News: Service members come together for NBA Cares All-Star Day of Service
Story by Staff Sgt. Chantell Black
NEW ORLEANS – On a weekend that celebrated love and basketball, members of the U.S. Armed Forces embraced both on Valentine’s Day by investing time and sweat in a project that helps people in the New Orleans community who need it more than most.
The effort was part of the National Basketball Association Cares All-Star Day of Service. Soldiers of the 377th Theater Sustainment Command stepped away from the office and into the Algiers neighborhood with nearly 100 other service members and volunteers including some from local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts and professional athletes. The group spent the day doing home repairs and interior and exterior painting.
Started in 1988, Rebuilding Together New Orleans is a year-round, nonprofit organization that works with low-income homeowners to make home repairs. The group has partnered with the NBA’s global community outreach initiative NBA Cares since 2008 — the last time New Orleans hosted an NBA All-Star Weekend. Although RTNO has a close relationship with the NBA, the organization’s director John Skvarka says active duty and veteran military service members are their best volunteers.
“It shows the dedication and service that’s instilled in military members even beyond their service.” said Skvarka.
Of the six houses being repaired, four homeowners had worn a service uniform at some point in their lives. Noles Lawrence, who served in the U.S. Army in the 1970’s, walks with a cane and needed handrails for his stairs. As he sat in his camouflage patterned lawn chair and watched the volunteers paint his porch, a fresh coat of white and powder blue, he couldn’t stop smiling and was thankful for the opportunity.
“I really appreciate everything that they’re doing,” Lawrence said. “I was sitting on my porch one day and they [RTNO] were passing out flyers and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The smiles and echoes of appreciation are part of what motivated the 377th TSC Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Nagee Lunde, to get his unit involved in the project.
“We heard about the opportunity and we always want to serve our community and we wanted to be good neighbors,” Lunde said. “It’s important that our deeds and our actions support our word.”
It’s actions like these that have garnered respect from many NBA players, including Oklahoma City Thunder and Western Conference All-Star player Kevin Durant.
“I really appreciate what they’ve done as far as sacrificing themselves for the betterment of the whole country,” said Durant. “It’s been really cool being around them. They really are true heroes.”
What may be a couple of paint strokes on a porch, some nails in a fence and a few hours of these volunteer’s time, means hundreds of dollars saved and years added to the life of the property for these grateful homeowners.
“I feel so proud that strangers stepped out to do this for people that can’t afford it on a regular basis, said a tearful Debra Robinson who’s home was repaired and painted. “Just to look at the work they’ve done today, this is beautiful.”
Tears of joy are what made U.S. Army Master Sgt. Lashonda Roberson feel it was all worth it.
“I think it’s good to let the community know that the military is here and we do care,” Roberson said.