America Supports You: 'Homes for Our Troops' Begins Latest Project
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 7, 2006 The first shovels have cut into the land that eventually will hold Marine Sgt. Jared Luce's new home -- one specially adapted to accommodate his disabilities.
Members of the area Home Builders Association, Marine Sgt. Jared and Melanie Luce (fourth and fifth from left), and Kirt Rebello (far right) and John Gonsalves (back) of America Supports You organization Homes for Our Troops, break ground July 6 on the Luce's future home in Coventry, Conn. The home will be built to accommodate Luce's disabilities resulting from being wounded in Iraq. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
America Supports You member organization Homes for Our Troops is building Luce's house. Founded by John Gonsalves, Homes For Our Troops is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that provides specially adapted homes for severely wounded veterans.
Luce, with the 6th Motor Transport, 4th Forward Service Support Group out of New Haven, Conn., lost both legs and suffered severe damage to his left hand and left eye when the Humvee he was driving in Iraq was blown up by a double-stacked land mine.
The groundbreaking for Luce's future home went off without a hitch in Coventry, Conn., yesterday, said Kirt Rebello, director of projects and veterans affairs for Homes for Our Troops.
"We've actually been working on this one for a while already, because there's a lot of preparation and building of relationships with the local community to get the ball rolling on these things," he said. "A great deal of what we do is getting things lined up."
That community support and relationship building goes a long way toward getting services and materials donated to complete the project. What's not donated is covered from Homes for Our Troops funds, Rebello said.
The national average cost of a house the organization builds is $200,000. Homes for Our Troops generally covers anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000 of the total cost, Rebello said.
"(Homes for Our Troops' funding is) all from private donors and corporate donors across the country, everything from large anonymous donors to children who have bake sales or yard sales," he said. "The support across the country is unbelievable."
To date, the organization has received enough donations of materials, services and funds to build or adapt 19 homes since its beginnings in March 2004. Six have been completed. Twelve others are under way, with another set to start with a July 10 ground-breaking in Montana.
"Ideally, we want to try to get as much donated as possible so that we have more money to help more veterans," Rebello said.
Six severely wounded veterans are on a waiting list to get new or adapted homes as soon as arrangements can be made.
"There's a minimum eligibility requirement as a far as the wounds that are received," Rebello said. "From there, we factor in a whole bunch of other things, like family situation."
The organization's requirements mirror those of the Veterans Affairs Specially Adapted Housing Grant program, he added. For now, Homes for Our Troops is focusing on global war on terrorism veterans, with hope that one day it can expand to accommodate veterans from other conflicts.
"We want to try and help those that are being severely disrupted right now, the ones with young families," Rebello said. "We want to try and help them get through this so that their long-term prognosis is better than it might have otherwise been."
For Rebello, there's a personal aspect to his work with Homes for Our Troops. He served 12 years in the Marine Corps and couldn't sit by watching veterans' needs go unmet. On a larger scale, he said, the program is important because it lets servicemembers know that they have support at home if they ever need it.
"I think as a nation we made some mistakes in past wars, and we didn't support our veterans the way we should have, but at least we can try not to repeat that again," Rebello said. "In general, I always say that a big part of being an American is the American dream of home ownership and things like that.
"And who better to have the American dream of home ownership than somebody who sacrificed so much to defend that dream?" he asked.
The Homes for Our Troops Web site has a list of completed projects and those under way. Each ongoing project lists items or services the organization is hoping someone will donate.