Shelter After the Storm
An 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.
Virginia’s Van Metre Homes has been a reliable behind-the-scenes corporate steward for nearly six decades.
This spring, groundbreaking is scheduled for the 48,000-square-foot, 21-bed Adler Center for Caring in Loudoun County, Va. The Center—an inpatient hospice care facility associated with Capital Caring—will sit on four acres donated by Van Metre Homes within its Stone Ridge community. Each June since 2007, Beau Van Metre, the company’s chairman, and his wife Dee have hosted the Van Metre Polo Cup, which has raised nearly all of the $15 million needed to complete the Adler Center, slated to open in 2013.
The Polo Cup perpetuates the legacy of Al Van Metre, Beau’s father and the builder’s founder, who until his death in March 2008 had been a longtime supporter of Capital Caring, a hospice dedicated to palliative care and counseling for advanced illnesses.
A world-renowned sailor and yachtsman, Al Van Metre and some friends in the 1970s came up with the idea of a charity race on behalf of Capital Caring (then called Capital Hospice). That regatta, known as the Hospice Cup and held on the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Md., celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. During that timespan, it has raised more than $9 million to help fund patient programs, education, and research. “The Van Metre family and the company have been absolutely pivotal to Capital Caring over the past several decades,” says Dr. Cameron Muir, the hospice’s executive vice president of quality and access.
The Adler Center might still be in limbo were it not for the builder’s land donation, “which was the tipping point,” says Muir. Al Van Metre was his patient, and Muir notes that the family’s and builder’s longstanding involvement with the hospice “isn’t just a business transaction; it’s a heartfelt commitment.”
Since 1982, the Van Metres and their company also have been faithful contributors to Children’s National Medical Center. In 1991, Richard Rabil, the builder’s president and CEO, who is a runner, helped launch the Van Metre Five-Mile Race on behalf of the Medical Center. (Rabil’s son was born with heart disease and has been treated there several times.) To date that annual race has raised more than $1.7 million, which enabled the construction and operation of the Van Metre Cardiovascular Operating Room, a state-of-the-art surgery suite that opened in 2010.
Between 70 and 80 company employees volunteer each year to help manage the race, and Beau Van Metre last year hosted a party on his 110-foot yacht in Palm Beach, Fla., that raised $2 million for the Medical Center, an event he plans to repeat in late February.
Rabil says the families and the company focus their philanthropic activities on those areas where “we can really make a difference.” That is certainly true of the 37 acres that Van Metre and Rabil recently donated to George Mason University for its new Loudoun County, Va., campus. “That moved the campus from wish list to reality,” says Rabil. Marc Broderick, the university’s vice president of development and alumni, couldn’t agree more. “I’m glad [Van Metre Homes] is being honored because they are terrific people.”
Thomas Gipson, president, Thomas Gipson Homes
J. Roger Glunt, president, Glunt Development Co.
Larry Webb, CEO and partner, The New Home Co.
Lee Wetherington, founder and president, Lee Wetherington Homes
John Wieland, chairman and CEO, John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods
Call for Nominations
All for-profit builders or developers are eligible as either individuals or companies for the Hearthstone Builder Humanitarian Awards.
Builders may nominate themselves or be nominated by other builders or by the charities, nonprofits, or government organizations they have helped.
Builder will accept nominations starting on June 15, 2012. To request a nomination form, contact Denise Dersin at 202-736-3341 or [email protected].