Over 300 volunteers gather to build homes for veterans

EL CAJON, Calif. – Over 300 San Diegans came together Wednesday in El Cajon to help improve the lives of military families in need.

Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity and the Home Depot gave their time to construct frames for not just one but five homes, along with 25 custom play houses.

“They got to roof, they got to hammer, they got to paint,” said Habitat for Humanity volunteer Mary Walden.

Walden, one of the 375 volunteers, said she knows by giving just a small amount of her time, she can make a difference in the lives of others.

“I don’t care if you help kids in elementary school read, or whether you get up on a roof and you’re hammering all day long, do something. Do something and give back,” Walden said.

“It’s pretty much a dream come true for us,” said U.S. Marine Corps veteran and home recipient, Jonathan Olayo.

Olayo and his family will become first-time homeowners when construction is complete on the El Cajon Ballantyne homes. The family currently lives in a two-bedroom apartment with their three kids.

On Wednesday, Olayo and his family saw the frame of their new home and were presented with a wooden playhouse for the kids.

“It’s an awesome feeling. Like, I almost broke down into tears when I walked over there by the foundation of the home,” Olayo said. “It’s just that we’re extremely blessed and grateful for all these people…the hard long hours, I know it’s hot out here. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

The heartfelt reactions by people like Olayo and others on the receiving end are exactly why Home Depot employee and volunteer Bill Palmer donates his time.

“We painted, we did roofing. Just a fantastic family and everything he gave our country, this is the least we can do,” Palmer said.

As a Team Depot volunteer for the past 23 years, he’s seen how housing projects can change lives.

“You help one of us, you help us all. And that says it all. If we’re able to do this little small part today, it can make an impact down the road with more people and that’s what it’s all about,” Palmer said. “It’s just the right thing to do and on top of that we all have a great time doing it.”

“Neighbors helping neighbors is right and this is a prime example,” Walden said.

Team Depot volunteers also assembled 250 wellness kits for homeless veterans in the San Diego area.

The Ballantyne community housing project is expected to be complete and ready for move-in in 2018.