After losing his right leg and severely injuring his left leg while serving in Iraq, veteran Frank Pierson moved in with his wife at her mother’s home in Cicero, Illinois. Although it’s home, it has some inconveniences.
Navigating from ground level to the basement bedroom is a challenge, for instance. Soon, though, Pierson and his wife, Arielle Carroll-Pierson, will get to move into a new home in Plainfield, a suburb of Chicago, that is designed especially to help Pierson get around the home with ease. That’s thanks to Homes for Our Troops, a Taunton, Massachusetts, nonprofit that builds homes for severely wounded service members who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pierson, who served in the Army, got deployed two days after Thanksgiving 2007 to Iraq.
“Then we were just driving from one base to another base when we got ambushed,” Pierson said. “We didn’t know what was going on or what had happened. Then when I went to try to stop the vehicle, I realized that I couldn’t stop it, so I looked down to see what had happened, and that’s when I noticed the injuries to my legs. And as soon as the vehicle did stop, I immediately started first aid on myself until the man who we had with us came and finished first aid and transported us to the nearest hospital.”
Pierson underwent 19 months of rehab at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, and underwent more than 25 surgeries. He retired this past October.
Since Homes for Our Troops was founded in 2004, the organization has built 54 homes for disabled veterans, and 32 homes currently are in various stages of construction around the country, said Vicki Thomas, a spokesperson with Homes for Our Troops. Thomas said that the average cost per home is about $330,000. Service members do not pay anything to get a home, and most services, such as construction, electrical and plumbing work, are donated by volunteers. Materials also tend to come from donations. Also, the group gets funding from corporate sponsorships and private donations.
Talking about what he is looking forward to about the house, Pierson said, “The most important thing would be that it’s all going to be one level and I’ll be able to get to every room without an obstacle and moving something out of my way. And that way, I can actually be in the house by myself and I won’t have to worry about someone helping getting me something out of a room because my wheelchair won’t fit in there. Just the overall independence of being able to be left in the house and do everything I need to do on my own.”
Contractor John Gonsalves started Homes for Our Troops after he watched a news report of a severely injured service member who had returned from Iraq. He thought to himself, “What now? What happens to this person now?” Then, he searched for an organization that he assumed was already in place where he could donate his building expertise for a few weeks. When he found out that none existed, he quit his contractor job and started Homes for Our Troops.
Although Homes for Our Troops does some renovating of homes, it tends to focus much more on construction of new homes because it’s easier to build than renovate, Thomas said. With renovating homes, she said, “You run into all kinds of architectural design and building challenges.” However, she said, “When you build from the ground up, you can incorporate, as you’re building, the wider doorways, wider hallways, roll-in showers, the five feet in the bathroom that’s necessary to turn around in a wheelchair, the roll-under counter cabinets in the kitchen.”
Homes for Our Troops netted more than 500 page views on Pierson’s web site after the Chicago radio station WUSN, a country radio station, got the word out that Homes for Our Troops needed help to build the Piersons’ home. With such a great response, Pierson said of the project, “It’s just been going 100 miles an hour.”
After the radio publicity and a local newspaper ran a story about Homes for Our Troops, the group earned many contributions and many volunteer professional trades people to help with the home construction project. As a result, the home-building process is moving along more quickly than most homes that Homes for Our Troops oversees, Thomas said.
She said, “So, the entire process – we brought Pierson and his wife to Foxboro, Massachusetts, in December, and they picked out a floor plan and the home that they wanted. They then told us where they wanted to live. Then we turned it over to a project management team.”
The Piersons’ home will be the first that Homes for Our Troops will build in the Chicago area, but the group recently built a home for Army Sgt. Cameron Crouch in Mahomet, Illinois, near Champaign.
To build a house, Homes for Our Troops first finds a project management team that goes to purchase land, and then the group finds a general contractor, Thomas said. She said that Pierson’s home is in the permit-pulling stage and that the building process, or what the group calls the three-day Build Brigade, will likely start in late April or early May.
That is when professionals will volunteer their time and materials and take the foundation and put up the home’s exterior, including the windows, shingles and garage door. After the Build Brigade, the home will be “weather tight,” Thomas said. Then it will take about 60 to 90 days for the rest of the work, such as electrical work, plumbing, dry-walling, cabinetry and HVAC work, to be completed before the key ceremony when the home is presented. “Also, after the Build Brigade, all the trades people who show up are volunteers who show up after work or on their way to work,” Thomas said. That’s why the process takes 60 to 90 days, she said.
People who are interested in getting involved with Homes for Our Troops by volunteering or by contributing may go to the group’s web site, www.homesforourtroops.org.
“My wife and I are very excited and thankful for the organization and everyone that is donating their time and effort for this project,” Pierson said. “Being selected to receive this home is just an amazing gift, an opportunity.”