Monday my friend Genevieve started a tsunami of tears on Facebook. She posted this item about a disabled veteran and his experience at Lowe’s in New York. Lately all the tears are ones of rage about the V.A. scandal and the needless deaths of my fellow vets. This item was different: it was a story of good triumphing over indifference and evil. They were tears of joy.
The story is a simple one, one I’ve heard too often in my life. A vet couldn’t get what he needed from the V.A. Seems that happened again with Michael Sulsona: his broken wheelchair wasn’t getting replaced through the government. He’d been waiting more than two years for a new chair, and a backup chair as well (repairs, cleaning, different pressure points, all of them require a second chair.) The chair, a vital item to a combat vet who lost both legs in Vietnam, is more important than most of us realize. On July 7th, he visited the local Lowe’s store on Staten Island.
His chair broke down again. This time, 3 employees grabbed a chair for him to sit in and told him his chair would be repaired as good as new. Their names are Marcus, Souleymane, and David. The three of them rebuilt his chair, staying past closing time to make it happen.
So, after drying my eyes (the picture at this link should probably make you weep) I shared the post on Facebook. I shared it within every Veteran’s group I could find, and within hours it had started to go viral. I knew that the inevitable backlash would be coming. Stories of horror about Lowe’s, why Home Depot is just as good, was I a gullible nitwit for believing this story, etc. I braced myself.
And I went to Lowes. I pulled out the Visa card and spent lots and lots of dollars. I’d been putting off a major purchase and one mid sized purchase for too long. I truly had considered the veteran friendly policies at the big box stores and decided it was a wash. Until I read about a disabled vet and a broken wheelchair. Lowe’s won it hands down.
My trip to Lowe’s was great. I got a 10% discount as a veteran, and Karen (I’m hoping I remembered that name correctly, she was the bomb and I may have spaced on the nametag) was as nice as could be in helping me out with my purchases. So was every associate I dealt with at the store. That had been my experience in the past, but today I was seeing it from the height of a wheelchair.
So, three guys fix a wheelchair, big deal. It is to me. It tells me that Lowe’s has created a corporate culture where the employees feel empowered to do the right thing. It tells me that the little American flag on the vests they wear isn’t just a decoration. It tells me where I’ll be spending my money in the future.
I spoke with Paris at the public relations branch of Lowe’s. That alone is impressive, in as much as I’m nobody. They took the time to answer my questions and get back to me on the items they weren’t sure of initially. I found out that the manager was aware that they fixed somebody’s wheelchair, she didn’t know who paid for the parts, and they (the three employees) were all being recognized by the company for their kind spirits. I think Lowe’s is about to bust their buttons over this windfall of good publicity. Best of all, they don’t seem to be agitating to make it about the company. The focus is staying on the three employees and Michael. So, how about you click on this link and go like their Facebook page? Might make them happy if you leave a note telling them why you’re there today.
I can’t wait for my new 25 cubic foot refrigerator to be delivered. And the old one hauled out for free. I can’t wait to try out the gardening tools I purchased for my church. Most of all, I can’t wait to spread the good news about Lowe’s, their employees, and a simple act of Christ-like kindness that brought tears to my eyes.
What about the V.A.? Well, in the wake of this story they mysteriously found it was time to get Michael his wheelchair. He’s not bitter about it, but wonders why it took so long. Like a lot of vets, he’s just thankful to have his wheels again.
Speaking of wheels, there’s a charity called the Independence Fund who has offered Michael an all-terrain wheel chair. At the time I wrote this piece, they had not yet been able to reach him. I did a little research on them, and found that they’re an amazing group of people as well. It’s an all volunteer outfit where 99.6 percent of the donations go to the vets themselves (according to the representative I spoke to this morning.) The woman I talked to (Karen Huling) was on her personal cell phone at a diner having lunch. She does this as a volunteer, on her own nickel, no fancy office but taking calls all day where she is at the moment. They have the support of such notables as Bill O’Reilly and Gary Sinise. Bill I can’t vouch for on a personal basis, but Gary Sinise is a friend of a friend. That friend of mine would stake his life on the good intentions of Mr. Sinise. There’s a charity concert on September 20th at the North Charleston Coliseum that benefits the Independence Fund and the Lieutenant Dan Band is headlining the event. If you’re in the region, it’s a good cause. In any event, head over to their Facebook page and hit the like button – they can use the traffic. Tell them that I sent you. I’m curious as to how many of my readers will take the extra 30 seconds to help out a great organization.
Thank you Souleymane, David, Marcus, and Lowe’s for treating my brother from another mother so well. Thank you Michael Sulsona for sharing your good experience.
Oh, yeah – the negative stuff I expected on Facebook? Never happened. One skeptic, and he was mild, and one who cheered the employees not the corporation. But both still happy to see good news, good deeds, and the honor extended to a wounded vet that he deserved.
So, what’s the moral of this story? Be courageous and do the right thing. It often won’t be recognized, but it’s still the right thing. Lead your company and employees in such a way that they want to, and feel empowered to, do the right thing every time. Buy from companies that respect veterans every day of the year (Lowe’s has a 10% discount for us all the time. Not a small chunk of change on big orders.) Support charities that have low overhead and take good care of our guys and gals. Put the flame on high under the V.A. for ignoring our disabled vets. This should never have happened.
Most of all, be true to yourself and God in your actions. You might not get the press, but you’ll know that good feeling in your soul.
Michael: Semper Fi, brother. Be well, enjoy that new set of chairs and know that we thank you for your service and sacrifice.
Bravo Zulu, Lowe’s.