By Grace Austin

Imagine coming home from the battlefield, with no home or a home that no longer fits your needs.For many veterans, this is their homecoming. Sears, a long-time supporter of the troops, became aware of this void nearly five years ago and wanted to help correct it. In doing so, the retail giant founded Heroes at Home.

“Sears has always demonstrated a commitment to supporting our military heroes with our ongoing programs,” said Tom Aiello, Division VP of Sears Holdings. “We strive to improve the lives of the military, both active and veterans, and their families with programs like Heroes at Home. Whether it’s with gift cards during the holidays, rebuilding homes for military veterans year-round or providing recruiting and employment programs, we continue to provide ongoing opportunities to help our troops.”

Sears, indeed, has a long history of helping veterans in myriad ways. For example, Sears employs more than 30,000 veterans, and 1,500 are currently serving in the National Guard. President and Chairman General Robert Woods built Sears into the “world’s largest merchandiser” during the twentieth century while also serving in World Wars I and II. He implemented special programs after World War II to reintegrate veterans. Today, Sears matches company and military pay to employees who are deployed so they do not have to take a pay cut for serving. Sears also maintains benefits for the employee’s family while they are deployed.

“A lot of companies will say ‘Let’s just pick a cause and go out and support it,’ but I think one of the hallmarks of what we are doing here is that it is so true to our heritage,” said Aiello. “This is where we’re putting a stake in the ground and making a difference in society.”

Heroes at Home and Wish Registry

The Sears Heroes at Home program raises money to support the rehabilitation of homes for veterans and military families across the country in collaboration with Rebuilding Together, the nation’s leading non profit working to preserve affordable homeownership. Since its inception in 2007, the Sears Heroes at Home program has raised more than $31 million to help renovate 1,000 homes and improve the lives of more than 83,000 families.

Sgt. Ryan Major of Silver Spring, Maryland, was the first beneficiary of Heroes at Home. Major was critically injured while stationed in Iraq. Heroes at Home outfitted his home with an elevator, ramps, hardwood floors, lightened door frames, lowered counter tops, and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom and bedroom.

“He lived in a home that was too formidable for him in his wheelchair,” said Aiello. “We made the home livable, so he could come home from Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] and have a great life he’s entitled to.”
Families and widows of veterans are also aided by the organization.

“Rebuilding Together, Sears and Samsung just came along at a very critical time in my life. Losing my husband seven months ago, I sat on the couch just wondering, ‘my house needs a lot of work and now it’s just me and how am I going to get it done.’ As soon as I thought about that, it’s like God answered my prayers. So I feel like they’re my saviors,” said Danielle Green-Byrd to the Chicago Tribune.

Heroes at Home also helps make the holiday easier for active-duty military members and their families with the Wish Registry, which provides the means for them to purchase practical gifts such as clothes, toys, and holiday decorations. This past holiday season was its fourth year in practice.

“It’s a shame to think those families are in need over the holidays, but it’s a reality and a fact that a lot of them are below-poverty level and a lot of them are struggling, especially when a loved one is deployed,” said Aiello.

The Wish Registry uses donations from customers, associates, and vendors to raise money. Sears associates participate in fundraising, while vendors donate large amounts to the organization. Hershey’s gave $50,000 this past holiday season. The bulk of contributions, though, comes from customers, who often donate at registers. All of the proceeds go directly to military families.

“I think one of the hallmarks about programs like this is its consistency. We’ve now had a five-year commitment,” said Aiello. “So many of these programs are a flash. That consistency has enabled the program to really grow. I definitely think it’s something unique to the program.”