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  • Writer's pictureGreater Springfield Habitat for Humanity

Habitat project reconnects Chicopee acquaintances

Chicopee native and Army veteran Kenneth will readily admit he’s set in his ways. He lives a simple life watching the famed Dallas Cowboys, appreciating his coin collection, and enjoying his independence. At 76, he didn’t need much, except a new ramp to his ranch home. The previous wood ramp was built without supports and, through wear and tear, became unstable. By Thanksgiving, Kenneth received what he needed.

A team from Westover Job Corps removes the old ramp from Kenneth’s side entrance at his Chicopee home.

Kenneth is the latest recipient of Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity’s (GSHFH) Veterans Build program. Veterans Build is a national initiative to provide housing solutions, volunteer, and employment opportunities for US veterans, military service members, and their families. The program serves limited-income homeowners who are affected by age, disability, or family circumstances, and struggle to maintain the condition and utility of their homes.

Aimee Giroux, GSHFH executive director, reached out to Westover Jobs Corp to remove the previous ramp, and to Able Home Accessibility to install a new steel and aluminum modular ramp to his home’s side entrance. Home Depot Foundation funded the project through a grant.

“We are extremely grateful to Westover Job Corps, Able Home Accessibility, and the Home Depot Foundation to help us provide Kenneth with a new safe ramp,” Aimee said. “Our community partners help us to help more veterans in need of home repairs.”

Aimee spoke with Justin Cote, Westover Job Corps Work Based Learning coordinator, who previously asked about the two organizations working together. Job Corps is a program overseen by the US Department of Labor that offers free education and vocational training to low-income youth between the ages of 16 and 24 years old. Justin began his tenure four years ago and transferred to his current role within the past year. This is his first time working with GSHFH.

When Aimee brought Justin to Kenneth’s home to review the scope of the project, something unexpected happened. Justin and Kenneth recognized each other.

“I knew him growing up, but had not seen him in many years,” said Justin. As a child and until high school, Justin said he played Pop Warner football on the Chicopee Braves. Kenneth was the team president.

Kenneth joined the Army following high school. He is one of 13 children and one of eight in his family who joined a military branch or the Peace Corps. He served for three years with the Signal Corps as a chief teletype and cryptographic operator. He also spent time in Korea. When he left the Army, Kenneth said he had an opportunity to work in security clearance, but instead married a woman with three children. He and his wife added another child to the brood. Kenneth worked for the town sanitation department for a few years until an injury forced him to retire. Kenneth’s family continued to expand. Soon, there were four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Kenneth’s wife passed away in 2008.

“This project definitely has significance to me,” Justin said. “Having the chance to work together with Job Corps and Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity to help a local veteran is rewarding enough. The added bonus of knowing the person made it even more rewarding.”

Justin said he presented the projected to Mark Aubin, Westover Job Corps Building Construction Technology instructor, and his students. The team removed the ramp the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Matt Walsh, president of West Boylston’s Able Home Accessibility, and his team installed the new ramp.

“The first team did a great job of getting rid of the old material and leveling the property. There was no mess,” said Matt. “These ramps are great. They don’t rust or deteriorate and Kenneth is a nice guy. It’s always great to help a veteran.”

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