REBUILDING INJURED VETERANS LIVES
When Veterans receive a new specially adapted custom home from HFOT, they are now free to focus on their recovery and returning to their life’s work of serving others.
Many embrace their roles as motivational speakers sharing their stories of perseverance with classrooms and civic groups all over the country. Others go on to start families, go back to school, or take up careers as engineers, law enforcement agents, prosthetic technicians, nonprofit executives, business owners, artists, or VA staff members. HFOT even has a few US Paralympians in its Veteran family. Read below to learn about the many ways that HFOT is Building Homes and Rebuilding Lives.
Riding onto Recovery
Army Sergeant Jon Roberts has a lot to look forward to every week, especially on Sundays and Tuesdays. After church on Sundays, his family gathers at his home for a potluck lunch. After the meal, Jon takes his recumbent trike out, and he and his friend go for a ride together around Jon’s neighborhood in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Every Tuesday, he heads out to Angelic Riders, a local farm, for horseback riding lessons. “I love horseback riding. Tuesday is my favorite day of the week,” he says.
The memories Jon is making are possible because of the generous support from the Homes For Our Troops donors and supporters who contributed to the building of his specially adapted custom home in 2008. Jon sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) while serving in Iraq in 2005. As a result of his injury, he cannot walk independently, and he has difficulty controlling the left side of his body. While he was in the hospital after being injured, Jon’s parents, who were missionaries in the Philippines at the time, worried about how they would adequately care for their son in a non-adapted home.
Features in traditional housing, like stairs, are a challenge for Jon. “I can put weight on my legs, but I have little balance because of my TBI. So, without help, I would fall,” he says. His family’s concerns dissolved when they heard about HFOT and learned the organization would build Jon an adapted home. His grandfather gave Jon land next to his and Jon’s aunt’s residences in North Carolina. “I really appreciate that this home was built for me right next to my family,” says Jon.
Jon’s home has enough space for him to keep a recumbent trike, which he uses for rehabilitation and to stay active. The independence he regains in the home empowers him to venture outside for horseback riding and trike rides. Most importantly, the home enables Jon to be comfortable in his wheelchair while being surrounded by family and friends. “Having this very nice and accessible home given to me, just because I did my job, is amazing,” he says.
The Business of Beans
Robert Barber’s HFOT home provides more than freedom and independence – it also enables him to brew his own business. Robert owns and operates POG Coffee Roasters from his home. While deployed, Robert took comfort making different kinds of coffee, often ordering specialty beans and making cups of “joe” with his French press for his teammates and himself. After losing his left leg while serving in Afghanistan, Robert returned home seeking a new hobby. He realized there was a market for Veteran-owned local businesses and teamed up with some law enforcement friends to create the company.
Robert credits his HFOT home as being one the reasons he was able to pursue a coffee business. He converted his garage into his company’s roasting facility and obtained certification by South Carolina’s Department of Agriculture. “If I have an issue with prosthetics on a particular day, I can always go back to my wheelchair and still be able to get around the home,” he says. “Many people think that because you’re a good walker, you use your prosthetics all the time. But the reality is a wheelchair is still a necessity at times.”
In addition to creating a business, Robert has also expanded his family. He welcomed his fourth child in July 2021. “I am in a healthy place right now and it took a lot of work to get there. Having an adapted home is just one of the many things that enabled me to get to that point in life after a traumatic injury.”
Feeling the Beep
It was just a couple years ago when Army Sergeant First Class Henry Escobedo received the keys to his specially adapted custom home in Texas. Now, he’s participating in sports and activities he never thought he would pursue. This past fall, Henry joined Houston’s Bayou City Heat Beep Ball team. Beep ball is a form of baseball that is played by blind people using a ball that beeps. Henry was intimidated by the sport at first. “I had never played baseball in my life and it had been years since I played any sport,” he says.
At the start of his first practice, Henry crashed into a few players, and fractured his ribs while diving for the ball. Despite the mishaps, Henry found the sport exciting and fun. “I felt free, invincible, and, most of all, alive,” he says.
