He is an Army corporal whose tour in Iraq ended with a roadside bomb. He stands, proudly upon artificial legs, atop the porch of his North Carolina home.
A National Guard sergeant and Massachusetts native, his Black Hawk helicopter exploded and cost him parts of both arms. Surrounded by his wife and children, he smiles, delighted, in front of the fresh lumber as his house goes up.
Some nonprofit organizations require an elaborate explanatory pitch. But a glance at the soldiers and their stories on the Homes for Our Troops Web site is all anyone needs to understand their cause. "We started in February 2004," says Victoria Mosier, the organization’s administrative director. "Our founder, John Gonsalves, saw severely injured soldiers returning from Iraq and needing adaptable homes."
Gonsalves, a construction supervisor, had experience building homes that complied with the Americans With Disabilities Act. "He wanted to donate his skills toward constructing of ADAcompliant homes for veterans. But he couldn’t find any organization that built those kind of homes," says Mosier. "So he started one."
Homes for Our Troops uses private contributions along with donated time and expertise to build new homes or make existing ones accessible — at little or no cost to the soldiers.
"Your typical profile is a multiple amputee, or someone in a wheelchair," says Mosier. "Most hallways are too small for wheelchairs, and most counters are too high. We’re in constant discussion with each soldier on how to make their homes livable. Something as simple as a light switch can be a problem if they don’t have hands."
Homes for Our Troops is now in the thick of separate construction or rehab projects, with their first two nearing completion. One project, in Clarksville, Tenn., will be featured this season on ABC’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and Mosier pledges that the organization will serve as long as there are soldiers in need.
We’re going to help as many as we possibly can," she says. "Who deserves the American dream more than someone who fought for our freedoms?"