House is thank-you to soldier
Sun Prairie — As Chuck Isaacson fell asleep on the first night in his new home, he listened to his house breathe: the soft creaks of the walls and floors, the whoosh of the furnace, the wind pressing against the windows.
It was his.
The four bedrooms, the two-car garage, the acre of land, the appliances, the two bathrooms, the hardwood flooring. And every nail, every wall, every sink and every beam were provided by strangers who wanted to do something nice for a soldier paralyzed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Last month Isaacson, 29, and his wife, Brenda, moved into their Sun Prairie house built through Homes for Our Troops. The Massachusetts-based nonprofit group has built 37 homes across the nation - Isaacson's is the first in Wisconsin - and has another 15 under construction, said spokeswoman Vicki Thomas.
Isaacson said life is much easier in a wheelchair-accessible home than in his former cramped Madison apartment, where he had to hoist himself up stairs, one at a time, and pull himself onto a chair placed in the bathtub. In the kitchen he can wheel up to the sink and the stove, where he cooks his specialty - chili. The oven and microwave are within easy reach.
The bathroom features a roll-in shower, the halls and doorways are wider, a motorized lift is next to the stairs leading to the basement, and the floors are easy to maneuver with Isaacson's wheelchair. All of the appliances were donated.
Isaacson spent a lot of time at the construction site and was impressed with the build brigade of volunteers who put up the frame and exterior in three days in September before several months of interior work.
"I've always had an interest in construction. I always liked that kind of stuff," Isaacson said in his living room. "Going from just the foundation to a house in three days - that was cool. I really enjoyed that."
More than 300 people volunteered to build Isaacson's home, including construction program students from Madison Area Technical College and Sun Prairie High School.
Work is still being done. A landscaping brigade of volunteers will plant grass seed in his backyard this spring. Last week Mike Leaderman, a Madison electrician, was running wires into the basement, which eventually will be turned into a family room, storage area and bathroom.
"It's our duty to look after these folks who have given so much," said Leaderman.
Brookstone Homes of Oconomowoc donated its services to oversee construction of the $350,000 home and property. Casey Masterson, director of marketing, said all of the siding as well as food to feed volunteers was donated. Building material that needed to be purchased was often at a discount from suppliers.
"We were really pleasantly surprised with the amount of skilled crews that showed up," said Masterson. "We had a skilled framing crew drive down from Green Bay. They just showed up to work. We had veterans of previous wars with experience. Word of mouth really worked wonders for us."
Homes for Our Troops works with the Veterans Administration to choose from applications submitted by wounded veterans. Then the organization meets with the service member, determines the person's needs, asks where the person wants to live, finds a local builder willing to donate time, obtains building permits, buys land and arranges for donated labor and materials.
More plans for home
Isaacson plans to expand the garage and create two more spaces so he can set up a wood workshop. He's on track to earn degrees in computer science and technology management from Herzing University in Madison this year and wants to use the workshop to make furniture.
While he tried to thank everyone who volunteered, "it's impossible to track everyone down. You say thanks as much as you can."
Homes for Our Troops plans to build another home in Wisconsin - in Waukesha for Army Spc. Jason M. Schulz, 22, who grew up in West Allis and lost his legs in a bomb blast in Iraq.
Schulz and his wife, Polina, who met at Fort Bliss, Texas, and were deployed in Iraq together, are living in San Antonio while he continues rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center. He wants to move closer to his family in Wisconsin and go to college to study mechanical engineering.
Land hasn't been purchased yet, but Schulz has picked out a floor plan for a 2,600-square-foot wheelchair-accessible home with four bedrooms and an attached garage. His application to Homes for Our Troops was approved in January.
Schulz was in a tow truck heading out to pick up a disabled Humvee in Mosul on Nov. 7, 2007, when a bomb, which he said was a mortar shell connected to propane tanks and disguised by garbage, exploded and sent shrapnel through his door, cutting off his right leg above the knee, his left leg below the knee and much of his right hand, which was reattached.
"It was like a real quick flash of red and then the boom and then the pain. I was in and out of consciousness. I was trying to call on my radio that we had casualties," Schulz recalled.
He has about 85% mobility in his right hand and though he still spends most of his time in a wheelchair, he's hoping to walk with prosthetics full time within months. Schulz and his wife plan to move to Wisconsin once their home is finished later this year.