Homesteading With A Twist
Massachusetts Group, Local Builders To Help Wounded Marine, Family, Settle Down
COVENTRY -- The double-stack landmine that blew apart Marine Sgt. Jared Luce's Humvee in early 2005 not only cost him both of his legs, but also nearly cost Luce and his wife their first home. After saving for more than eight years, the couple was set to purchase a house. Then, Luce was sent to Iraq
He was injured 10 days into his tour. Luce underwent 14 surgeries the following year, including the ones in which both of his legs were amputated.
The expenses added up and the Luces could afford to purchase land but not build a home. At the military hospital in Bethesda, Md. - Luce undergoes physical therapy there - Melanie Luce heard about a Massachusetts-based organization called Homes for Our Troops, which builds or retrofits homes for severely disabled veterans.
At a groundbreaking Thursday for their new house in Coventry, the Luces said they were "gleeful" when Homes for Our Troops said it would build them a home at no cost.
"We are so grateful," said Melanie Luce, as the couple and their three boys stood at the site. "The one thing we needed was a house. Being on active duty, you never own anything."
The organization was founded by John Gonsalves, a construction contractor from Taunton, Mass., who decided to offer his skills to building or adapting homes for disabled veterans after reading about a soldier who'd lost both of his legs in Iraq. When he couldn't find an organization that helped veterans who have specific housing needs - those who'd lost limbs, or were paralyzed, blind or deaf, or a combination of those - Gonsalves founded Homes for Our Troops.
Since March 2004, the group has raised more than $4.8 million in monetary, labor and supply donations and built or retrofitted six houses nationwide, with 13 more underway, Gonsalves said. It has attracted well-known donors such professional golfer Phil Mickelson, been featured on numerous television programs and received many accolades, including an invitation for Gonsalves to the White House.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a housing grant of up to $50,000 to some disabled veterans, and Gonsalves' group asks that those who qualify put it toward their home.
Luce is among the nearly 8,600 U.S. service members who have been injured in Iraq and have not returned to duty, according to Pentagon data. He joined the Marine Corps in 1996, a year after he and Melanie had graduated from Tolland High School.
During boot camp, Melanie sent him a letter saying that someone told her "best friends should get married." His reply: "Cool."
They lived in North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan, during Luce's seven years of active duty. Luce then spent nearly six months off active duty and later joined the reserves. Within four months, he was sent to Iraq with the 6th Motor Transport Battalion in Hartford.
Luce and Melanie worked with local architects to design their four-bedroom home, which Gonsalves said would cost an estimated $150,000. The house was designed with wider doors and hallways, as well as wheelchair accessibility, even though Luce has prosthetic legs and walks with a cane.
The Homebuilders Association of Hartford County partnered with the organization, which counts on local contributions, to build the Luces' 1,850-square-foot ranch. One member has volunteered to be the general contractor. Others, such as Pete and Sharon Robbins of Vernon-based Northeast Foundation Coatings, who saw the lot and rallied members of the association, are giving their time, materials and expertise.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.homesforourtroops.org.
Contact Rachana Rathi at firstname.lastname@example.org.