Berks Vietnam veteran gets home improvement help from fellow veterans | Berks and Beyond

Adelicia Caree

Christopher Spohn deposited another armful of items onto the growing pile outside John DeWald’s Exeter Township home. “Colonel,” a volunteer called to him, directing Spohn’s attention to a group helping sort DeWald’s trash from his treasures. Spohn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who resides in Muhlenberg Township, was one of more […]

Christopher Spohn deposited another armful of items onto the growing pile outside John DeWald’s Exeter Township home.

“Colonel,” a volunteer called to him, directing Spohn’s attention to a group helping sort DeWald’s trash from his treasures.

Spohn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who resides in Muhlenberg Township, was one of more than a dozen veterans, police officers and others to lend a hand Sunday at the house on Buddies Court.

DeWald, 75, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, had some recent health problems and his home was beginning to crumble around him. The veteran, who lives alone, was in danger of losing his residence unless it could be cleaned and repaired to meet safety codes, Spohn said.

The effort, which will continue through the week, was organized by Veterans Coalition of Pennsylvania, or VCOP.

The Reading-based nonprofit helps veterans and their families with basic needs.

“This organization saved my life,” volunteer David Clifton said. “Now, I am trying to give back.”

Clifton of Tulpehocken Township, an Army veteran, told his story as he helped clear clutter from the yard.

He had been homeless four years ago when VCOP directed him to the services that helped him become a homeowner and start a new career as a peer support specialist.

VCOP is a true coalition and partners with numerous agencies to find veterans the programs, services and help needed to live better, happier and more fulfilling lives, said Robin “Cherokee” Gilmore, chairman of the organization.

It can help with applying for veterans benefits, education, housing, jobs, counseling and more, Gilmore said.

“We don’t compete with other organizations,” he said. “We are about helping one another and are always looking for other organizations to collaborate with to help local veterans.”

The effort to help DeWald is a great example of what can happen when government agencies, nonprofits and area businesses cooperate, Spohn said.

Things started coming together when Exeter Township police Sgt. Rocco C. DeCamillo shared DeWald’s story with Ken LeBron, director of the Berks Veterans Affairs department.

DeCamillo, a Marine Corps sergeant major, said he reached out to LeBron after learning DeWald was a Marine. LeBron then contacted VCOP.

“VCOP jumped right in and rallied additional troops,” Spohn said.

The Crowne Plaza Reading hotel in Wyomissing provided DeWald with a room for the week, and the Animal Rescue League, a nonprofit shelter, is caring for his cats while volunteers work on the house.

Area contractors, churches and other stepped up with donations of skilled labor, gift cards for food and more.

Most of the project volunteers work full-time jobs but are dedicated to helping DeWald, said Spohn, former principal of Hamburg High School and director of the Hamburg School District’s operations.

The project could end up taking more than a week, he said, and DeWald’s house may need to be replaced.

Those wishing to donate or help should visit the VCOP website or Facebook page.

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