Volunteers build house for wounded veteran
Army SPC Jason Schulz, who lost both of his legs in Iraq, isn't able to cook in his own kitchen. It's too small for him to turn his wheelchair around in. Schulz can't close the doors to the bathrooms in his own home and has no privacy, because his wheelchair gets in the way. He can't hang out in his own backyard, because there is no ramp or easy access for him to step down into the yard.
But thanks to numerous volunteers from around the Metro Milwaukee area, Schulz will soon live in a home that fully suits his needs.
Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit organization, coordinated an effort to build a new home for Schulz, his wife, Polina, and their baby girl on the way.
Volunteers gathered in the Town of Eagle on Wednesday morning, Oct. 21, for the opening ceremony and Wall Raising Build Brigade that lasted for three days. Volunteers will continue to work on the home until its completion, which is expected to be sometime in February.
Homes for Our Troops Build Brigade Manager Larry Archer explained that so far, the organization has completed 40 different homes for troops, and they have 30 more on the table.
Archer said the organization works to spark interest in the community through an informational dinner. That's where he met local contractor Kevin Kain of Kain Construction in Waukesha. Kain agreed to work as the general contractor for the project.
"Kevin's doing a great job getting things organized," said Archer. "And donations have been just incredible, from Milwaukee to Eagle."
Kain said this is the first time he's been involved in such a project.
"This is the most important project in my life so far," he said. "It's great to see the community involvement."
Kain has been working on the project since February and was involved with the home plan design and has helped secure donations and volunteers.
"The awareness (of the project) is such that when we call for donations, it's easy to get support," he said.
Tom McAdams of Mukwonago donated the property for the house on Eagle's Preserve Drive. An article on Schulz caught his eye, and McAdams said he contacted Homes for Troops to see how he could help.
"One thing led to another and I learned they needed a piece of property," he said. "After my wife and I discussed it, it became an easy decision."
McAdams met Jason and Polina for the first time Wednesday and said it was a great experience.
"It was something I was really looking forward to," he said.
Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local 494 were on site, volunteering their time and resources. Veterans Albert Wilkinson of Waukesha and Ricardo Gutierrez of Oconomowoc explained that the IBEW was supplying all of the electrical materials and supplies for the project.
Gutierrez said that some of the IBEW retirees, who were familiar with the build through their volunteer work at Old World Wisconsin, mentioned the project to the union.
"We have a lot of veterans," said Gutierrez, of the union members. "We're all concerned for our troops."
The Milwaukee Fire Department was also on scene Wednesday. Donna Gesch, Dispatcher and EMT Instructor explained that the department donated $37,000 to the project. Captain Brian McNulty helped coordinate the effort. The department raised money during two winter fundraisers and then decided to wear red shirts on Fridays to raise money for the troops. They sold their red duty shirts to firefighters and to the community to raise money and to date, have sold over 7,000 shirts, he said.
Polina is currently still stationed in San Antonio and plans on staying in on active duty until after their baby is born in January. The two plan on moving to Wisconsin to be closer to Jason's family as soon as the house is built.
"This is awesome," said Schulz. "I can't believe all these people stepped in to help. It's a great community."
Schulz said he's looking forward to living in a house that completely meets his needs.
"Everything in this house is completely accessible," he said. "There's a roll under counter and stove. The shelves are low enough for me to grab stuff. The bathrooms are handicap accessible and I can turn around completely in the kitchen."
Schulz also said he's looking forward to being back in Wisconsin.
"It will be nice to have seasons instead of just hot and more hot," he said.
For more information about Homes for Our Troops and this project, visit www.homesforourtroops.org. Cash donations will be accepted at the Moreland Boulevard and Stone Ridge Drive of Waukesha and the Gateway Road, Bluemound Road and Calhoun Road of Brookfield M&I bank locations under the name Jason Schulz Homes for Our Troops.