The Day's Make a Difference series brings 'a huge response'

When employees of St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich were tasked with finding a story to put forward for The Day’s Make a Difference series, they settled on the story of Brady, a U.S. Army veteran who had fallen on hard times.

Brady, a 57-year-old living with a traumatic brain injury, served 26 honorable years with the Army in a medal-laden career that took him from Iraq to Kuwait to Afghanistan, according to Executive Director Jillian Corbin.

Then an unspecified situation left him with a dishonorable discharge — and thus unable to collect veterans’ aid, including medical and housing services — at the end of the 26th year.

Brady’s wish list was simple: He needed gas cards, store gift cards and help fixing his beat-up, nonfunctioning van.

The region’s residents went above and beyond.

A local garage offered to look over Brady’s van and found it wasn’t repairable. Employees there, with the help of some donated parts and money, fixed up a car they had, put it through emissions testing and signed the title over to Brady.

A representative of the garage said they preferred not to be identified — they did this to help out, not for publicity.

Others, upon reading that Brady has lived in an unheated barn without utilities for more than a year, donated warm clothing, including a leather coat.

There were Kohl’s cards, Subway cards and gas cards, too. Some people sent in kitchen items. Others said they had set aside furniture and even a 40-inch TV for Brady to use once he finds a permanent home.

Many wrote notes thanking Brady for his service.

“We got such a huge response,” Corbin said.

According to St. Vincent de Paul Place Case Manager Julie Way, she and Brady also have been working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to get Brady's discharge upgraded. Veterans Affairs attorneys, she said, "feel strongly" that their bid will be successful.

Brady is overwhelmed by and thankful for all of it, Corbin and Way said.

As in other years, The Day’s series, in existence since 2008, brought stories this year of heartbreak and need from around the region.

There was Tony, a young, married father of three who has stage 4 cancer.

For years, Tony was a full-time worker whose income allowed his wife to stay home with their youngest child. Now he’s at end of short-term disability benefits with no long-term disability plan in place.

According to Stonington Human Services receptionist Amanda Johnson, the agency still is receiving checks and gift cards in the mail for Tony and his family. Some people even put small gift baskets together for the kids.

As of Wednesday, 58 people had donated in some way.

Many of them, she said, included small, uplifting notes detailing how cancer has affected their lives.

“They know how the family is feeling,” Johnson said. “They’re reaching out and saying 'We’ve been there, we’re thinking about you. We don’t have any idea who you are, but we’re thinking about you.'”

At the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, there was Denise.

Knowing Denise had a chance to get an apartment with the shelter's help, a friend had promised to help her with expenses. Then that friend backed out. Denise was left in need of "just about everything you'd need to set up a home," including dishes, kitchen towels, toiletries and cleaning supplies.

On Dec. 16, Communications and Development Manager Barbara Nagy said Denise had received many of the items, including a slow cooker she was very excited about.

The center got so many donations, Nagy said, that some are going to others who recently have been housed.

The Arc New London County told the story of Matthew, a 20-year-old man with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and his family, who recently had to evacuate the house they were renting because of the condition it was in. 

On the verge of homelessness, the family had to separate, with Matthew and his mom staying in a room in a friend’s trailer and his dad and sister living with different relatives. Matthew’s mom has been trying to save up money for a new place, but with his father having been laid off, it hasn’t been easy.

Since their story ran Dec. 5, Director of Community Outreach Bambi Poppick said the response has been “heartwarming.”

Matthew got the warm coat he needed and the ear buds he had requested. Gift cards to Target, Wal-Mart and Stop & Shop, along with cash donations and checks, poured in.

“The outpouring from the public was really touching,” Poppick said.

l.boyle@theday.com

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