Henry says regaining his independence within his HFOT home gave him the boost he needed to break out of his shell. When he started losing his sight from multiple injuries he sustained while serving in Iraq, he initially had a hard time with the diagnosis and felt lost. Once accepted into the HFOT Family, Henry’s outlook began to change for the better, knowing he would soon regain his freedom and independence. Now, Henry is thriving. “I am more energetic, active, and, most of all, happy.”
In addition to playing beep ball, Henry has also gone skydiving and attended the 2022 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in 2022. “At times we think that it is the end of the world, but then a helping hand lifts you up and redirects your path.”
Room to Grow
Katie Callahan loves admiring the signatures of HFOT supporters who attended their build events on boards hanging in their garage. To her, it is a reminder of all the love and appreciation that went into building their specially adapted custom home. “The home eases my mind and heart of the pain I have seen my husband carry for many years.”
On Jan. 15, 2004, Army SGT Justin Callahan lost his left leg in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast while serving in Afghanistan. For almost two decades following his injury, Justin lived in a non-accessible home and could not use his wheelchair. Though he has a prosthetic leg, there are many times he is unable to wear it because of skin breakdowns, infections, and daily pain. Justin often became frustrated that he had to rely on Katie for support and could not help as much around the home. Now that he lives in a fully accessible environment, Justin can accomplish daily tasks from his wheelchair, giving him more energy and less pain. “Being able to have the option to use my wheelchair inside and around my home has been a huge game changer,” he says.
Most importantly, the home enables Justin to be fully present with Katie and their children. “Watching my three young children playing inside and outside the home, especially when the kids run along the side of the home waving at me when I leave for work, are precious moments I’ll always remember,” he says.
Katie loves seeing her husband thrive in a barrier-free environment. “The home makes my job as a caregiver quite a bit easier, especially with three little children. They have room to play, and dad can still cruise around in his wheelchair,” she says. “They are so proud of their dad, and this home will leave a lasting impression on them for many years to come.”
Marine Corporal Zachary Nelson was the Veteran Representative for Marine Lance Corporal Bryan Chambers’ Community Kickoff on Jan. 8, 2022. In his remarks, Cpl Nelson describes how life has improved for his family since receiving his specially adapted custom Homes For Our Troops home in 2016.
Hi, I’m Zachary Nelson. I enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. July 5, 2012, I was severely injured when I was involved in a vehicle rollover while I was positioned as the gunner on top of our vehicle, resulting in a complete spinal cord injury at T3 and paralysis from the chest down. I spent the next several months in the hospital, and I learned about Homes For Our Troops from another Veteran there.
At first, I thought Homes For Our Troops sounded too good to be true. I couldn’t believe an organization would want to gift me a mortgage-free, barrier-free home. Tomorrow will mark six years in my home, and it has been even more of a blessing than I could have imagined. My home gives me back a lot of the independence I lost when I was injured. I am able to move easily through the doorways and hallways in my wheelchair. The kitchen and bathrooms are completely accessible, which allows me to cook for my family and safely be independent in the bathroom.
Homes For Our Troops’ motto is “Building Homes, Rebuilding Lives” and I feel like I have really been able to focus on rebuilding my life while living in a specially adapted custom home. Since receiving my home, I have returned to working after a few years of retirement, and have also been able to find hobbies. I enjoy hand cycling and taking care of my property. One of my favorite things about my home is that my wife and I were able to bring our son home from the hospital to a nice, comfortable place that he can call home. The accessibility in my home gives me the freedom to be a hands-on parent with a now very busy two-year-old. My family has made so many wonderful memories at our home over the past six years. Bryan, I hope you and your family find as much happiness in your home as I have.
Cherishing the Simple Things
To Navy PO3 Justin Hendrickson and his wife Jennie, their Homes For Our Troops home in Pennsylvania isn’t just walls and a roof, it is everything. While serving as a Navy corpsman with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, Justin lost his right leg after being hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq. In the years after his injury, Justin met and married the love of his life, Jennie. From day one, Jennie was determined to make sure he had the best quality of life.
