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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Volunteers bring holiday cheer to veterans

The Decorate A Vet house on Wayne Drive in the Broyhill Crest neighborhood in Annandale.
Have you seen one of these “Decorate A Vet” signs in your neighborhood and wondered what’s going on?

These are the homes of military families or veterans that have been decorated and fixed up for the holidays by a team of volunteers led by Jeff Jones, the owner of Classic Stonescaping.  

A huge team of volunteers worked on the homes.
This year a record crowd of about 175 people decorated six houses – two in Annandale, two in Falls Church, one in Vienna, and one in North Springfield – all in one extremely hectic Saturday earlier this month. 

They also decorated American Legion Post 130 in Falls Church because that’s where Jones went in 2010 when he first got the idea for Decorate A Vet and asked the legionnaires for suggestions on veterans who would need some help during the holidays. The post now serves as the group’s clubhouse where the volunteers meet to get their marching orders for the day. 

A contingent of firefighters helped decorate the homes and fix up the yards.
In addition to decorating, the volunteers do other work on the houses, such as putting up new gutters, new driveways, or new patios, and taking care of landscaping and tree removal. One year they put in a ramp for a disabled veteran and another time they cleared out a house occupied by “a semi-hoarder,” Jones says.

This year the houses were in pretty good shape, he says. They did some yard work and put in a new front walkway on one of the Annandale houses. The goal is to complete each house in an hour and 10 minutes.

Lots of kids volunteered, too.
The homeowners are consulted in advance, but this year the group surprised retired Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Recabo when they decorated his house on Marcer Street in Falls Church. The recipient of a Silver Star, Recabo served in the 1st Infantry Division in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, did two tours in the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq, and was in Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. 

Another veteran helped this year is a former lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who will be spending his first Christmas alone in his house on Garner Street in Springfield since his wife passed away in March. He served in Egypt and Korea, as well as at the Pentagon and Defense Intelligence Agency where he supported the National Security Council and the Office of the Vice President. 

The Decorate A Vet house on Wayne Drive in Annandale is occupied by a man who served in the Marine Corps for 45 years, beginning in the Korean War, was in charge of maintaining fighter planes at Andrews Air Force Base, and retired as a CW5, the highest chief warrant officer rank in the corps.

There’s a World War II vet living in the Decorate A Vet house in Vienna, and the other homes decorated this month are occupied by the families of people on active duty overseas who want to remain anonymous.

Jones started Decorate A Vet during his work with Classic Stonescaping when he noticed some peoples’ yards needed fixing up and learned some of the homeowners were veterans.

Although not a vet himself, Jones’ family has a strong military background. Her father was in the Navy, and his uncles served in Vietnam. His godfather, Raymond Harvey, who was in the Army in World War II and Korea, was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor.

“That was the inspiration for me growing up,” Jones says. “When you hear the stories when you’re young you think it was just all fun. When you grow up and learn what really went on, holy crap.” 

Jones has a core group of about 40 to 50 volunteers who’ve worked on the houses every year. Members of the youth group at Annandale United Methodist Church have helped out for the past three years. Other volunteers are recruited though social media.

About 40 percent of the volunteers are youths, Jones says. “We want them to get involved, to know what it’s like to do something for others, not just for themselves.”


  1. It was a wonderful time and the Vets were excited. Thank you Jeff for taking on this amazing cause.

  2. Heartwarming.

  3. Decorate A Vet decorated my house in 2013 and it sure made it a more festive Christmas. The volunteers came from a college in Georgia and were a great group of kids. Last year Decorate A Vet decorated my neighbors house last year. He was a retired Colonel and commanded a MASH unit in Vietnam. He was a widower and it sure made his Christmas season.