America Supports You: Group Builds Homes for Wounded Troops
By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 2, 2008 Building or remodeling homes to accommodate the needs of severely wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is the way Kirt Rebello and everyone else involved with “Homes for Our Troops” have chosen to thank servicemembers for their sacrifice.
“A wounded servicemember’s life is forever changed,” Rebello -- vice president and projects director for Homes for Our Troops – said during an interview on “ASY Live,” a program on BlogTalkRadio.com that’s part of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program.
America Supports You connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.
“The typical house in America today is not readily accessible to someone who is left in a wheelchair or with a combination of injuries that makes mobility difficult,” Rebello said. Homes for Our Troops provides assistance to families of severely injured servicemembers who need to remodel their homes to accommodate new challenges associated with their injuries.
“We widen doors, install roll-in showers [and otherwise provide] some of the things we really take for granted that are significant obstacles to someone who is severely injured,” he explained. “Additionally, as technology progresses, we are finding a number of special adaptations that are available, like motion-sensored activation and voice activation.”
The group was started in 2004, after the founder, John Gonsalves, saw a news special about a soldier who became a paraplegic after his convoy hit a roadside bomb. Gonsalves, who has spent more than 20 years in the construction industry, looked into starting the nonprofit group after he was unable to locate an organization that already worked to adapt homes for the wounded.
Using his knowledge of the construction industry, Gonsalves was able to get local builders to volunteer to assist by donating goods and services to the projects. “Nothing motivates people more than wanting to help a severely injured serviceperson,” Rebello said.
The organization caters its services specifically to troops who are double amputees, paraplegic, quadriplegic, have severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or are severely burned.
“These individuals are generally immobilized to a point where [they] cannot get along on [their] own,” Rebello said, “and all of our houses are specifically adapted to meet the needs of that particular veteran. The veterans we serve are the most severely injured, and the houses are provided at no cost to them.”
In many cases, the group will build a new home, if necessary, instead of simply remodeling the existing one.
“One of the things that people don’t always think about is that a lot of injured servicemen and women are young, with good-sized families,” Rebello said. “We had a young serviceman who was a quadriplegic with his wife and their two kids living in one room of his parent’s house. That’s sometimes a challenge that goes unnoticed, and it’s happening across the country.”
Rebello said the family seemed to belie the hardships they were going through. “Despite everything, these were the most upbeat people I have ever met,” he said. “We were able to get a house built for them and they were just unbelievably grateful.”
Homes for Our Troops relies on the assistance of the community where the veteran lives or wants to live to help fund the projects, and for the most part, their efforts have been a great success.
“They are all donated materials and services,” Rebello said. “We help mobilize the community to help build these houses. It’s the local carpenters, plumbers, electricians, that really make the difference.”
Rebello acknowledged that the rough housing market makes locating contractors and tradesmen who are willing to offer support an additional challenge.
“For every house that is built, there are hundreds of individuals involved,” he said. “One of the key ingredients to our business is a contractor or large builder that is willing to coordinate all the activities that are occurring on the ground around our event.”
The result, however, is a heartwarming example of how the nation’s citizens band together to help an individual in need, Rebello said.
“The more we think about people with those needs, the more it makes sense to reach out and help them,” he said.
(Jamie Findlater, host of “ASY Live,” works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)