Joyful tears streamed down Eugene Simpson's face Saturday as he clutched the keys to his newly renovated home.
The former Army staff sergeant was paralyzed from the waist down when a bomb exploded near his vehicle in Tikrit, Iraq, on April 7, 2004. For him, the accessible home on Hamilton Drive in Dale City means a return of freedom and independence.
"I thank God for allowing me to be here," he said. "I want to thank everybody involved in this project."
Simpson received the keys to his home during a ceremony that was attended by his family, friends and dozens of volunteers who came together to remodel the house so it would accommodate him.
Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit group based in Massachusetts whose goal is to build quality housing for America's most severely wounded veterans, purchased the home in early 2006 so Simpson and his family could move out of his parents' basement.
Following the purchase, the nonprofit partnered with Project Mend-A-House and over two dozen local vendors,
including JABS Construction and Woodbridge Plumbing, Daniel Purvis of Creative Carpentry, Smitty's Lumber Company, The English Country Garden, Southland Insulators, Inc., B.C. Builder's Supply VAMAC and Colton Construction to make the home accessible for Simpson and his wheelchair.
"We'd like to thank the community," said Tom Benoit, vice president and chief financial officer of Homes for Our Troops. "They've done a lot of great work. A lot of people did a lot of different things."
Funding for the project came almost exclusively from donations from private citizens, Benoit stressed. Woodbridge American Legion Post 364 held the first fundraiser for the effort to renovate the house a little more than a year ago. Purchasing and renovating the house came to around $435,000.
Purvis, who served as the project's construction supervisor, beamed as he watched Simpson maneuver easily through each of the home's rooms.
"It's been a long time coming," he said. "It's an overwhelming, beautiful house. He's [Simpson] so deserving."
Tom Kreutzer of Woodbridge Plumbing said finding volunteers to work on the project or company's that were willing to donate materials was easy.
"Everybody I called was on board just like that," he said as he snapped his fingers.
Project Mend-A-House designed and constructed a series of ramps and landings that give Simpson access to the house, yard and transportation. Volunteers from Forest Park High School, Lake Ridge Baptist Church, Roush Construction Company Inc., Creative Touch Interiors and Bull Run Unitarian Universalists built the ramps.
Among the home's other features are wooden floors and kitchen cabinets that can be lowered. Hallways and doorways have been widened to accommodate Simpson's wheelchair.
Volunteer Patricia Fowler, a legal administrative assistant with the county attorney's office, said the gleaming tiles, sinks, and freshly painted walls are a far cry from what the house looked like when the project began.
"The ceiling was out, the floors were out," she said. In addition to Fowler, five members of the county attorney's staff volunteered to turn what had been a ramshackle house into a home.
"I'm happy and I'm glad and my children are happy," said a beaming Simpson. "The freedom is the biggest thing for me. I've always been an independent person."
Simpson's voice broke as he thanked his parents for supporting him during his rehabilitation.
"Every day, all day they're with me," he said. "Words can't express how I feel right now."
Simpson's mother, Pearl, echoed her son's sentiments.
"Not even one word can describe how we feel," she said. "I can't even talk."
With sons Shama, 4, and Kaya, 6, by his side, Simpson plans to be moved into the house by the middle of this week.
And what is the first thing he plans to do after he gets settled in his new home?
"Cook," he said with a broad smile.