Kevin and Allison Lambert bought a fixer-up house in a quiet residential Haverhill neighborhood.
They wanted to turn it into their dream home, but injuries Kevin Lambert suffered while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq slowed progress to a crawl. Weakness in his legs made every task difficult. Modernizing the kitchen, fixing the roof and doing landscaping projects were financially out of reach.
The Lamberts were getting nowhere fast when, out of the blue, they got a call from Cheryl Jarzobski of Bradford.
Jarzobski, a department supervisor with the Methuen Home Depot, asked if they'd like their kitchen remodeled for free through a Home Depot program that helps veterans and their families in need.
"It went from a kitchen remodel to a whole house remodel," Kevin Lambert said. "It's really unbelievable. You hear about these things, but you never think it will happen to you.
"To have someone call you and ask if you'd like your house redone,'' he said, "it's something that doesn't happen all the time."
Built in 1943, the cape-style home was in need of work inside and out.
"I tried to do some work, but the physical stuff gets hard for me and we end up having to call in family to help," said Kevin Lambert, who oversees veterans outreach programs for the state.
His wife is employed as a teacher's assistant.
Last fall, Jarzobski's store manager asked her to find a veteran whose home was in need of repairs. Jarzobski reached out to John Ratka, director of Veterans Northeast Outreach in Haverhill. Ratka, whose organization provides a range of services to veterans and their families, put Jarzobski in touch with Kevin Lambert.
"He's an incredible young man," Jarzobski said.
She presented her idea to her store manager, and soon the project was approved.
Jarzobski said the Home Depot Foundation has dedicated $30 million to improve the homes and lives of veterans through its "Celebration of Service" program.
Jarzobski served as the Team Depot captain for the project, while Lauri Jackman of Haverhill, a specialty assistant manager of the Methuen Home Depot, reached out to area contractors, including plumbers, electricians, roofers, dry wall, window and door installers. The contractors volunteered their labor and Home Depot provided the materials.
About 60 Home Depot volunteers ranging from sales associates to store managers came from 10 Home Depot stores, including those in Methuen and Tewksbury, Plaistow and Rochester, N.H., as well as Home Depot stores along the seacoast from Danvers to Portsmouth, N.H.
"Lining everyone up has been a juggling act," Jarzobski said.
Kevin Lambert said his master bedroom was gutted and new sheetrock was installed, the home's electrical and plumbing systems are being upgraded and walls are being stripped of wallpaper and repainted. New kitchen cabinets and hardwood flooring are being installed along with a new patio door, and a new refrigerator is on its way.
"We had overgrown shrubs and workers from Home Depot came in and ripped them up and replanted the whole border, including new plants and mulch, as well as four raised garden beds to grow vegetables," he said.
Kevin Lambert served in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2008. From August 2005 to December 2006 he served as an infantry machine gunner during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His unit came under fire while on patrol in the Mosul area.
"I was carrying a lot of gear and, while climbing out of a 22-ton armored striker vehicle, I tripped over the medic's foot and fell to the ground," Lambert said.
He was rushed to the base hospital, where doctors treated him for a sprained ankle and shoulder. He returned to duty and several months later he returned to his base in Fairbanks, Alaska. But he was in pain, and it was getting worse day by day.
"I could barely walk at the time and just tried to push through it," he said.
Lambert was evaluated at Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors discovered fractures in his L4 vertebrae as well as knee inflammation. He said injections of anti-inflammatory medication reduced the swelling in his knees.
"The bones in my spine healed, but I'm left with chronic pain and weakness in my legs," Lambert said. "I now use a cane to help with balance."
Jarzobski said the renovations to the Lamberts' home should be completed in a few weeks.
"I can't wait until it's done," she said. "I'm thrilled and we could not have found a better couple. They are wonderful people."