When Staff Sergeant Vincent Gizzarelli was medically retired from military service three years ago, after more than 10 years of active duty, due to brain trauma sustained during his second tour in Iraq, he and his family had certainly done more than their fair share of fighting for freedom. But after returning home, he and his wife, Jamie, found there was another fight to be won.
The couple learned that three brothers, all under age four, had been put into foster care after surviving starvation and severe injury at home. Their struggle hit home for Vincent, who as a child had been placed in the foster care system and separated from his siblings; so the Gizzarellis decided to make sure the boys would be able to stay together. After a custody battle in which the children’s biological parents pled guilty to child abuse, Vincent, Jamie, and their two teenagers were able to officially adopt the three boys into their family.
Despite the victory, however, the Gizzarellis still faced some daunting logistics, not the least of which being where to put everyone. "The family was renting an inadequate apartment for their needs," said Donna Peak, executive director at Building Systems Councils (BSC), which had been looking for an opportunity to work with Operation Finally Home, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building custom, mortgage-free homes for wounded and disabled veterans. "So when Operation Finally Home told the BSC that they had a potential family and the story of the Gizzarellis, they got a resounding ‘yes,’" Peak said.
The two organizations broke ground last summer in Jacksonville, N.C., and in April they and a host of sponsors presented the family with a brand-new, fully furnished custom home.
Design-wise, "it didn’t require a whole lot of accommodations," Peak said. "Staff Sergeant Gizzarelli’s injuries are not as obvious as some. He’s not an amputee, not burned. … No one is wheelchair-bound. Even the little boy who lost the majority of his foot [due to an attack from a dog] gets around like a champ. He’s determined to keep up with his brothers. The bigger thing was to make sure that the kids were really taken care of and comfortable."
The home is equipped with "top of the line everything," Peak said, including a gourmet kitchen for Vincent, crafting space for Jamie, and five bedrooms, including one outfitted with bunk beds for the two youngest boys. Altogether, the home offers the family more than 3,000 square feet.
"This is not a gift," said Dan Wallrath, a Texas builder and founder of Operation Finally Home, while presenting the finished home on April 28. "Vince earned this home on the battlefield. His unwavering courage and valor to secure freedom for all Americans paid for this home."
Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder.