Shelter After the StormAn organization founded by Houston builder Dan Wallrath provides housing for disabled veterans.
On May 28, Memorial Day, Goodall Homes of Gallatin, Tenn., expects to deliver a 3,400-square-foot house to Shaun Meadows, a retired Air Force staff sergeant who, in July 2008, lost his legs after an improvised explosive device hit his convoy during a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan.
Meadows, his wife Nicole, and son Trevor will own their house—built on land Shaun purchased in Lynnville, Tenn., 90 minutes outside of Nashville, Tenn.—mortgage free, thanks to Operation Finally Home, a nonprofit organization that provides quality and accommodative housing to injured and disabled veterans.
Goodall Homes is one of 16 builders that, as of December 2011, are working with Operation Finally Home, which in its first six years raised funds and building material donations for 32 new homes in six states. Its founder and driving force is Dan Wallrath, a Houston-area custom builder for 30 years. Now semi-retired, Wallrath and Carol, his wife of 41 years, spend up to 80 hours per week working on behalf of Operation Finally Home, which he created with the Bay Area Builders Association.
Wallrath first got interested in the housing needs of vets when he met the son of a friend who, as a Marine in Iraq, had been badly injured. The father wanted to remodel his house to meet his son’s wheelchair needs, but didn’t know how he would pay for it. Working with local trades and suppliers, Wallrath remodeled the house for free. “I had assumed these young men and women would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. Boy, was I wrong,” recalls Wallrath.
Operation Finally Home coordinates with local builder associations as part of its fundraising efforts that target manufacturers, businesses, and the general public. Vendors play a pivotal role in Operation Finally Home’s successes. In Nashville, LP Building Products is providing materials for and handling the public relations around the construction of the Meadows house. It also brought Goodall Homes into the project, confirms Keith Porterfield, Goodall’s COO.
LP is one of several vendors—including Acme Brick and Mohawk Carpet—that are national sponsors of the charitable group. Lately, LP has been discussing other projects that would expand the organization’s market coverage to California, Idaho, Washington, and Louisiana. Operation Finally Home’s goal in 2012 is to deliver as many homes as in the previous six years combined.
Since CNN named him one of its “heroes” in 2010, the Stetson-wearing Wallrath has become the public face of an organization that has heightened its profile by, for example, giving away a house to a veteran’s widow during a Houston Texans’ NFL game in December. This winter PBS was preparing a segment on Wallrath and the organization for its “Turning Point” program. And at IBS this week, J.R. Martinez—the badly burned veteran who recently gained fame as a winner on “Dancing With the Stars”—is appearing at the booths of Operation Finally Home and the NAHB Building Systems Council, which is building a house for a disabled vet in North Carolina.