Sgt. Mendes in his new Homes for our Troops home.
On a chilly May morning, the city of Murrieta, CA dispatched a firetruck to a new home. Dozens of men, women and children congregated the driveway. The sounds of Rolling Thunder could be heard in the distance. As if on cue, the wind picked up and the huge American flag streaming from the ladder of the firetruck began to wave. American Legion Riders escorted wounded Army veteran Sgt. Nicholas Mendes to his new specially adapted home, and the community was there to welcome him.
This is the work of Homes for our Troops.
HFOT builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes across the United States for those who have been severely injured in theater of combat since September 11, 2001. The non-profit's purpose is to assist wounded warriors with the complex process of integrating back into society.
Army Sergeant Nicholas Mendes, who was a gunner with the 10th Mountain, 3rd Brigade, is one of 214 veterans to thus far be living in one of these homes. On April 30, 2011, an IED detonated beneath his vehicle in Sangsar, Afghanistan. The explosion, set off by a 1200-pound command wire device, caused multiple fractures to his vertebrae and rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. Mendes had previously served in Iraq in 2008.
After being presented with the key to his new home, Mendes' wife held the microphone up to his mouth so he could address the audience of well-wishers.
"Bear with me, I didn't write anything down - because my arms don't work." Mendes joked. "It's just crazy looking back on everything, this all started with a Google search, and then putting in an application to a foundation that I didn't know if they'd ever write me back…"
Not only did they write him back and build him a home, Homes for our Troops is working with Mendes to allow him to reclaim his independence. The adapted features in his home remove much of the burden from his wife and family and allow him to focus on recovery and his plans to pursue a career in real estate.
"These men and women are not looking for pity. They're looking to rebuild their lives." said Bill Ivy, Executive Director of HFOT. "We have an extremely talented group of men and women who are either in homes or that we are building homes for. The whole idea is to get them back going to school, back into the work force, raising families. Since 2010 we've had over 100 children born to families living in our homes. So it is about the next generation and moving forward. We have a tremendous amount of successes out there."
Homes for Our Troops lays a foundation for these men and woman to continue on after their injuries. Although their way of life has undergone major changes, their spirit and desire to serve remains. Many of these home recipients are able to rehabilitate to the point where they enter the workforce and give back to their community as teachers and counselors.
Two HFOT recipients started a non-profit together called Amputee Outdoors. Another recipient, Joshua Sweeny is an American gold medal sledge hockey player and Purple Heart recipient who competed in 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. Four recipients participated in the recent Invictus games, and one even spent a month in a tent to raise awareness for veteran homelessness.
"There's duty, there's honor and self sacrifice. Death nor injury does not diminish those qualities in our soldiers. It is a testament to the love of this country" said David Powers of Prospect Mortgage - one of the key ceremony speakers. "Duty is the mission, the lesson is the sacrifice for our country, and for our freedom."
For more information visit the Homes for Our Troops website.
HOFT Executive Director, Bill Ivy raising a flag outside Sgt. Mendes' new home.