By Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mead, 103 Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
/ Published March 19, 2010
WORTHINGTON, Mass -- More than 100 people weathered the cold rain and wind, rooted in the mud, waiting to celebrate and recognize a small-town hero and that small town's sense of community during a key turnover ceremony, March 13, 2010. And despite the dreary, cloud-covered sky, attendees applauded and cheered when Army Sgt. Peter Rooney drove his black SUV down his American flag-lined driveway to his brand new, specially-adapted home.
The home was provided by Homes for Our Troops, a non-profit organization that builds specially-adapted homes for severely injured veterans through donations and local community support.
The veterans that are considered for a home are 100 percent disabled by VA standards, said Jay French, board chairman with Homes for Our Troops. Additionally, these homes are specially adapted to the unique needs of the veterans.
Rooney, who lost both his legs above the knee during a roadside bomb incident in Ramadi, Iraq April 16, 2007, is one such individual that received the aid offered by this organization.
"Thank you to Homes for Our Troops and its founder John Gonsalves, and the wonderful staff there for selecting me to receive this incredible gift," said Rooney.
Rooney then, with an emotional tear, thanked all of the contractors and family members who came out for the key turnover ceremony.
"My wife and I have been anticipating this moment so much, and we're so happy the day is here," said Rooney.
The roughly 2,100 square-foot home was custom built with a large roll-in shower, automatic doors, a kitchen designed with wheelchair accessibility and an elevator that allows Rooney to move between the first floor and the basement.
According to Homes for Our Troops, approximately 30 of these specially-adapted homes are in various stages of development each year. The homes take around six months to complete from groundbreaking to key turnover and cost an average of $330,000 but are presented at no cost to the veterans.
"It is our patriotic responsibility to support our servicemembers that are sacrificing to protect our freedoms," said Chris Rodelle, director of projects operations for Homes for Our Troops.
The way Homes for Our Troops works begins with the application process, which is done online, said Rodelle.
Once the veteran is accepted in to the program, Homes for Our Troops pairs a project manager with a local contractor. From there, the community gets involved and volunteers work with the general contractor to build the home.
The community aspect behind the building of this home reinforced the saying, united we stand, expressed by Army Lt. Col. Thomas Stewart, assistant chief of staff for the Massachusetts Army National Guard and commander of the 126th Brigade Support Battalion, based in Springfield, Mass., when he said, "Today we win."
"The enemies of the global war on terror are trying to hurt the way we live and their attempts are not working because of the magnitude of support to our soldiers is proof enough that America stands unified against their threats," said Stewart during the ceremony.
Homes for Our Troops makes it a lot easier for servicemembers to carry on in their profession, said Stewart.
Adding to the sense of community was Kent Hicks, from Hicks Construction.
"These are difficult times in this country," said Hicks, general contractor for Rooney's home, "and to have that out-pouring of support for this build just shows that we are united and we believe in supporting each other."
This mentality of communities giving back to veterans was a foreign concept to Susanne Rooney, Peter Rooney's wife who is originally from Germany. She said she did not think it existed in this world, but is grateful her husband gets support and is welcome here.
"It is an incredible experience to see how much support American communities give to their soldiers and veterans," said Susanne Rooney.
Now, with the key in hand and the home nearly complete, Rooney expressed his future plan to, someday, pay it forward.
"First things first, I will probably go back to school," said Rooney. From there, the plan is to go to a community college then transfer to The University of Massachusetts Amherst to study business management so he can work at a non-profit organization that helps veterans like him, such as Home for Our Troops or Achilles International.
Starting a family is also in Rooney's future and, now with his specially adapted home, he said, the convenient design will make it easier for him to move around if he had a child sitting on his lap.
For more information about Homes for Our Troops, visit their Web site at www.homesforourtroops.org