In their previous home, she often feared for his safety since it was not wheelchair accessible. After being married for 12 years, the couple received some devastating news. Jennie now faced a battle of her own – she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite her illness, Jennie still wanted to support Justin in any way she can. She is now in remission but experiences mobility and balance issues as a result of her illness. Their specially adapted custom home enables Jennie to take care of Justin and herself as well. “Having everything on one floor and not having to worry about falling downstairs is beneficial, especially when doing laundry. I am notorious for falling up the stairs too. This also applies to Justin. I watched him countless times using his crutches for support going downstairs. As a wife, I can hardly find words to explain the fear I had for him and what could have happened.”
Since Justin and Jennie are able to live safely and comfortably, they can pursue goals they have always wanted to do. Recently, Justin took on a job as a traveling nurse. This gives them the chance to travel the country together. “This home provides me the opportunity to enjoy life in ways I never thought possible after my injury,” he says.
Justin and Jennie say they could never fully explain how grateful they are for HFOT’s donors and supporters. “Waking up every morning, sitting outside with our cups of coffee, enjoying the morning air with our dog Cuddles, watching the deer in the field across the street from our front yard as the sun rises, is just one example of the peacefulness Justin and I have wanted for so long. Both of us have been dealt some cards in life that have been very trying and scary for us, so we always appreciate moments like this. We could never do this in the house we lived in before. It’s these little things the donors and supporters of HFOT gave us. They gave us our peace. They gave us our serenity. They gave us our forever home.”
“Finally being in our forever home has given my family security knowing that we are finally home and can begin to start rebuilding our new lives.” -Air Force TSgt Daniel Fye
During his third combat tour on May 27, 2011, Air Force Tech Sergeant Daniel Fye, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team Leader with the 466 Bravo EOD Flight, was severely injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion during a route clearance mission in Mushan, Afghanistan. The blast resulted in the loss of his left leg and severe damage to his right.
When Air Force Tech Sergeant Daniel Fye returned home after losing his left leg while serving in Afghanistan, he faced the harsh reality that his home was no longer a place of comfort. The hallways were too narrow for his wheelchair, and he had difficulty walking up the stairs on his prosthetic. Like many injured Veterans, Dan often became frustrated that the barriers in his home prevented him from pursuing his goals.
In 2017, Dan and his family started a new chapter when they received their specially adapted custom Homes For Our Troops home in Washington. The freedom and independence Dan regains within the home, enables him to focus on his recovery, future, and family. This is all possible because of the generosity from supporters like you.
Dan received the keys to his home in Bremerton, Washington on September 23, 2017.
“My home gave me hope and the ability to chase the future with a safe place to land when I push it too far.” -Army PFC Heather Cramer Trujillo
Army Private First Class Heather Trujillo’s Homes For Our Troops home enables her to make homemade products that help others. When her daughter was having trouble finding soap products that didn’t aggravate her skin condition, Heather was determined to find a solution. She learned many soap products are detergent, which can irritate sensitive skin, and that natural soap is a process of turning fats and oils into glycerin. By making soap, one can control how much fat and oil is left behind. Heather started making her own soap and found a combination that moisturizes while protecting the skin. The products not only helped her daughter but others with conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. “Most people that I gave it to loved it and wanted more bars. It gave me the idea to start selling it,” she said.
Having a fully accessible HFOT home makes it much easier for Heather to expand her craft. After sustaining a spinal cord injury while serving in Afghanistan in 2006, she spent many years using a wheelchair and now walks with the assistance of a cane. “The process of making soap is extremely technical and takes a bit of maneuvering to do with my injuries,” she says. “But my kitchen and home are set up so I can reach everything, regardless of how my injuries are doing.”
Heather says she aspires to turn her soap-making hobby into a business. “I want to live a life where I can do something I love, and it also helps people. The last few years have taught me that finding peace and joy is what matters, and I hope this endeavor grants these things.” Since receiving her home, Heather’s accomplishments have gone beyond soap making. She recently graduated summa cum laude with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and she and her newlywed husband are trying to expand their family.
