'He Stood in the Gap' a Findlay Sergeant's Single Act of Kindness Launched an Effort to Help Families of Deployed Military Personnel - Then It Grew beyond Even That

By Philips-Haller, Amy | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 27, 2017 | Go to article overview

'He Stood in the Gap' a Findlay Sergeant's Single Act of Kindness Launched an Effort to Help Families of Deployed Military Personnel - Then It Grew beyond Even That


Philips-Haller, Amy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The gutters hung precariously on the house that icy day in February 2012, when John Lee pulled into the driveway to help.

The Air Force civil engineer, now a chief master sergeant, had returned from deployment one week earlier and heard about a couple whose gutters needed to be repaired but whose son could not help because he was on deployment.

Without hesitation, Sgt. Lee of Findlay packed tools in his vehicle and headed to the couple's home. He cleared the ice, cleaned out the gutters and anchored them back into place.

"That is how it all began," said Sgt. Lee's wife, Sheri Lee. "He stood in the gap for his brothers and sisters that were far away."

More calls for help came. When Sgt. Lee couldn't fill a need, he'd find others who could.

"It was a snowball effect," Mrs. Lee said. "As men and women were returning home from deployment, they were also offering to help."

Within months, the Lees had organized Heroes Supporting Heroes, turning Sgt. Lee's one act of kindness into a nonprofit organization to help others.

"We realized this service wasn't just in our hearts, but [in] others as well," Mrs. Lee said.

Heroes Serving Heroes isn't only for members of the military, she said. "Everyone is a hero - whether you are a single mother or a senior citizen, you are still a hero."

At a graduation party in June 2012 - just months after Sgt. Lee had repaired the gutters - the Lees met Don Steward and Jeff Lutz, who had formed West Allegheny Work Camp, an organization intended to help families who needed home repairs.

"We realized that our missions were aligned," Mr. Steward said. "We decided instead of competing, let's come together and be one."

The Lees, Mr. Steward and Mr. Lutz went to the boards of their organizations with the idea of merging the two groups and then started the process of acquiring a nonprofit designation for Heroes Supporting Heroes.

Because West Allegheny Work Camp already had a relationship with West Allegheny Ministerial Organization, Heroes Supporting Heroes could receive charitable donations under the ministerial organization's umbrella until it received its nonprofit status, which took about 18 months.

Through West Allegheny Work Camp, 300 to 400 workers would travel every other year from neighboring states to West Allegheny Middle School at their own expense to spend the week in service.

"Basically, it is like Habitat for Humanity, where they come to perform low-skill, high-labor jobs," Mr. …

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