One moment in time changed the life of Marine Lance Corporal Randal Wright forever. Later this month, Kuna residents will have the opportunity to say “thank you for your service”—not just by watching fireworks and parades, waving American flags and eating watermelon, but by rolling up their sleeves, opening their wallets or otherwise finding a way to pitch in and give something back.
Wright, who recently relocated to Kuna, was left a triple amputee after stepping on an IED while securing a compound in Salaam Bazaar, Helmand Province, Afghanistan on May 7, 2010 (see his story on page 8).
After a hospitalization lasting more than ten months, Wright began a gradual return to a civilian life vastly different than the life he’d known before.
And that’s where Homes for Our Troops stepped in, and where individuals, families, church and community groups and others from around the community can also step in beginning later this month.
The Massachusetts-based Homes for Our Troops is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to assist severely injured veterans and their families by raising the money, building materials and professional labor necessary, not only to build a home that offers maximum freedom of movement and as much independent living as possible, but also provides the home to eligible veterans at no cost.
But they can’t do it without the help of the communities they serve, and coordinators are looking for volunteers and monetary donations to help support a weekend-long event that kicks off with an opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m., Friday, July 20, when an escort will bring Wright to the site of his future home along a route lined by volunteers waving American flags and welcome-home signs.
That’s where it all begins.
“The whole weekend is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in your life,” said Jen Fiorentino, spokesperson for Homes for our Troops. “To be there and to meet the veteran, to meet the veteran’s family and friends, and to know you can do something to help is really unlike anything else you’ve done. Many tend to shy away from the spotlight and say, ‘All this? I don’t deserve all this.’”
But Fiorentino and Homes for Our Troops believe otherwise, and that’s why they do what they do.
A ceremonial raising of the first wall will follow the opening ceremony, and construction will begin.
Groups of volunteers will be on site in duration of individual choosing from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. all weekend, with breakfast and lunch provided.
And breakfast and lunch is at the top of a long list of donations the organization is looking for.
“Right now we need just about everything,” said Fiorentino, noting that, while building materials, skilled labor and construction management are mostly covered, a large need exists for other contributions, as well as support workers. “We need donations of food, and we need food coordinators. We need tents and tables and chairs, we need volunteer photographers to document the project, we need people to help with general construction support in areas like materials delivery and clean-up.”
The list goes on.
Monetary donations are also needed, and Fiorentino said Homes for Our Troops encourages various groups in the community to host fund-raisers, large or small.
“We’ve had some amazing people putting together fundraisers,” she said. “We see great success from people who really believe in this cause and really get into what we’re trying to do.”
Kids can also get involved in fundraising efforts, she said, whether its a lemonade stand or something that involves a more elaborate plan.
Money can be raised and donated anytime and does not need to be submitted by the project date, but plans for a fundraiser should be submitted via the organization’s website before the plans are executed.
“Be as creative as you want,” Fiorentino said.
Start to finish costs involved in raising one of the homes come in around $400,000.
Some, but not all the costs, are covered by grants, corporate sponsors, endowments and other sources of funding.
The organization’s homes, which are built from one of two floor plans and offer 2,600 feet of open living space to accommodate those who are wheelchair-bound or paralyzed, and also to allow for physical needs that will change over time.
The homes feature amenities like roll-under kitchen counters and bathroom vanities, rollout showers, pull-down shelving and hardwood floors.
“If you’re using prosthetic limbs, carpet is not your friend,” Fiorentino said.
John Cotner of Cotner Building Company in Meridian is managing construction of the home.
Cotner, who has a Certified Aging in Place Specialist designation from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), said he climbed on board as soon as he heard about the project.
While CAPS certified builders are trained in the technical, business management, and customer service skills essential for serving the aging population, many of the same issues apply to effectively serving anyone facing physical challenges, regardless of age.
In addition to the specialized knowledge he offers, Cotner said he volunteered to take on the role of construction manager in a volunteer capacity.
While Homes Four Our Troops does pay for labor provided by skilled, insured contractor, Cotner said he turned down the any offers of pay.
He’s also been able to raise thousands of dollars in construction materials, and with the help of the local building contractors associations in both Ada and Canyon counties, he has a small army of skilled laborers lined up and eager to help.
“When I heard it was in Kuna, that made me want to do it even more,” said Cotner, noting that while he has a Meridian mailing address he and his family have strong ties to Kuna—one of his children even attends Kuna schools.
For more information about Homes For Our Troops, the upcoming project or a list of the types of help needed, visit www.homesforourtroops.org/wright