Veterans step up to help one of their own

Volunteers with Veterans on Wheels install new flooring at the residence of Jan Jemiolo, a 99-year-old Kingston resident and veteran of the Second World War. Photo via Veterans on Wheels.

Thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers from as far away as Cape Breton, a 99-year-old Kingston veteran will be able to remain his own home, after necessary renovations were completed on his Worthington Park property over the weekend.

Jan Jemiolo is a long-time Kingston resident. He’s also a veteran of the Second World War, having served for the army of the Polish Armed Forces. During the conflict, Jeimolo even spent time as a prisoner of war.

In recent years, Jemiolo’s health has remained stable, however, accessibility constraints presented challenges for the 99-year-old, which put his ability to remain at his residence just off Wellar Avenue in doubt. Enter Veterans on Wheels, an organization of veterans and their spouses committed to helping out fellow brothers and sisters in need. The group heard from Jemiolo’s daughter and decided to lend their services to the Kingston veteran, helping to complete some much-needed renovations at his house.

“Jan Jemiolo is a survivor of two POW camps, [he has] quite the history, it’s quite the survivor’s story… When his daughter reached out to us, [she said] he was having some issues around his home with accessibility, so we’re here to improve that accessibility and his quality of life,” said Tom Murphy, one of the volunteers with Veterans on Wheels.

Since arriving in Kingston on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, Murphy and his fellow volunteers have completed a number of renovations throughout Jemiolo’s home. “[We’ve installed] such things as new faucets, some new floors, a new fridge was donated… Also, a new washing machine… We’re really just trying to improve his quality of life and his accessibility within this whole house,” Murphy said on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, just as crews were finishing up their work.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a fun challenge. We’re having to deal with moving things around and taking things out and putting them back in, and all while Jan is home, so it’s quite the challenge, but we’re getting it done,” he continued. “It’s starting to look really good in there and [Jan’s] able to walk around now and use things within his home, which is great.”

All of the materials and appliances used in the renovation were donated by local businesses, including:

  • Atkinson Home Hardware (building supplies)
  • Patry Inc. (flooring and a new fridge)
  • Heron Property Management (a new washing machine)
  • The Source (a tablet for Jemiolo to video chat with his daughter in Nova Scotia)
  • Diamond Hotels (rooms for the volunteers)
  • Frontenac Property Management (food)

“There’s actually not even words I can put to the situation here. The community has stepped up big time and, really, that’s what we were looking to do: build a sense of community,” said Murphy. “It’s been really quite the experience and with the community coming together so quickly. We never thought we’d be able to pull this together within a week, and here we are”

In total, there have been nine volunteers on the ground at Jemiolo’s home, some of whom traveled all the way from the east coast to help out. “We’re kind of all spread out, but we were able to make it here for the four days together, which was fantastic,” Murphy noted.

As for why the group felt so compelled to assist Jemiolo, Murphy spoke about the importance of “being there” for people in need.

“Hopefully the public can really just take from it [that] it’s not so much about getting the job done. It’s more or less just being there for someone, whether they’re a veteran or not,” he expressed.

“Even if we weren’t able to come in and do all the floors and everything we did this week, we were here to support a fellow brother. And hopefully that’s what the community can take from that. Because once the community is there, there’s no job that can’t be finished.”

According to John Armitage, one of the supporters of the project, Jemiolo had just three final wishes: “to put Worthington Park on the map, to have a fiesta, and to have his story told.” On Monday evening, once the work was complete, the volunteers and Jemiolo joined together one final time for a “fiesta” with food donated from Swiss Chalet.

On their final night in Kingston, the volunteers with Veterans on Wheels joined Jemiolo (centre) for a “fiesta.” Photo via Veterans on Wheels.

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