Thank you for taking the time to read about this personal mission to help two area veterans in need. This is a story of how you can know people for a long time and have no idea about the burdens they carry. To be honest with you...I am the disrupted life for a couple of veterans. You'll see before the story ends, that I really upset the apple cart, but you hopefully will see, it was loaded down with rotten apples and someone had to do it. This story to assist a couple of friends started months ago, but the friendship at the base of this story is more than 7 years strong. I would do anything to help these brothers, however, my resources are very limited, as a single mother with a son in college. That being said, I understand poverty quite well myself. So when I see it, it hurts me. When it is happening to people I love it moves me.
These veterans are no strangers to me. In fact, I gladly confess that one of them is my best friend and business, partner. Robert Walker walked in and changed my life in 2013. We met after I had a house fire and hired the company that employed him to clean the mess I created in my cooking accident. Before the clean-up job was over a friendship started and before long it would take shape into a business opportunity. After a full year of health issues, I met Walker in time to rebuild my cleaning business with reliable help by my side. We started working together on December 1, 2013. I have been self-employed for 16 years and have had many employees over the years, Walker stands alone. He works hard, he shows up early, he is patient with everyone we work for and his boss too. I couldn't ask for more. Well, except a car so he could make it to New Bern in bad weather safely. Walker owns two motorcycles and not a reliable car.
Throughout the years of knowing and working with Walker, I came to meet his brother Michael Williams. Williams is a few years younger than Walker. Both brothers hail from the Rochester area. They relocated to Havelock, NC in the summer of 2007. They chose the area because it was familiar to Walker who served 8 years in the USMC. He enlisted to serve our country on February 17, 1984. Williams is an Army Veteran who served our country for years, joining NYANG while in high school in 1983, after a terrorist bombed a disco in Frankfurt. He was stationed in Baumholder Germany and spent a couple of years in Port Fork, LA until his service ended in June 1986. Knowing both brothers for years, here is what became clear to me last year, they are survivors. Men of few words. Quiet heroes, who would go to all lengths to help others, but did not know how to help themselves. They just suffered in their situation because no one had the money to help them. Money and lack of it is no reason for people to suffer and yet it is a reality that so many people know. These men have resided in the same apartment since settling here in 2007. It was dirty and bug-infested when they moved in and it was deplorable when they were forced out by me.
If I had to be honest, I knew they were living in some rough conditions, as I had been in their home, and cleaned their kitchen several times over the years. However, as close as I am, I never saw how bad it was. And in all reality, two things became clear, it is easy for everyone to turn away and not look, not help. But no one gets anywhere like that. Also noted, things really spiraled in this story over the course of weeks and months. I am not sure how they survived living in the squaller and hell they called home but on August 31, I decided it had to end and took steps to make that happen.
Through the magic of Facebook, I raised nearly $3,000 to help move them out and clean up the hoard left behind. I never mentioned who the money was for, I just mentioned that I was helping a couple of Veterans. We did a lot to help advance them to the next stage of clean living. When I walked in to help Williams with his phone, he was laying on the dirty bug infested floor, unable to walk. He was urinating in bottles, behind a curtain, unbeknownst to friends, neighbors, and family. I rented a midsize car and drove Williams to Durham on Thursday, September 3, 2020. We checked him into the VA Medical Center through the ER. Before the day was over, we met with a team of doctors who told Walker and me that he was one of the worst cases of self-neglect that they had seen. My heart broke. I cried and went through all of the emotions as the weeks unfolded.
By September 5, I rented a dumpster and worked with Walker and his friends clearing out the first floor of their two-story apartment. The cleanout took five weeks in total and very few contents were salvageable, due to the bug waste. It was one of the hardest days I can remember working through. My heart broke over and over that day. On September 6, I started a Facebook Fundraiser and thanks to the wonderful community I know, we gathered the cash needed to secure a new clean home for Walker and we'd gather contents for the new home via donations. Besides the cashed collected online, we also collected food and clothing for the veterans in need. My heart went from broken to full of joy almost overnight after I broke down and asked for help.
By the middle of September, we had found and secured a lease on a new dwelling for Walker to reside in. While we were doing that the team of doctors in Durham was getting ready to perform surgery on his brother. Williams was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. He remained in Durham throughout the month of September where they performed surgery and in early October they moved him to a rehab facility in Richmond, VA for neck and spine injuries. Williams remained there for eight weeks, where the VA set him up in a new wheelchair and worked with him on filing the necessary paperwork.
In mid-November, I hosted a small community concert to help offset some of the accrued expenses. The $600 raised is helping Williams with his living needs now as he settles down for a while in Durham. Today $306 remains to help Williams with future needs. We are awaiting assistance from the VA and disability, but with Covid-19 being a component, no money has been approved yet.
On December 20, 2020, Williams returned to the Durham area to start a residency program at Maple Court. On December 26, 2020, Walker and I took a trip to the facility to celebrate Christmas with Williams. We brought him many gifts and clothing. We took him to lunch and helped him settle into his new home. This is a facility where he will remain until we find housing in the Craven County area. The problem is there are no programs in our area that help veterans the way they do in the bigger cities.
Williams will remain at Maple Court until we can figure out a living situation closer to his brother here in Craven County. Williams was a city cab driver for Havelock for years. He will not be able to return to that line of work, as he is now living life in a wheelchair. He is working with the VA to find a new career path, but so far the progress has been slow at best. It is my mission to continue helping these brothers until they are both on solid ground. They made many sacrifices for our country to end up in the condition I found them in last year. I know a lot of our veterans suffer because we turn our backs. Not me, not these brothers. If we can raise these brothers here, it might be worthy work that continues for others in the Craven County area. The money raised will secure one year rent for Robert Walker, moving expenses and a year's rent for Michael Williams, when he is ready to relocate, and $10,000 for two used vehicles for them to drive. Neither vet has a safe, reliable ride. This is why one suffered in silence. Walker has two motorcycles which are not a good option for his brother's needs.
Thank you for reading and more importantly, thank you for helping. Tracey Stones
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