08 April 2008
by Melanie Stetson Freeman
Homes for veterans are built by volunteers with donated materials. (by Melanie Stetson Freeman, CS Monitor, April 2008)
Sgt. Brian Fountaine was recovering in Walter Reed Army Medical Center when he got an unexpected visitor who offered to build him a house – free of charge. The visitor was John Gonsalves, founder of Homes for Our Troops
, a nonprofit group that builds houses for severely injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sergeant Fountaine, who lost both legs below the knees in Iraq, turned to his father after Mr. Gonsalves left and asked: "Is this guy for real?"
He is. This past weekend, Fountaine moved into a three-bedroom ranch here in Plymouth, Mass., completed with the help of hundreds of volunteers and donated building supplies and land. Homes for Our Troops saves an average of 60 percent on the cost of every home because of contributions like these.
"When a vet is in need, people come out of everywhere to help," says Mr. Gonsalves, a former contractor who calls on tradesmen and suppliers across the country to build the homes.
The homes are not "one size fits all," but are adapted to each vet's needs, Gonsalves says. While Fountaine gets around easily on his prosthetics, sometimes he needs to use a wheelchair, so his home was constructed with an open floor plan, extra-wide doors for the wheelchair, and a bathroom with special features.
So far, the agency, based in Taunton, Mass., has houses completed or under way in 20 states.
Fountaine's is the 25th house the group has finished, and Gonsalves hopes to grow big enough never to have to turn down a vet who qualifies for the group's services. Of the approximately 30,000 injured veterans, he estimates about 2,000 are in the kind of condition that qualifies for help.
"To have a home that was built every second of its construction with Brian in mind, and everybody's thoughts being on love for Brian, and repaying him for what he's done – I've never been in a place like this," says Mary Long, Fountaine's fiancée.
"Ever since I came home from the hospital ... it's been literally amazing," Fountaine says. " I could never fathom the amount of support I've had, even from perfect strangers. They're against the war, they don't like the president, they don't like what's going on, but when us guys come home ... we're taken care of.... As my dad says, 'It's been a great ending to a bad beginning.' "
Fountaine and Ms. Long will be married June 8, the second anniversary of his "alive day," the day he survived the bomb that exploded under his Humvee. Then they will come home to a house built by friends they didn't know they had.