Local companies help clean, fix veteran's home

Apr. 18—This week, several area businesses are working to give a disabled veteran back his home after the residence fell into disrepair.

"He finally got the courage to call for help, and we were able to change his life," said Gage Smith, project manager for ServiceMaster Restore in Joplin. "It's a little bit out of our line of work, but we had the opportunity, so we jumped right on it."

Walking through his house with his granddaughter by his side, veteran Anthony Poffenbarger watched crews at work in his two-bedroom Carthage house laying down flooring, installing bathroom fixtures and sanitizing surfaces.

"Wow — just wow," Poffenbarger said as he got his first look. "You guys have done awesome work, tons, tons better than it was at the beginning."

Poffenbarger was born in Guam and grew up a military brat. He served over 20 years with the U.S. Navy, starting out in oceanography and meteorology.

Poffenbarger traveled mostly in the Pacific and Indian oceans, serving tours of duty in five conflicts. He remembers the closest he came to open conflict was when his boat landed close to Somalia, and it started taking small-arms fire.

He moved to Southwest Missouri to help his father on a cattle farm. After the farm was sold, Poffenbarger cared for several family members. During that time, he also married Lola Carolyn, a nurse for 36 years. She died seven years ago due to complications from diabetes.

"That was a real turning point in my life because she had always kept care of the home before that," Poffenbarger said. "I just gave up. I decided that I didn't care about anything anymore. If a piece of paper hit the floor, it stayed there."

In Poffenbarger's grief, the house's condition deteriorated until it started affecting his health. He said the last time he tripped and fell over debris, he dislocated his shoulder. At that point, he knew he needed help to get himself back up.

Working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Poffenbarger first contacted Richard Webb, owner of Incredible Junk Removalz, to get the ball rolling.

Webb assessed the situation and contacted ServiceMaster Restore to help with the challenging project. He said crews initially had to climb over debris to enter the house.

"We see a lot of hoarding situations like this," Webb said. "It's not an uncommon thing, especially when someone's experienced a loss. Thank goodness he found us because it's what we specialize in."

Webb estimated they removed five 15-yard rolloff dumpsters of trash from the house. That amounted to about 8 tons of waste, including things such as old furniture.

The special part of this project is helping a veteran get his life back in order, Webb said. Both he and ServiceMaster Restore cut their prices to make the project affordable for Poffenbarger.

"I have no problem giving back, especially to someone who has given back to his country," Webb said. "We give back any chance we can to someone who gave everything."

Smith said it was disheartening when his crew initially walked into the house. In addition to the debris, there was a severe mice infestation. ServiceMaster Restore sanitized the house and helped sort Poffenbarger's belongings. Crews from Joplin and Springdale pitched in, working around the clock.

After the debris was cleared, it was apparent the floors were rotting away, Smith said. The crews shored up the floors, put down new flooring throughout the house and installed new bathroom fixtures. They also arranged donations for a new bed and furniture.

"It's one thing to turn your life upside down, but we didn't want to leave him coming home to a house in half disrepair," Smith said. "We wanted to make sure he had something to put together."

While Poffenbarger knows these weren't healthy living conditions, Smith said he's had a good sense of humor about the situation.

"We've grown to like this guy quite a bit. He's fun to work with," Smith said.

Both managers said they hope the cleaner conditions help Poffenbarger's health, especially his breathing because he's on oxygen. They also hope he can entertain visitors and form a support system.

"We want to get him back to where he feels like he has a home again," Webb said. "His wife is going to be looking down and proud of him for cleaning the house up."

Working with ServiceMaster has been awesome as well, Poffenbarger said. The business has helped with the cost of services and bent over backward to help him, he said, especially with getting furniture donations. There were a few pieces that the crew could salvage, including a large grandfather clock Poffenbarger's wife bought as an heirloom to pass down to his children.

"I have a lot of work left to do, but I can handle that now," Poffenbarger said. "The good Lord doesn't put us anywhere we cannot recover from. He backs us up 150%."

While he said he has a lot of scars and pain, Poffenbarger feels this is the beginning of his healing process. He's looking forward to having visitors and cooking his baby back ribs for them.

"I can finally enjoy the company of my neighbors and acquaintances," Poffenbarger said. "I won't feel bad about inviting them out. I won't hesitate."