10 years after it started, the Hamden nonprofit has repaired 173 homes for veterans


HAMDEN — Carol May never imagined that the small nonprofit her husband and friend wanted to start after a conversation at their kitchen table would last 10 years.

But a decade later, the Connecticut branch of House of Heroes, a Hamden-based organization that helps veterans with home repairs for free, has completed 173 home projects, according to May, who continued the work after her husband Bill May died in 2016 after a battle with the cancer.

Bill May was a veteran himself. As a Black Hawk maintenance test pilot, he served in the military for 23 years, according to his wife, who said he was on active duty for seven of them and joined the National Guard after moving to Connecticut.

“He was so passionate about the military … veterans and the service,” Carol May said. “He always knew he wanted to do something that would give back.”

May recalled how one day in the early 2010s the couple’s friend Steven Cavanaugh came to the Mays’ home. He told them he wanted to use his skills as a general contractor to help the community.

A few days later, Bill May suggested focusing on veterans, Cavanaugh said.

Some research turned up a Georgia-based organization called the House of Heroes, according to Carol May, who said her husband and Cavanaugh started a branch in Connecticut. The group completed their first home repair project in 2012; All their projects are completed in one day.

One of the first veterans to be supported by Connecticut’s House of Heroes was Jesse Ede. He was several years out of the military at the time, having served two tours of duty in Iraq, he said, and was still struggling to adjust to civilian life.

Ede had one child and another on the way, he said. He had just bought his first house.

“We’ve been very busy and we were first-time home buyers,” Ede said. “My family had no property before me.”

He knew little about house repairs.

He then learned about House of Heroes, which sent Bill May and a group of volunteers to fix Ede’s house in Berlin.

“They worked long hours, which saved me thousands of dollars,” Ede said.

For Ede, the experience was not just a practical matter.

“It’s hard to talk about it without getting all the emotion,” he said. “It was an overwhelming day, and not in a negative way.”

Ede recalled that the workers would not let him help in any way but told him to relax.

And then he had to talk to Bill May.

“He was very open and very receptive,” said Ede. “He just supported me and my family. … He was that person who knew how to navigate a civilian world while also being a veteran.”

Ede could share his story with someone who understood.

“When you go back to the civilian world, you’re military trained, not civilian trained,” Ede said. “People don’t necessarily know how to listen to veterans that well, and this organization does.”

Seeing a group of people mobilize to help Ede also meant a lot to the young veteran. It gave him validation that “the military has served a purpose because there is a good nation that wants to support us and want to help us.”

This phenomenon – that home repairs can one day be very moving for the veteran being helped – is a phenomenon that Carol May also described.

While House of Heroes conducts almost all of its projects in Connecticut, it received a grant from Stanley Black & Decker in 2015 to carry out five projects in other states, May said.

One of the clients, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Indiana, needed significant help with his home, May said, adding that House of Heroes brought together about 200 volunteers to do the job.

“(The veteran) said that this was one of the most important days of his life, even more important than coming back from Vietnam,” May recalled. “Just the kindness of everyone that was there…was overwhelming to him.”

The veteran said May said no one had previously thanked him for his service because of the Vietnam War controversy. That’s one of the reasons she thinks the House of Heroes project meant so much to him.

Bill May was there that day and performed a small ceremony that the House of Heroes performs for every veteran it serves. He would thank the project’s sponsors and tell the veteran’s story, Carol May said.

Although Bill May had already been diagnosed with cancer at the time, Carol May said he was determined to take the projects out of state.

When he died in 2016, Carol May and Cavanaugh decided to continue the work. May currently serves as the organization’s executive director, while Cavanaugh serves as its president.

While they started with a trailer and a small storage unit, Carol May said, they now have an office in Hamden, a squad with tools and a truck.

Thanks to a new partnership with the Connecticut Carpenters’ Union, Cavanaugh said the nonprofit can do more than before. He hopes to eventually set up a leadership team across all Connecticut counties so House of Heroes can complete eight projects each Saturday.

House of Heroes completed five projects over Memorial Day weekend, which marked 10 years after the group’s first home repair, Cavanaugh said.

One of the veterans they served was 91-year-old Frederick Lubenow of North Haven.

House of Heroes enlarged Lubenow’s bedroom door to fit his wheelchair, Lubenow said. They also did a significant amount of work in his yard and pressure washed his house, he said.

Since then, according to Lubenow, neighbors have told him how good his garden looks.

“The day was very good,” he said. “You really did a great job.”

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