At 95 years old, Tacoma’s Raymond Carreau has seen more than most — including the invasion of Normandy firsthand.
“At five minutes after midnight, on the morning of June the 6th, 1944,” as he tells it.
During his life, Carreau served in the Army, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard.
More recently, Carreau witnessed an act of generosity and kindness, courtesy of a 32-year-old program designed to help homeowners like him.
For the past 50 years, Carreau has lived in a humble, boxy house on Tacoma’s East Side — not far off McKinley Avenue. When I stepped into his living room full of treasures collected over a lifetime, he told me to pull up a seat.
Until recently, the white paint covering Carreau’s house was flaking badly. Living on roughly $1,400 a month, most of it Social Security, Carreau didn’t have the means or physical ability to maintain the property as he always had, he told me.
Then Paint Tacoma Beautiful stepped in.
They can’t afford (to paint their homes). It’s something that you could easily neglect for years and years and years. It can become a source of shame, but also it can do damage to the house. … It’s a huge thing to be able to provide this service free of charge.
Amy Allison, director of Paint Tacoma Beautiful
“It’s huge for homeowners,” said Amy Allison, the director of community mobilization at Associated Ministries and the woman who oversees Paint Tacoma Beautiful. “They can’t afford (to paint their homes). It’s something that you could easily neglect for years and years and years. It can become a source of shame, but also it can do damage to the house. … It’s a huge thing to be able to provide this service free of charge.”
Since 1985, Paint Tacoma Beautiful has painted some 2,200 homes in Tacoma and Pierce County. Allison says the program focuses on low-income, elderly and disabled homeowners, and for the past two years — in part because of financial support provided by the Home Depot Foundation — they’ve sought out veterans like Carreau.
This year, Paint Tacoma Beautiful selected 26 homes in Tacoma to get a fresh coat of paint. In 2016, the program had a budget of about $85,000, largely Tacoma community block grant funding. Sponsors include Columbia Bank, Gray Lumber Company, Sherwin-Williams, Tacoma-Pierce County Habitat for Humanity and Wellness Made Easy.
Allison says the program selects homeowners by looking at who receives property tax abatements because they’re elderly, low income or disabled. Postcards are then sent out, interested homeowners respond, and the program identifies those who best meet Paint Tacoma Beautiful’s criteria.
Of the 26 homes chosen for the Paint Tacoma Beautiful program this year, six were veterans like Carreau. A neighbor who looks after him helped Carreau apply, and on Sept. 24 a crew of volunteers — including two members of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, students from the Youth Build program and 73-year-old retired Air Force airman Mike Farley — showed up and got to work.
“It was very nice of somebody to paint the house, because since I had a stroke, I can’t paint it myself,” Carreau said. “It’s a big help.”
For Allison, the importance in what Paint Tacoma Beautiful accomplishes is seen not just in the homes that get painted, but in the connections that are forged. “It’s really about building community,” she said.
“I’ve had some really good experiences with Paint Tacoma Beautiful,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you come up there with a house that has all sorts of peeling paint, and it looks kind of sad and shabby.
And when the work’s completed?
“You get to the end of the driveway,” Farley said, “And you look at the house and you look at your hands, and you say ‘Wow.’ ”
But for Farley, even when Carreau’s house was covered in new paint, the work felt unfinished. He noticed that Carreau’s windows were old, single pane and not weatherized. So he contacted Mike Matz with Puget Sound Window and Door, and the company agreed to replace all of them for free.
My generation was just in awe of these guys. I see Ray here, and again, these people they’re just awesome in the way they stepped on up, and just accepted it as what they had to do. Getting to know him, and do something for him, it’s an honor for me, really.
Paint Tacoma Beautiful volunteer Mike Farley
Best of all: A crew arrived at 8 a.m. on Friday, Veterans Day, to install them.
“You get to a place, and you say, well we can’t just do” the painting, Farley said. “There’s more that you have to do before you can feel good about it. Before you can sit at the end of the driveway and say, ‘Wow, this is really neat,’ you’ve got more work to do.”
“My generation was just in awe of these guys,” Farley continued, speaking specifically to World War II vets like Carreau. “I see Ray here, and again, these people they’re just awesome in the way they stepped on up and just accepted it as what they had to do. Getting to know him and do something for him, it’s an honor for me, really.
“It’s just an honor.”