From the February 2011 Issue of Pressure Cleaning Contractor Magazine
By Allison Hester, Editor
Last year, a fallen soldier was returned home to his home in the Liberty, South Carolina community. As the police escorted the body down the main street, parades of people gathered alongside the road to show their gratitude and respect. A woman quietly placed small American flags alongside the road in honor of the fallen hero.
As the crowds departed, the woman carefully recollected her flags, so as not to litter. Only when she reached the lawn of a bank branch, she realized the flags were gone. Asking what had happened, the bank manager came out and explained she was afraid of offending customers, so she had removed the flags.
This caused quite an outrage in the community. For Len Sutton of Palmetto Home and Deck, it struck a chord – and a nerve.
He began talking with other pressure washers in his area about ways to help support the military community. Shortly thereafter, he saw something on Facebook for Cleaning for Heroes, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of free cleaning services to disabled and elderly U.S. veterans and first responders.
“I thought it was a good thing, and I immediately jumped on it,” he explained. “It is a simple way of giving back to those who sacrificed for our country.”
Sutton is by far not alone.
“I have been absolutely floored to see how much enthusiasm has come from the pressure washing industry,” said Torrey Shannon, Executive Director and Spokesperson of Cleaning for Heroes. While all cleaning industries have shown interest, Torrey added that she has “never seen such an overwhelming response as from the pressure washing industry. The have stepped up much faster than any other industry. They came in droves. They are hands down the most patriotic and giving in their commitment to veterans. It’s been very refreshing.”
The Story Behind the Organization
Cleaning for Heroes was founded in March, 2010, by Anne Aldridge Baligian, owner of Ocean State House Cleaning in Warwick, Rhode Island. Anne comes from a long line of military service members, and started researching whether there were organizations that would match up companies like hers to help veterans in need. She came up with nothing, so she decided to start a nonprofit of her own.
Torrey joined the team about a month later. She had formerly owned a maid service until her husband, SSG John Daniel “Dan” Shannon, received a gunshot wound to the head during a gunfight in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, on November 13, 2004. Torrey spent the next three years “stuck in the system” while trying to help her husband in his recovery at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was through his tragedy that Torrey and her husband both became advocates for veteran’s services.
When she learned of Cleaning for Heroes, it seemed like a “perfect fit,” allowing her to use her background in the cleaning industry and her passion for the military.
How the Program Works
Through Cleaning for Heroes, qualifying veterans and first responders who have been disabled – whether while in the service or later in life – are given free cleaning services by qualifying providers. For routine services, such as house cleaning, the volunteering provider comes one time a month, for four months. For other services that are generally considered single cleanings, such as pressure washing, one free cleaning/restoration is provided.
Volunteering service providers can determine how much and how often they want to donate. For instance, a pressure-washing contractor may say he wants to donate $100 worth of services each month. Based on that amount, the contractor can choose to do $100 per month, a $200 job every two months, a single $1200 job per year, or all kinds of options in between. “We want to give them every opportunity to donate at a comfortable amount and never ask them to give more than they can happily do,” said Torrey.
Once a service provider signs up, Cleaning for Heroes sends them an application. They screen to make sure the company is legitimate, that they carry proper liability insurance, and make them agree to do background checks on their staff. If approved, they then work to match them with a veteran, who has been screened as well.
“We are really adamant about not excluding any era of service, and not excluding any level or type of disability,” Torrey explained. “Whether their disability is emotional or physical, we will serve them all. They all impact their life.”
More Than Just a Clean Home
On paper, Cleaning for Heroes is simply providing these honorable men and women with a clean home. In truth, however, they are offering much more. “The amount of help they receive not only helps them financially, but it also helps them know that we care. It may just be a few hundred dollars of services to the provider, but it may mean the world to those we serve,” Torrey explained.
For instance, Cleaning for Heroes recently brought in a professional organizer in to help a disabled vet. “That was the first help he’d received from anyone,” Torrey said. “This simple gesture helped offset the discouragement he had received from other agencies giving him the run around. It made him feel he was important enough to invest in.”
Cleaning for Heroes is concerned about protecting the privacy and confidentiality of their clients. “Inviting people into their dirty home is very humbling,” she said. “They are often very prideful, and we want to honor them and help them maintain their dignity.”
Maintaining dignity is a huge factor for Cleaning for Heroes, and helping keep these veterans’ homes clean helps them keep their independence, whereas they might otherwise have to go into a nursing care facility.
“It is our job, our responsibility and our honor to relieve them not only financially, but remove the stress from their shoulders,” Torrey added. “Just for us to come in and say we care means the world to a veteran. Giving them one less thing they have to worry about is huge.”
The Pressure Cleaning Industry’s Role
According to Torrey, the pressure cleaning industry currently makes up close to half of their organization’s volunteer companies.
Len is one of the few who has actually gotten to do a job so far, simply because veterans are just starting to learn that these services are available. In Len’s case, a Vietnam vet contacted him for a quote on cleaning his deck and mentioned he was a disabled vet with limited income. Len connected him with Torrey, and the man qualified for free services.
Len cleaned the deck, but the man insisted he would stain it himself. To help with this, Pete Marentay of Sunbrite Supply gave Len $1600 in cleaning and staining products to use for this and future Cleaning for Heroes projects.
Pete, who describes himself as being “very red, white and blue,” currently has three nephews serving in Afghanistan. Growing up in the Vietnam era and seeing not-so-favorable responses to veterans, Pete said he “couldn’t wait to jump on Cleaning for Heroes.”
Len is one of the lucky ones. There are many, many more in our industry who have volunteered and are currently chomping at the bit for a job needing to be done. “We are anxiously waiting for the first call,” said Russ Spence of Prokleen Power Wash in Fairhope, Alabama. Russ tried to volunteer for the military during the Gulf War, but was turned away due to several knee injuries. “I’ve wished so many times I could have served as well.
Kermit Smith Hughley of Wulfers Window & Mobile Pressure Cleaning Company (WWMPCCO) in Marble Hill, Missouri, was one of the first pressure washing companies to sign up last summer. “We are trying to broaden the awareness of this wonderful organization and believe that we all should try and give back what so many have sacrificed,” he said. “Getting involved is simple. Just go to the website and enter your information.”
Approved companies also receive promotional support through Cleaning for Heroes, such as press releases to send to local media and logos to put on marketing materials. “What better way to show off your talent and your professionalism than to donate your services?” Torrey asked. “Good will is a very powerful tool. Paying customers will notice the contribution you’ve made to their community and will reward you with their business. You actually do well by doing good.”
“I would love to donate money to help the veterans, but I can’t do that,” said Len Sutton. “This is something I can do.”
Russ agreed. “This is my way of giving back. I have the utmost respect for all of our armed services. They are the backbone that helps this country be what it is today. It’s not just a job, it’s a commitment. They have to walk away at times from their homes, friends and families just to provide us with the freedom that we are accustomed to. There is no amount that I could ever give or do to repay them for what they have done for me.”
To learn more or to sign up, go to