Taylorsville Army vet calls her donated $4,500 patio and pergola an ‘oasis”’
Dec 11, 2019 03:03PM
● By Carl Fauver
Volunteering time on their day off, Home Depot employees installed this patio and pergola as part of their “Celebration of Service” campaign. (Photo courtesy of Elana Johnson)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
A Taylorsville military veteran who has been battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder nearly 20 years now has a beautiful patio, firepit and pergola in her backyard, courtesy of the Home Depot Foundation and a local veterans’ support organization, “Continue Mission.”
“I am so grateful for what they have done, though I don’t feel I deserve it,” Mandee Stakely, 42, said. “This will be my oasis — a place to relax and think about life.”
The new amenities — valued at $4,500 and installed by Home Depot employee volunteers on their day off — should help Stakely occupy a more positive “head space” than where she was 18 years ago.
Nearly everyone over age 30 remembers exactly where they were on the morning of 9/11 (2001). Many Utahns watched the horror unfold on television.
But Stakely was much closer. As an Army staff sergeant and chef, Stakely was stationed at what was then called Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington Cemetery, only 2.5 miles from the Pentagon, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
While most of us first think of New York’s Twin Towers when we remember that tragic September morning, American Airlines Flight 77 also crashed into the Pentagon about 34 minutes after the second tower was struck. All 64 people aboard the plane were killed (including six crew members and five hijackers) along with 125 people in the building.
“All of the freeways and roads were seized up and they closed our base,” Stakely said. “I began preparing food for the emergency responders who were assisting at the Pentagon. That night I saw the Pentagon from the freeway.”
It would be a couple of years before Mandee realized her close encounter with the 9/11 devastation at the Pentagon caused her PTSD.
Stakely grew up in California and returned there when she left the military in 2007. In 2010, she moved to Utah. In 2015, she lost her husband (a Navy veteran) to suicide, just two months after they wed. In 2017, she moved into her Taylorsville home.
“I struggled to figure out life after the military and became involved in different veterans’ support organizations,” Mandee added. “I wanted to get out of the house and be active. I approached improving my mental health from a physical standpoint.”
That’s when Stakely became acquainted with the Utah-based organization “Continue Mission.”
“I would say they found me,” she said. “Up until this past summer (when her parents retired here), I had no family in Utah. Continue Mission is my family. It provides a comfortable atmosphere and involves all family members. Their goal is suicide prevention and mental health through physical fitness.”
A quick scan of its website shows the organization supports golfing, running, white water rafting, archery, skiing, bowling, rock climbing and even axe-throwing events, among others.
Continue Mission was founded in 2014 by U.S. Army (retired) Sgt. Josh Hansen and his wife, Melissa.
“We started Continue Mission after my husband served two tours of duty in Iraq,” Melissa Hansen said. “Our program helps people try different physical activities to remain active.”
Josh Hansen reached the decision to join the Army later than most, at age 30.
“I decided to join after 9/11 because I felt very obligated to serve my country,” he said. “I worked as an IED (improvised explosive device) hunter. During my deployments, eight IEDs exploded under my vehicle. I suffered neck and back injuries, along with many concussions.”
The Hansen’s website states: “Continue Mission is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving veterans with service-connected physical, mental, and emotional injuries. We aim to inspire, empower and involve veterans and their families and referred service members in recreational and educational programs that promote health and wellness and positive life changing experiences. We are dedicated to raising mental health awareness and taking an active role in suicide prevention.”
It's also through Continue Mission that Stakely received her backyard oasis.
“Mandee has been in our program for several years,” Josh Hansen said. “She’s gotten to the point where she wanted to do more volunteering for us. She’s manned our information booth at various activities. It’s been very uplifting to see, and it’s amazing to see her improvement.”
Someone active in Continue Mission told the Home Depot Foundation about Stakely. That’s when 21-year Home Depot employee Elana Johnson entered the picture.
“I called Melissa at Continue Mission to speak with her about Mandee,” Johnson said. “She sounded like the perfect candidate for our ‘Celebration of Service’ campaign.”
When Johnson and Stakely finally spoke directly, the patio, firepit and pergola makeover idea was born.
“Mandee said her backyard was overgrown with grass and weeds, and she wanted to create a retreat,” Johnson said. “Eventually, I requested $3,500 for the project. The Home Depot Foundation actually boosted it up to $4,500.”
Two prominent vendors, “Oldcastle Infrastructure” and “Rapid Set Concrete,” also donated materials and labor to the project.
Finally, in late October, about 30 Home Depot employees from eight different Utah Home Depot stores showed up at Stakely’s Taylorsville home to volunteer their time to complete the project.
“The new patio is 12 feet-by-12 feet with an aluminum pergola over it,” Johnson said. “We furnished the patio with chairs, cushions and a gas firepit. The pergola has solar lighting. And we provided Mandee with pots she can plant flowers in next spring.”
Additionally, an 18-inch small retaining wall was constructed, and the surrounding lawn was mowed, weeded and mulched.
“I am still kind of dumbfounded by everything they did on the project,” Stakely concluded. “I don’t have any children, but I share my home with my boyfriend and three dogs. I finally feel like I have a place to relax.”
The Taylorsville project was part of the Home Depot Foundation’s ninth annual “Celebration of Service” season. According to a news release, “from Sept. 19 to Veterans Day, members of Team Depot pledged 100,000 hours of service to activate more than 600 volunteer projects across the country.”
In just eight years, the foundation has transformed more than 45,000 homes and facilities for veterans. The organization states that more than 35,000 Home Depot employees are military veterans themselves.
For more on the Home Depot Foundation or to nominate a veteran to receive a donation, visit homedepot.com/foundation.
For more on Continue Mission, visit continuemission.org.