Lidia Perez has known hardship. She is a single mother of two, who was deployed to the Middle East by the Navy for five years. Her older brother, Geoffrey, a Marine, was killed in the line of duty at the age of 24; her other brother, Rodolfo, died when he was 18.
The loss of her brothers was devastating; for Perez, family is everything.
When she bought a home in 2010, she purposely returned not just to her old neighborhood in South Los Angeles, but moved into the house directly behind her childhood home, where her extended family still lives. The location was perfect, but the house, she discovered, needed a lot of work.
Thanks to Celebration of Service, a community service program founded by the Home Depot Foundation that makes home repairs for low-income veterans, Perez’s home just got a full-on makeover.
In one day, more than 75 volunteers from Home Depot’s volunteer led Team Depot and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles descended on the Perez bungalow to re-paint the exterior from a non-descript beige to a battleship gray, they stuccoed the walls, patched holes, installed a new heating system and ceiling fans, built a raised garden bed for her mother’s vegetables and, most importantly for Perez, flattened and planted sod in the backyard so her two boys, Geoffrey, 8, and Jacob, 4, could run around.
As an added touch, the group also placed a fountain as a memorial to her brothers in the garden.
Perez was able to purchase her home in 2010 with a loan from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs and also money inherited from her Marine brother, who she calls her hero.
“This really means a lot,” said Perez, her voice breaking up with emotion as she spoke to the volunteers gathered in front of her house; it had been a long day of work under the blazing sun. “From the bottom of my heart, I will remember this moment for the rest of my life.”
This year, as part of the annual “Celebration of Service,” volunteers from Home Depot stores throughout the country will complete more than 300 projects in two month. Assisting female veterans is an important aspect of the Celebration of Service program. Women are the fastest growing group within the veteran community, and they are also at a higher risk to be homeless than their male counterparts.
“Our work today was our way of saying, thank you for your service,” said Kelly Caffarelli, president of The Home Depot Foundation.
Erin Rank, president of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles said to Perez: “If you ever feel down, remember all the love that surrounds you today that has gone into your home.”
Perez, who works in Torrance as a carbon dioxide technician at a gas and engineering company, hopes to return to school and focus on environmental regulation. She says she is most excited about her boys finally being able to play soccer in the backyard.
“I never imagined this would be so huge,” she said, smiling. “I can’t wait to see my boys’ smiling faces running around in the grass.”