Before receiving her home in 2018, Heather says her injuries made her lose sight of her impact in the world, but the generosity from HFOT’s donors and supporters gave her the motivation to find her purpose. “My injury beat me down, and then a few amazing people reached into my darkness. Since that happened, I have become the kind of woman I could be proud of. Not defined by the pain or conditions, defined by my joy, my hope, and the absolute certainty that I must be the kind of person worth this gift. This home is no small thing; your contribution allows people to heal and redefine themselves outside of the boundaries of their new reality.”
Heather received the keys to her home in Cartersville, Georgia, on October 6, 2018.
After doing a tour to Iraq in 2008-09 as an Infantryman with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Corporal Storey did his next deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. Five months into that deployment, on Sept. 7, 2010, Cpl Storey lost his right leg to an improvised explosive device (IED) while on a patrol in Sangin.
Kionte acknowledges his recovery was initially difficult. The challenges of dealing with his injury led him into a depression. He overcame this emotional hurdle by becoming more active and now enjoys testing his physical abilities by running, hiking, rowing, and weight lifting. He has become an avid mountain climber and conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the seven summits around the globe. He has completed the Marine Corps marathon, several half marathons for Team HFOT, and competed in track and field events during the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics Nationals. He hopes his achievements will inspire and motivate others. “Anything is possible. Just because you’re injured, your life does not have to stop,” he says.
Though Kionte excels on the track and mountain tops, he still experienced obstacles within his previous home. He could not access the bathroom in his wheelchair, causing him to crawl on the floor. He would often fall trying to get in and out of the bathtub. A specially adapted custom Homes For Our Troops home with wide doorways and a roll-in shower enables Kionte to bathe safely and easily. Regaining his independence in an HFOT home helps him focus on his school and career. He is currently studying to become a physical therapist. Additionally, his service dog Koja has more space.
Kionte received the keys to his home in Escondido, California, on September 25, 2021.
On March 3, 2008, Navy Petty Officer First Class Ryan Sykes was on his fifth deployment to Afghanistan, serving as a special warfare analyst, when he sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other life-threatening injuries in Eastern Afghanistan. Lying unconscious in the darkness for more than five hours, a local security guard found him and alerted American troops. In addition to the traumatic brain injury, he also sustained a collapsed lung, facial fractures, soft tissue damage on his bicep, and pneumonia. Petty Officer Sykes was saved from further brain injury due to the freezing temperatures that limited the swelling of his brain.
Though Ryan leads a busy lifestyle, he could not do as much as he would have liked because his previous home was not wheelchair accessible. His living situation made it difficult to perform daily routine tasks. With a specially adapted home from Homes For Our Troops, he is able to easily prepare meals in a kitchen with roll-under countertops and pull-down shelves. Additionally, he is able to shower safely in an accessible bathroom. He is relieved to have accessible appliances, a functional kitchen, and complete wheelchair mobility, all of which he says enable him to put his full strength and energy into trying to walk again, and further advance his cycling training for the US Paralympics.
Ryan received his home in Grass Valley, California on January 15, 2022.
On June 25, 2009, Army Specialist Nguyen was on his second deployment to Iraq serving the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, when the vehicle carrying him hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in Sadr City, Iraq. SPC Nguyen lost his left leg above the knee and sustained severe damage to his right leg. Now medically retired, Johnny enjoys long distance shooting and experimenting with aerial videography. Though Johnny has made significant progress in his recovery, a decade of wearing a prosthetic and coping with the challenges of a non-accessible home had taken a toll on him physically and mentally.
“The impact my adapted home has made on my life has been tremendous! Being able to walk about the open floor plan without worrying about additional steps or ledges was something I didn’t know I needed. What has been paramount is being able to shower comfortably while standing on one leg. It no longer feels like a chore. Having no barriers has been amazing. I can focus on things that matter to me instead of always looking for obstacles and the mental gymnastics I had to do almost every day. I can feel it when I sleep or when I just try to sit down and relax for the day.”
Johnny received his home in Spring Branch, Texas on June 4, 2022. His home marked the 50th home built in Texas.