As president John F. Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.” While some Americans will choose to answer this call by joining the United States Armed Forces on the front lines, builders, remodelers, and subcontractors have the opportunity to help active-duty and veterans of the military on the home front when they seek the American dream of homeownership.
Across the country, U.S. building pros donate their time and expertise so veterans and their families can enjoy a home of their own without the worry of cost.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Nate Rogers of North Carolina served in the Marines for four years in the communications division as a radio operator. During his second tour in Fallujah, Iraq, with Combat Logistics Battalion 8, his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device and he sustained traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, a back injury, and shrapnel wounds.
To honor his service, Operation: Coming Home (OCH), a joint volunteer venture led by the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, the United States Veterans Corps, and Mattamy Homes, organized the construction of a new, mortgage-free home for him and his family in Fuquay-Varina, N.C.
Rich Van Tassel, Raleigh division president for Mattamy Homes, has been involved in these projects since 2008. His former company, Royal Oaks Building Group, built OCH’s first five homes before he sold to Mattamy Homes last November. Rogers’ home will be Van Tassel’s ninth project of the total 18 OCH has completed.
“Once you do one, it touches your heart,” says Van Tassel. “It’s really fun to watch builders and their trade base go through the process the first time because it’s unbelievably touching and emotionally moving.”
While many organizations operate on a local level like Operation: Coming Home, other national non-profit organizations, such as Building Homes for Heroes and Habitat for Humanity’s Veterans Build program, are building and/or modifying homes for veterans as well. Building Homes for Heroes averages 30 homes a year, while Habitat built more than 180 homes for veterans last year.
“The need for this type of housing is incredibly huge,” says Kim Valdyke, director of construction at Building Homes for Heroes. “I think we have over 5,000 applicants in our database.”
William Ryan Homes’ Tampa division has volunteered with Building Homes for Heroes four times, with the fifth home currently in the process. The organization approached the builder back in 2011 and set up a meeting to ask for their help. Jeffrey Thorson, Tampa division president at William Ryan, says “after they presented it, it took me about five minutes to say, 'We are all in.'”
“You listen to their stories of these young men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country,” says Thorson. “It doesn’t take long to hit the right chord and try to figure out what you can do to help them.”
The process for finding qualifying veterans is similar for both local and national organizations. People have the opportunity to apply or nominate combat-wounded or severely injured veterans online and the companies vet the applicants based on required qualifications, including income and location, to see who needs the housing the most.
A developer or builder usually donates the lot and the builder leverages its trade base and equipment to construct the home at little or no cost to the future veteran owner. In some cases, builders modify an existing company floor plan to fit the specific needs of the veteran, including ADA-compliant features, such as first-floor masters, larger door openings, zero thresholds, and lower countertops. Material suppliers also help out with donating, or discounting their products for the project.
In North Carolina, Rogers and his family were honored at a special flag raising ceremony on Sept. 11 and will be presented with the keys to their new home during another celebration on Nov. 8.
“You can believe that when we give that house away, everybody is standing and saluting that flag,” says Van Tassel. “There’s so much patriotism and pride.”