limelight did not suit him, he reasoned after first hearing the pitch months ago.
His skepticism long since abandoned, the disabled Iraq War veteran watched Thursday as volunteers pressure-washed his driveway, landscaped his yard and painted his walls a cream hue — all in a public show of appreciation for his two tours of duty. He stood a stone’s throw from his house at the end of the Northeast 70th Court cul-de-sac and marveled. The smell of hot dogs — lunch for the workers — coated the cool air.
“It’s a blessing,” Curry, 37, said. “It’s unbelievable, really.”
Keller Williams Realty associates celebrated the company’s fourth annual RED Day — short for Renew, Energize and Donate — by making over Curry’s home Thursday.
Around 100 Keller Williams Realty employees dressed in red shirts, with the words “Give where you live” on the back, took the day off work to volunteer their time. Work on the project officially started two weeks ago with plumbing and electrical work inside the split-level, four-bedroom home, project organizer Jackie Gabbert said.
Curry moved into the home in January 2006 prior to his second tour of duty in Iraq with the National Guard. The home would need repairs, but he figured he would have time to do them when he returned.
Everything changed in April 2009 when the staff sergeant suffered a serious injury to his right arm while playing soccer, a common recreational activity for soldiers. Curry collided with another player, while playing goalkeeper, and landed awkwardly, shattering his radius bone that connects to the elbow. Four surgeries later, he still had not gained full movement in his dominant arm, due to nerve damage.
A physical evaluation board informed him that — after 14 years, seven months — his career in the National Guard was finished. The end officially came in September 2011.
Not only had he lost his career, but gone too were his ability to work on his house or participate in hobbies such as snowboarding, wakeboarding, or fishing. When Curry went anywhere with his 13-year-old daughter or his young nieces, he stayed in the background, watching them enjoy themselves, he said.
Around that same time, Gabbert watched a television program in which Tom Brokaw asked Oprah Winfrey what she had done for veterans. Brokaw’s question inspired Gabbert, and she called Eva Valentine, seeking to help a veteran for this year’s RED Day.
Valentine, a family assistance specialist with HRCI Washington National Guard Family Programs, had to get the veteran’s permission before providing his or her name to Gabbert. That was not an easy task with Curry, she explained.
“A soldier, especially a long-term soldier like Mike,
it’s really hard for them to say, ‘Please, go ahead,’” Valentine said. “They have been taught to take care of themselves.”
Curry’s reluctance was something he spoke about with his father, Jim, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. The father convinced his son that by accepting the home makeover, he would be allowing the volunteers a chance to give thanks.
“It’s just as important for them as it was for Mike,” Jim Curry said Thursday.
His dad was right.
“I don’t think in all the years I’ve done this I’ve seen anything on this grand a scale,” said Valentine, who has worked in her current capacity on and off for six years.
The home makeover’s benefits were also immediate for Curry.
“It takes a load off my shoulders,” said Curry, who stayed free of charge at the Heathman Lodge Wednesday and Thursday while the repairs were made.
He talked about using his newfound time to take classes at Clark College to become a teacher or counselor — activities he enjoyed during his military service.
RED Day, it turned out, had already taught him a valuable lesson: to let others help.