Falls Church veterans received a massive holiday boost this week thanks to the second annual Decorate-A-Vet campaign. The event, held Dec. 1-4, was launched in 2010 by Jeff Jones of Classic Stonescaping & Gardens with Steve Sisler of Sisler’s Stone and four other local business leaders who wanted to pay tribute to the service of veterans in the city by decorating and landscaping their homes for the holidays.
Founder Jeff Jones worked with American Legion Post 130, a growing army of volunteers, and the support of other local businesses, including Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, Hambleton’s Lawn & Landscape, Human Touch, and the Washington Wizards. He is also developing a link with Angie’s List.
Jones says that the planning for this year’s event started in June and that this year’s event was much larger. In addition to decorating more homes and a new transition unit at Fort Belvoir, the organization is sending out holiday gift boxes loaded with gifts, electronics and entertainment items to low-income veterans here as well as a shipment of 41 boxes to a platoon serving in Afghanistan.
The motivation behind Jones campaign to give back to veterans comes partly from having friends serving in conflicts now but also longstanding family connections. Jones’ father was a submariner in the Navy, one of his uncles served in Vietnam, and his grandfather was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Knowing the natural independence of spirit and pride of veterans, Jones says he is always very careful to offer the Decorate-A-Vet service in the right way.
“You really have to get it across that this is a gift, a tribute,” Jones said. “It’s not charity. It is all in how you introduce it. Each and every one of the veterans we gave to this year offered to pay, and we had to say ‘No, that’s not it! This is a gift! Take the offering from us and have a merry Christmas!'”
As it has become so much larger, the campaign has required a whole week of his staff’s time, investments in promotion and materials, and a great deal of coordination. Jones is pleased that Decorate-A-Vet has been taken up so enthusiastically and says, “I guess good ideas just take on a life of their own.”
Volunteers this year included people from all age groups, both individuals and families, and whole teams from businesses and organizations, including thirty staff members from the FBI.
Veterans receiving the home decoration this year included residents of Fulton Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, and Winchester Way. Benjamin W. Goodrick says he was surprised at first, then delighted with the work done for him, which went much further than holiday decorations.
“They put in trees and shrubs, mulched them, put in a new sidewalk in front of the house, new steps at the side of the house, new guttering, and decorated the whole of the outside of the house,” Goodrick said. “They are wonderful people. They also did the house next door for Sam, who has been my good neighbor for 52 years.”
Further down the street, Bernard Stull’s home was also transformed.
“At first, I was unsure whether to accept anything that seemed like charity, but they explained that this was a tribute, a way of saying thank you, so I accepted,” Stull said. “And I am glad I did! I am a sentimental person, and it will add a lot to Christmas, with all the lights. The most I put up was one little string and there are now a lot more than that.”
Stull says his message to all the volunteers is “I appreciate everything they are doing. I never expected anything like this. Holy smokes, I can’t believe it.”
Once the work was completed, recipients of this year’s decorations also enjoyed a celebration dinner courtesy of Clare and Don’s Beach Shack at the American Legion.
“The next step that I would like to take is to find a way for people and organizations to sponsor the upkeep of specific houses or the holiday boxes,” Jones said. “Through donations or contacting us through the website (DecorateAVet.org), someone thousands of miles away, say in California, could contribute to keeping the program going. At the moment, all of this is coming out of our own pockets. We would love to hear from potential sponsors who would like to show their support for veterans in this way.”
Jones’ holiday message from Decorate-A-Vet for those serving now and for all veterans is “For the ones we have served, sit back and enjoy it. For the ones that are out there that we haven’t served, hold tight … we’re coming!”