HIGHLAND CITY — Spreading some buckets of paint is the least he can do to honor those who served, volunteer Charles Oldham said, taking a break from the brush at a local veteran's home on Veterans Day.
Oldham's brother, Harry, spent two tours of duty in in Vietnam. His wife, Tonia, retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant after 24 years in the service.
"You have to take the time to honor them," Oldham said. "I thought I'd honor her by coming out and painting a vet's house. … It's great to serve those who served all of us."
Oldham and a group of volunteers were participating in a collaborative project of Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland and Habitat for Humanity. They chose a local veteran to help by freshening up the exterior of his house by pressure washing, replacing shutters and spreading coats of a light grey the manufacturer calls Galactic Tint.
Within the last year, Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland added veterans to the list of people it helps by painting their homes. The group is organized around a single go-big day once a year in March where roughly 500 volunteers paint around 20 houses in the greater Lakeland area.
The organization typically focuses on low-income seniors and disabled people, many of whom are veterans themselves, but the new designation allows them to assist other veterans who might not fit those strict categories but could use a helping hand.
"You hear about a lot of veterans that have a need," Karen Schmidt said.
Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland and Lakeland Habitat for Humanity have a kind of informal collaboration, the volunteers explained. In recent years Habitat has focused more on repair rather than new construction — a return to the organization's roots and a financial reality as the price of new construction has risen.
With that in mind, Habitat patches 'em and Paint Your Heart Out slathers 'em.
Mike Gilbride, who with Oldham represented Habitat for Humanity for the event, said a morning in the sun painting a home was a good way to celebrate veterans' sacrifices.
"It's a good way to honor a fellow vet," the U.S. Army veteran said.
Charlie, the homeowner and Air Force veteran, was working alongside the volunteers. He declined to give his last name for publication.
Sweat and logistics drive the fix-it-up organizations, but so does money, Paint Your Heart Out treasurer Martha Cummings said it costs the nonprofit about $1,000 in supplies to paint a house, but saves the recipient around $2,500.
The group uses premium paints to keep the home looking tip-top longer.
"It costs more than most people think," Cummings said. "We're always looking for people to donate."
The volunteers said they hope this is the start of a new tradition for the organization.
On Saturday, all the volunteers from Paint Your Heart Out were board members, who on the big paint days spend their time organizing logistics rather than painting.
"This turned out great for Veterans Day, to paint a veteran's house," Jean Bias said. The long-time volunteer of the organization added it was nice to get back to her roots and her paint roller.
Bias added that they'd like to see more people sign up for the cause, to help an individual and to improve a neighborhood.
"It's a great experience for volunteers," Bias said, outlining her pitch not just for her organization but for volunteering in general. "We hope it has a ripple effect."
Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@directgates.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.