A Spanking New Home for a Veteran of War
National group, local builders give a special residence to Roberts
I spent June 13 in the company of some extraordinary individuals.
They were exceptional for what they had accomplished individually and collectively on behalf of a wounded veteran and his family, who are quite remarkable themselves.
I attended the ceremony where Sgt. Jonathan (Jon) Roberts was presented the keys to his specially adapted home by the Union County Home Builders Association and a national organization called "Homes for Our Troops."
The house is in south Waxhaw, adjacent to the home of Jon's grandparents and his aunt. It is spacious, airy, sunlit and carefully designed to give Jon freedom of movement with his motorized wheelchair.
Tad Dunn, regional director of the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, described the house as "a gift that will keep on giving" to Jonathan and his family because it will improve the quality of their lives.
In 2005, Roberts was severely injured in Iraq. He was involved in an automobile accident that left him in a coma for three months. When Jon regained consciousness, he was unable to move. Doctors recommended sending him to a nursing home, but Jon's parents refused to give up on him. He was released in their care and they came to live with his aunt and grandparents in Waxhaw.
Roberts and his dad, Steve, were the first people I encountered when I entered the dining room for the ceremony at Rolling Hills Country Club in Monroe. I introduced myself and asked Jonathan how he was feeling. I got a thumbs up.
He communicates with a computer, typing in what he wants to say using his right hand, and a synthetic voice passes his message to the listener. There were lots of friends wanting to say hello, and I watched father and son greet people, and deal with details of the proceedings and the final particulars of the house transfer.
It struck me that I was watching an alert young man who volunteered to serve his country and now is trapped in a damaged body, and a father who has put aside the rest of his life to help his son.
Then, I met Heidi Roberts, Jon's mother. She also has set aside her life to care for Jon. She was welcoming, cheerful and full of energy. We spoke about the upcoming move.
She was hopeful the air conditioning would be fully functional, since it was 99 degrees outside and was expected to be equally hot on moving day. I came away with the sense that here was an exceptional family who drew strength from friends, each other and their faith.
When asked if there was anything they needed, her reply was a quiet "no." She went on to tell me that the Department of Veterans Affairs had been of great help and the community was very supportive. About 200 people attended the ceremony.
Kirt Rebello, chief project officer of "Homes for Our Troops," gave the opening remarks, and provided some facts and figures on the scope of the undertaking. With the passing of the deed to Roberts, the organization has provided homes at no charge to 27 severely injured servicemen.
Rebello said there are another 26 currently in the works, and the nonprofit foundation hopes to complete another 100 homes in the next three years.
More than 120 individuals and companies volunteered labor, materials and funds, and they were recognized individually during the luncheon that followed the posting of the colors by a Color Guard from the N.C. Army National Guard of Monroe, the singing of the national anthem by David Boolen and an invocation by the Rev. Bliss Steele of Waxhaw Bible Church.
During lunch, I spoke with Richard Croswell, of Multicraft Homes in Waxhaw, the builder who was the general contractor for most of the project. Richard had given a whole year of his professional time.
I asked him what the most challenging part of the project was.
He said that, from an engineering standpoint, creating the big open space that characterizes the main room of the house required a very large beam to support the roof above the span. He added that orchestrating the many subcontractors who donated time and materials was also an interesting and rewarding aspect of the job.
Todd Laney, president of the Union County Home Builders Association, and Marty Griffin, a board member, gave a brief history of the project. He said that once the idea was brought before the leadership of the Union County Home Builders, it was approved in less than five minutes; and, five minutes after that, a committee was in place and work began.
Marty thanked the builders and sub-contractors who gave freely of their time in the face of the worst economic downturn in the building industry that anyone can remember.
He cited the Bible passage where Jesus said, "Whatever you do for the least of these you do also for me" (Matthew 25:40), telling the volunteers that, in helping the Roberts family, they also were serving God. Marty was so effective in conveying his message and the emotion he felt that I believe everyone in the room was moved.
I certainly was.
Matt Febbi from "Homes for our Troops" passed the certificate of occupancy to Jon. Roberts, for his part, used his computer to tell the group that it will be very nice to be in a house. He thanked them for their help.
In an emotion-filled room, Jon spelled out the words "thank you" to the audience and received a standing ovation.
Rebello closed with a final message of thanks and a simple request for support for the larger effort of "Homes for Our Troops." The colors were retired, and the Carolina Dance Company performed a simple and eloquent dance to "God bless America."
All in all, it was a perfect ceremony. It would be hard to find a more understated group of people who have achieved a wonderful end. I was reminded as I left the parking lot of another Bible verse, Matthew 23:12, "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and he who humbles himself will be exalted..."