THE BLOG
10/05/2010 02:04 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Changing the Lives of Heroes, One Household at a Time (VIDEO)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it's the only thing that ever does." -- Margaret Mead

Giving honor to veterans and service members can happen every day of the year if you really put your mind to it. While many people enjoy long weekends and holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veteran's Day, one Rhode Island maid service owner decided that every day was worth giving honor, and decided to do something about it.

Earlier this year, Anne Aldridge, owner of Ocean State House Cleaning in Warwick, Rhode Island went searching for a nonprofit organization that was able to link up cleaning services like hers with disabled veterans who needed house cleaning services but were unable to afford them. She was unable to find any such organization dedicated to this cause. Knowing that there was a need for such services, she founded a nonprofit organization that would be able to fill this need and Cleaning for Heroes was born.

Anne is no stranger to the sacrifices of veterans. She is the daughter of a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, the granddaughter of a World War II veteran, and the great-granddaughter of a World War I veteran.

Thousands of soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning to civilian life with moderate to severe physical injuries. Disabling and traumatic events such as loss of limbs, head trauma and debilitating illnesses make it difficult for these men and women to meet the demands of everyday life such as cleaning and maintaining their homes. There are hundreds of thousands of other veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War who also have disabling injuries.

The applications and referrals that Cleaning for Heroes receives speak to this need. Examples of client requests include a quadriplegic Iraq veteran whose wife is pregnant and on bed rest, a Marine who lost both hands from a rocket propelled grenade, a Korean veteran whose cardiologist asked for special considerations on his behalf, a Vietnam veteran who can't push a mower or vacuum, and a World War II veteran whose grandson asked for assistance because his grandfather's pride "got in the way." Sometimes it takes only one message sent to their 3,000 plus Facebook fans to find the provider quickly. Other times they find it necessary to place the applicant on a waiting list while they continue recruiting providers through other channels. There are approximately 25-50 applications being processed and matched with a service provider at any given time.

The residual effect of providing free household services can improve the health and overall well-being of the recipients and their families, allowing the veterans more time to focus on their healing, family bonding, community involvement and productivity. In many cases, the assistance given by Cleaning for Heroes to promote a healthy healing environment can prevent recurring hospitalizations or placement into a nursing home. By keeping the veterans in their own homes, this helps maintain the dignity of the veteran and saves taxpayers the cost of absorbing any additional medical care given by military treatment facilities.

Cleaning for Heroes added their National Spokesperson and Executive Director, Torrey Shannon, in April of 2010. Torrey is the wife of SSG John Daniel Shannon, a combat-wounded veteran who was featured in the Pulitzer-Prize winning stories in The Washington Post in 2007 and later testified before Congress about veteran care issues. Torrey, a former maid service owner, has been a peer mentor and moderator on many online residential cleaning forums over the years and remains actively involved in the cleaning industry. She is most recognized as an advocate and expert on quality-of-life topics that affect veterans and their families.

Within four months of the launch of this ground-breaking program, the Cleaning for Heroes network of maid services were spanning the nation and reaching into Canada. The response from the public was overwhelmingly positive.

Torrey Shannon reflects on a powerful comment that one of their call center employees shared about the passion found behind this program. While processing applications that were received by veterans and noting their pleas for help, the employee realized the requests came from people who just wanted to maintain their dignity and their homes. Knowing that Torrey is a fulltime caretaker for her severely injured husband, she confided: "Now I get it. I'm reading the applicant notes and every single one makes me cry. I intellectually understood your passion before, but... I think I'm starting to truly 'get it'."

This passion paid off. The Cleaning for Heroes team realized their three-year strategic plan was accomplished in only four months, but they also knew their mission had only begun. After careful planning and consideration, they opened the program to involve a wider scope of residential services. The program now incorporates 24 additional residential field service industries providing services like carpet cleaning, air duct cleaning, mold remediation, pest control, lawn care, and simple home repair services. Professional companies ranging from individually-owned and operated businesses to large franchises are all given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the veterans in their communities.

Screened and approved providers who join the Cleaning for Heroes network agree to provide free services every month to eligible veterans. Each veteran receives an average of four months of ongoing household services. Each business that joins is given three options to "pledge" a comfortable amount of donated services per year. In turn, these network providers are recognized by their communities as a caring and socially responsible business that operates with a moral compass, many times winning new clients over a competitor who is not part of the program. Cleaning for Heroes also helps the business grow within their own community with the use of the free marketing and networking tools they receive for joining the program.

Funding for ongoing assistance for their high-risk clients is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Unlike other network assistance programs, Cleaning for Heroes does not charge any "membership" fees to participate in their program. They feel the program costs can be absorbed more easily by their sponsors than to burden the smaller companies who are already performing the free services. Not only do the sponsors provide the funding for the program, but they also provide discounts and free products to the network providers. This contribution helps defray the smaller company's expenses for the free services given to their community, and at the same time, brings more visibility for the sponsor to be recognized by the general public for their corporate social responsibility.

Watch NBC's Ashanti Blaize feature the Cleaning for Heroes program with an interview with one of the Cleaning for Heroes recipients and his maid service, Sparkling Kleaning Services.

Based on the same concept that our nation's heroes volunteered to serve their country and communities, Cleaning for Heroes is an all-volunteer effort that brings donors, providers and recipients together. Cleaning for Heroes relies on volunteers, sponsors and donors who can contribute their time, money or services to the needs of their applicants. If you would like more information on how you can improve the lives of heroes in your community, or would like to apply for assistance, please visit their website at www.cleaningforheroes.org or call (401) 732-7856.

Subscribe to Must Reads.
The internet's best stories, and interviews with their authors.