Canyon Country resident Shayna Richards remembers her husband Army Sgt. Timothy Smith’s attempts to keep her from worrying during his 2008 deployment in Iraq.
“He used to joke around and say he worked at the local supermarket, picking up shopping carts. He just made it seem like it was a breeze and nothing was wrong and everything was okay,” said Richards.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sgt. Smith served with the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team,10th Mountain Division. As a combat engineer he drove the lead vehicle for convoys while searching for improvised explosive devises (IEDs).
“He drove the lead, single-man vehicle in case a roadside bomb were to happen, it would take him out first. And that’s exactly what happened,” Richards said.
Smith left behind a wife and a son, Riley, who he barely got to know.
The boy was only 22months old when his father died. Because Smith was stationed out of state, they only lived under the same roof for four months. Riley has no memories of the man who loved him so much.
“We do go over a lot of different pictures and we do talk about that a lot. And he’s starting to understand that he’s not coming back because for a very long time because he didn’t understand what death was,” Richards said.
Today, Richards and Riley share a home in Canyon Country. She is a full-time student at College of the Canyons where she uses her husband’s veteran’s benefits to get a degree.
Richards says she was contacted one day by the COC Veteran’s Affairs office. That’s where she heard about an organization called SCV Habitat for Heroes which helps veterans in the Santa Clarita community. Richards says she was enthusiastic about doing anything she could to help.
SCV Habitat for Heroes wanted to help her.
“When I said I was willing to do it, I thought that meant more I could help other veterans, I didn’t think they’d want to help me,” said Richards.
Donna Deutchman, CEO of the San Fernando/Santa Clarita Valley Habitat for Humanity, is not surprised by Richards misunderstanding. She says veterans and their families are so used to giving and doing for others they don’t think of themselves.
Richards says that accurately describes her husband, who was awarded The Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
“He always just sacrificed himself for everybody. It didn’t matter who it was,” said Richards.
Now, the SCV Habitat for Heroes organization is helping Richards and Riley (below).
“Being such a young widow, trying to get back into college at College of the Canyons through the G.I. Bill, being a busy single mother now, and with her grieving process she and her son have felt a little bit in need of some lightening up, some encouragement,” said Deutchman.
Although SCV Habitat for Heroes would eventually like to help veterans purchase homes, they are actively moving forward with the Brush with Kindness program. This aspect works with Habitat for Humanity volunteers to paint, make repairs, provide landscaping and weatherize the homes of veterans.
(To see the results of the first SCV Habitat for Heroes: Brush With Kindness event, click here .)
Normally Sgt. Smith’s medals adorn the walls for Riley to admire. Thursday, Steve Mercado (right, along with volunteer Anjali Bhatt), Site Supervisor for Habitat for Humanity removed everything from the walls and put plastic on the carpets. He and his team of volunteers began preparing the house for a new interior paint job and minor repairs.
Home Depot donated the paint and supplies.
Jeri Serrati-Goldman, co-owner of KHTS along with her husband Carl Goldman, says Richards’ home is just one of 10 homes to receive the Brush With Kindness treatment this year.
“We are getting overwhelming support from the community on each of our projects, we are so blessed to live in this wonderful place,” said Serrati-Goldman.
Riley, alternates between playing his hand-held video game, and watching curiously as all these strange, but kind people begin preparing the house for painting.
SCV Habitat for Heroes, and its 62 member advisory board, wants Riley to know how much people appreciate his father’s service and sacrifice.
“(We’re) letting him know how proud the community is of his dad and his dad’s gift of safety and security meant to our community. And that Santa Clarita stands behind its heroes and when they fall we stand behind the families who have lost the fallen,” said Deutchman.
Volunteers are welcome to help SCV Habitat for Heroes beginning at 7:30 Saturday morning at 29486 Kristine Court in Canyon Country.