Photo: Members of the Build Brigade were hard at work on Thursday, not pausing even for a photo opportunity. Photo by Rae Wagoner/The Herald Ledger
By Rae Wagoner
When Homes for Our Troops project manager Rick Goyette told members of American Legion Post 68 and volunteer contractors and laborers “we’ll have this house under roof and weatherized by nightfall Saturday,” some thought he was being a little optimistic. After all, he made that statement on Wednesday night. But with this being the 40th home the organization has coordinated for wounded veterans, Goyette and his team have had some practice. With what they call a “Build Brigade,” good weather and a whole lot of hard work by skilled carpenters, that’s exactly what happened.
Goyette took a few minutes away from swinging his hammer on the home HFOT is building for local wounded veteran Chase Matthews last Thursday to bring dignitaries and the media up to date. Invited guests Bill Simmons and Debby Epperson of the US Department for Veterans Affairs regional office in Louisville may have been the most popular attendees – they brought a $60,000 check to help with expenses for this wheelchair-accessible home.
Homes For Our Troops was founded in 2004, Goyette said, when Massachusetts contractor John Gonsalves heard of a disabled soldier coming home and thought “I wonder what his hometown is doing for this guy.” The answer, sadly, was “nothing.”
“What could be more fundamental about a homecoming,” Goyette said, “than having a home you can come home to?” In Matthews’ case, the mobile home shares with his growing family is far from able to accommodate his needs. His wife Jennifer said that because of the narrow doorways and halls, Matthews is confined to the kitchen and living room while in his wheelchair. Extensive use of his prosthetic legs causes him pain and tires him quickly, she added.
“This is all really overwhelming,” Jennifer said. “Chase is a quiet guy and he’s not used to all this attention, and neither of us can quite get over everything the community is doing for us.” When asked what the greatest part of the new home will be, Jennifer had a ready answer. “Chase will be able to go anywhere he wants to in his own home without having to ask for help.”
Along about October, that will include visiting the nursery the Matthewses will prepare to welcome their newest addition, or stopping in to say goodnight to stepdaughter Sarah in her room.
“They think the house will be ready in time for us to bring the baby here when we come home from the hospital,” Jennifer said, “and that is just amazing to me. It’s amazing that people would do this for Chase, for our family, and I’ve seen houses being built before but nothing like this fast.” She noted that at 8 a.m. on Thursday the foundation and subfloors were finished, “and it was a big flat floor, like an empty stage,” and by the time the ceremony got underway shortly after 2 p.m. that day, crews had walls up and were setting trusses as fast as they could go.
General contractor Keith Young was notably impressed with the quality of volunteer help he had. “These guys really know what they’re doing,” he said in a rare break from the action. Young said he is honored to serve as general contractor on the project. “I have known Chase since he was a kid and I am glad to be able to help out with this.”
Among the dignitaries present was Senator Ken Winters, who served 2 tours of active duty in the Army and serves on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He expressed his gratitude for Matthews’ service and wished him well. Michael Pape stood in for Congressman Ed Whitfield and presented Matthews, Legion Post 68, and the Homes for Our Troops Organization with American flags that have flown over our nation’s capitol. Kuttawa Mayor Butch McCollum was also present and extended his hope that “many happy memories will be made in this home.”
Two key people were noticeably absent from the podium. Rick Gill, Post 68 Vice Commander, has worked tirelessly organizing fundraisers and working as a liaison with the HFOT organization. His granddaughter sustained multiple injuries in an auto accident in Texas on Wednesday. He and his wife, post adjutant Pat Gill, immediately flew to her side and left matters in the capable hands of Commander Bill Howard. Howard emceed the ceremony, profusely thanking those who have contributed to the project with materials, labor, donations, and, in the case of Neda and Lonnie Bauer, donuts to feed the masses of men who volunteered their time and talents.
Howard reminded those present that Post 68 has undertaken the challenge of raising a minimum of $10,000 with which to furnish the new home. The next fundraiser will be held on Saturday. Making use of the Legion’s charitable gaming license, a Mega-Bingo event will be held beginning at 1 p.m. in the outlet mall. The former Polo building is set to be the site of a bingo event with enough seating for 300 people, and Howard said all the proceeds (after generous payouts) will go the the furniture fund. In addition, the post is planning a 4-hour live radio auction in partnership with Princeton’s WAVE-J radio 104.9 for October. Any individual or business with items to donate should contact any member of American Legion Post 68.
Present but not taking the microphone was one woman without whom this home might only be a wish. Marty Kares, who is employed by The Crittenden Press but is functioning in her capacity as a board member of the Three Rivers Homebuilders Association, has not only been a staunch supporter of this project, but has functioned as “coordinator-in-chief” on the local front. Kares comes from a long line of servicemen, and has said on numerous occasions “this is a cause that’s close to my heart.” She declined to take the stage, preferring instead to work behind the scenes.
Behind the scenes or in front of a microphone, there is still much to do for this home to become a reality. For more information on Homes For Our Troops and the Matthews home in particular, visit www.homesforourtroops.org.
Reprinted with permission from the Lyon County Herald Ledger