West Lawn VFW in ‘dire’ need of repairs surprised with $10K in renovations for Veterans Day: ‘They deserve more than what we can give’

VFW Post 3940 received nearly $10,000 in renovations from volunteers with the Home Depot Foundation’s Operation Surprise.

SHARE West Lawn VFW in ‘dire’ need of repairs surprised with $10K in renovations for Veterans Day: ‘They deserve more than what we can give’
Jose Murillo, left, and Luis Bacallao, right, install a door to the kitchen Thursday at VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W. 63rd St. in West Lawn.

Jose Murillo, left, and Luis Bacallao, right, install a door to the kitchen Thursday at VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W. 63rd St. in West Lawn.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

When Daniel Perez returned to Chicago from his Army tour of duty in Iraq in 2006, he found himself in a world he couldn’t relate to.

He enrolled in law school, but struggled to focus. He started drinking, then flunked out. Perez felt abandoned, sensing a lack of purpose in the transition from life-and-death situations back to civilian life.

He didn’t know it at the time, but he was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I had nobody that I had the experience with around me anymore,” said Perez, now 44.

Daniel Perez joined the army after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. He’s been deployed twice, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

Daniel Perez joined the army after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. He’s been deployed twice, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

It went on that way until his next deployment in 2010, this time to Afghanistan. But when he came home again in 2011, he had something new: colleagues in his unit told him about his West Lawn neighborhood VFW.

“It was transformative for me because… once we come back and everybody goes their separate ways, I was expecting that feeling of abandonment again,” said Perez.

Instead, Perez said he found a refreshing sense of community at the John E. Connolly Victory VFW, 3743 W. 63rd St. The post was struggling with low enrollment when Perez showed up, but now has 520 members, including 387 active members paying dues.

The building had also fallen into disrepair over the years, with water-damaged walls, missing doors and chipped paint. That changed this fall.

Unbeknownst to Perez and members of the VFW, where he now serves as vice commander, the Bedford Park Home Depot had nominated their post for Operation Surprise, a campaign by the Home Depot Foundation calling on community members to nominate veterans’ facilities for renovations.

Since 2011, $400 million has helped the foundation and its partners build, renovate and enhance more than 50,000 veteran homes and facilities, the group said. The annual campaign kicks off each Veterans Day, and this year, Perez’s VFW was chosen as one of the sites to be renovated.

A Home Depot volunteers paint and clean the entryway at VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W 63rd St in West Lawn.

A Home Depot volunteers paint and clean the entryway at VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W 63rd St in West Lawn.

The Home Depot Foundation

“Giving back to our community is one of Home Depot’s core values, and taking care of our veterans is another,” said Miguel Chavez, assistant manager for the Bedford Park Home Depot.

While Veterans Day marked the official kickoff, Chavez and Home Depot volunteers have been renovating the VFW post for nearly two weeks. Chavez said most sites take only six to 10 days, but the West Lawn building was in “dire” need.

They started with outside landscaping, putting rocks and lights in the flower beds. Then, the team pressure washed the entire front of the building. They replaced one of the N’s on the sign, with one volunteer, Luis Bacallao, carving it and painting it himself.

A newly renovated sign adorns VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W. 63rd St. in West Lawn.

A newly renovated sign adorns VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W. 63rd St. in West Lawn.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Then, the team moved inside. In the meeting hall, they pulled out rotting wood; replaced closet doors; added baseboards and floor trim; replaced all the lights and vent covers; and painted the entire space.

In the bar area, they took care of the water damage on the ceiling and repainted the ceiling; added a door to the kitchen area; replaced broken tiles and vanities in the bathrooms; painted the bathrooms and added ventilation systems.

“This place had a good amount of work that needed to be done, that we wanted to get done for them,” Chavez said, estimating the cost of the renovations at $10,000.

For volunteers Bacallao and Jose Murillo, they do the work from “the bottoms of our hearts.”

Home Depot employees Jose Murillo, left, and Luis Bacallao, right, install a door to the kitchen at the VFW, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W 63rd St in West Lawn.

Home Depot employees Jose Murillo, left, and Luis Bacallao, right, install a door to the kitchen at the VFW, Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at VFW Post 3940 at 3743 W 63rd St in West Lawn.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“They deserve more than what we can give to them because they fought for our freedom,” said Murillo.

In addition to the work still being completed on the building, the Home Depot is also donating an additional $1,000 to the post.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter for the Sun-Times viaReport for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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