Mission United dominant

Marine veteran Jennifer Vassallo and her 17-year-old son, Kane, who is autistic, share a laugh while talking about how Tom O’Brien with Mission United helped replace her leaking roof.

Now when it rains, Jennifer Vassallo doesn’t have to worry about puddles of water inside her house — or whether or not the ceilings will collapse from water damage.

Thanks to Citrus United Way’s Mission United program, The Home Depot Foundation and local roofer Shane Schillings of Quality First Roofing, the Marine Corps veteran has a new roof to keep her and her son, Kane, safe, snug and dry.

“I’m so grateful,” she said. “It was something I completely needed but couldn’t do on my own.”

Vassallo is just one of the nearly 100 local veterans helped by Mission United since Tom O’Brien was hired as director.

“The house was built in the '70s, and it was the original roof,” Vassallo said. “And it was deteriorating. I hired people to fix it, but that made it worse and I was desperate — it was leaking in three major areas.”

O’Brien said this was a perfect example of the community responding to a veteran's need and helping them out of a tough spot.

First he contacted The Home Depot Foundation and received a $4,000 grant for roofing materials and supplies.

The Home Depot Foundation, a registered 501(c)(3) public charity, exists to improve the homes and lives of U.S. military veterans and their families with materials and/or labor for a variety of projects. It also responds to communities in disaster, said Julie Shutt, Specialty ASM for The Home Depot store in Crystal River.

Once the grant was secured, O’Brien was about to start calling local roofers to see if they would either donate their services or offer a discounted rate, and Shane Schillings from Quality First Roofing called looking for a veteran his company could help.

Schillings said he had actually gone to Vassallo’s house to look at the roof, so when he talked to O’Brien and found out it was Vassallo whom Mission United was trying to help, he was already familiar with what was needed.

“When I learned she was a veteran, I knew we wanted to help as much as possible,” Schillings said. “So, we, the United Way and Home Depot all got together and figured out the best way to make it happen.”

Vassallo and her son, now 17 and a student at CREST School, moved to Beverly Hills from Ozello, where Vassallo had grown up, when Kane was around 18 months old.

“I wanted him to be in a place near the stores and the park and library, and where there’s bus transportation,” she said. “Publix is just up the street, and Kane loves it there ... he would like to work there some day.”

Vassallo’s parents had owned the Yankee Skipper restaurant in Ozello, and after serving four years in the Marines — including 100 days in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm — she lived in California for a while before returning to Florida in the late 1990s.

“I worked with my parents at the Yankee Skipper. Then my father passed away and my mother retired — and then I had Kane,” she said.

He was born with a major heart defect and other disabilities, and he became her focus.

“For 17 years, I’ve been Kane’s mom. He had open-heart surgery as a baby, for a long time we had two, three therapies, sometimes three times a week,” she said. “But I’ve always worked, at least part-time.”

She said having a new roof gives her peace of mind and being on the receiving end of the community’s support and generosity is overwhelming.

O’Brien said Mission United doesn’t work alone to meet the needs of veterans in our community.

“We work closely with Citrus County Veterans Foundation and also the Citrus County Veterans Coalition,” he said. “Sometimes I refer veterans directly to them and they refer to me. It depends on the situation. Without community support and donations, we wouldn’t be able to do any of this stuff for our veterans.”

If you're a veteran in need, or know a veteran in need, you can contact O'Brien at 352-795-5483.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.


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