The Home Depot Foundation and Rebuilding Together Sandoval County teamed up Wednesday to make repairs and updates to the home of local Navy veteran and Rio Rancho resident, Mel Baca, in honor of Veterans Day.

Nearly two dozen volunteers worked on projects, including landscaping updates, building a pine fence, installing vinyl plank flooring, updating carpeting and renovating the kitchen with a new gas range stove and hood. Team Depot also surprised Baca by gifting him a brand-new grill, patio set and fire pit.

“From what we understand,  he enjoys being outside and likes to cook so, yeah, I thought those were a couple of good surprise gifts for him here,” Home Depot District Captain Bryan Foster said.

Baca served 16 years in the Navy and sustained life-altering injuries while deployed in Iraq during Desert Storm. As a result, Baca took early retirement to join the Army Reserves, where he served for another 15 years. During this time, Baca returned to New Mexico and bought his home in Rio Rancho, where he pursued his personal passion of cooking by specializing as a mess cook and training young recruits to become the same. Now, Baca’s determination and post-retirement endeavors have become even more challenging with age, as his asthma, hearing loss and back injuries prevent him from being able to enjoy his family to the fullest and complete necessary home repairs.

At the end of the project, all volunteers gathered around and raised the American and Army flags alongside Mel as a token of honor and appreciation.

“I appreciate everyone helping me,” Baca said. “It’s hard for me to do stuff like this, so I appreciate everything they did.”

Kevin Hendricks/Observer

The Home Depot Foundation’s annual Operation Surprise initiative aims to provide life-changing moments of surprise through service to our nation’s veterans. From Nov. 1-20, Team Depot will complete hundreds of service projects in honor of Veterans Day, providing moments of surprise along the way.

Giving back to veterans is personal to The Home Depot, as more than 35,000 of the company’s associates are veterans or military spouses. Since 2011, The Home Depot Foundation has invested $475 million in veteran causes and helped renovate and enhance more than 60,000 veteran homes and facilities, ensuring more of the nation’s heroes have a safe, comfortable place to call home that fits their individual needs.

“We partner today with Rebuilding Together Sandoval. We’ve done projects with them in the past,” Foster said. “So they kind of get in contact with us, and we supply the funds and manpower with that and give back to our community.”

Rebuilding Together Sandoval County was founded in 1999 as a 501.c.3 nonprofit organization originally called “Christmas in April.” It is  dedicated to helping residents in Sandoval County who could not afford to make essential repairs to keep their homes safe and habitable. The original goal was to bring together volunteers once a year, in April, to do a project together. From that modest start, RTSC has grown into an organization that provides year-round assistance. RTSC is now one of more than 100 affiliates of Rebuilding Together USA, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize neighborhoods by providing rehabilitation services free of charge to those in need.

“This is a project that we’re doing with Home Depot, working with folks across the country to support veterans,” RTSC Program Manager Dana Oliveri said. “They reached out to us; we did a successful project with them in the spring and asked if we could nominate a veteran for for today’s event. We had worked with Mr. Baca in the past a few years ago. He had reached out to us about some additional assistance. Home Depot reached out to us and as a nonprofit, we got our funding from a lot of different places with different restrictions, so I don’t have as much funding to spend on folks in Rio Rancho. So when Home Depot reached out to us, I wanted to find a veteran in Rio Rancho and keep it local.”

RTSC is always looking for  volunteers and donations. It will be repairing 30-plus homes over the next year and need help to get the work done. To donate, click here, or, to volunteer, click here.