How we worked with the Thunderbirds to make life easier for our neighbors

November 9, 2020
by Kelly Watson, Executive Director at Rebuilding Together Valley of the Sun

On a warm morning in late September, cars began to roll up at three different mobile parks spread out across the eastern portion of the Valley of the Sun. Three older neighbors had been waiting for a wheelchair ramp since the pandemic began. For months, they had been confined to their homes due to stay-home orders and lack of accessibility, but today that would change. The Thunderbirds had arrived, and June, Tom and Frank were all getting their bridge to freedom.

If you aren’t from Phoenix, you may not have heard of the Thunderbirds, but I bet you’ve heard of the group’s signature special event, the WM Phoenix Open, known as the “greatest show on grass,” and a premier annual stop on the PGA tour. As you would expect, this event draws thousands of visitors to the Phoenix area each January, adding millions of dollars to the local economy. What may surprise you is that millions of dollars of this revenue go straight back to the community in the form of grants to area nonprofits. The Thunderbirds have given close to $150 million to charities, including Rebuilding Together Valley of the Sun, in the event’s 86-year history.

But that Saturday wasn’t about giving money – it was about giving of self. As volunteers arrived, only ten per site to maintain social distancing, there was a distinct feeling of excitement and determination in the air. Most of the volunteers had never done this type of construction and were eager to get started under the leadership of Rebuilding Together Valley of the Sun skilled ramp leaders. They donned their masks, grabbed their power tools and began.

Four hours later, three seniors had a wheelchair ramp. But it didn’t stop there. The Thunderbird volunteers saw other needs at their homes and quickly worked to make additional repairs, take care of landscaping issues and even provide new patio furniture for one homeowner who didn’t have a place to sit and enjoy the outdoors.

All eyes were on June as she drove her scooter down the ramp for the first time. The volunteers applauded as June, with tears in her eyes, declared “now I can get out of my house even on days I can’t walk without falling down.” She told them how excited she is to have the freedom to check her own mail and get outside to visit with neighbors. “I am really grateful and blessed.”

Rebuilding Together Valley of the Sun, too, is grateful and blessed to have such a wonderful partnership with the Thunderbirds.