Is there a news program that, over the last two weeks, has not carried a story
about the 'housing bubble'?
We hear both scary accounts of what will happen if the bubble bursts and fantastic
tales of people making six figure profits by flipping a property after only
a few weeks or months; stories that are bound to pull more investors into the
superheated real estate market.
As comedian Bill Maher might say: 'New Rule: when the media talks this
much about an event, it is already over.'
So it was refreshing to see a story on CNN and NBC news in the last weeks (and
it has apparently been covered by a number of other media outlets) about what
a house really is: a place for shelter, comfort, and security. If one can increase
one's net worth through home ownership, that is a bonus but, at gut level,
it is not the reason for owning or needing a home.
The stories centered around an organization, founded in Massachusetts but spreading
into other parts of the country called Homes for Our Troops (HFOT).
It was founded by John Gonsalves, a construction supervisor and home
improvement contractor who saw a televised news report about Army Sergeant Peter
Damon. Sgt. Damon lost both lower arms in a blast during service in Iraq.
The original news report, parts of which were rebroadcast by NBC last weekend,
showed Damon in his hospital bed only weeks after he suffered his injuries.
While obviously still suffering, his courage and resolve were palpable. Mr.
Gonsalves, according to his biography on the organization's web site www.Homesforourtroops.org.,
found himself wondering what happened to heroes such as Damon once the Army
cut them loose to return to their families. Curious, he started looking for
an existing organization where he could volunteer his considerable construction
skills to assist wounded veterans. As he says, he came up empty. So he started
Gonsalves found a team of volunteers with a mix of skills, opened an office
in Taunton, Massachusetts, put together a Board of Directors and an Advisory
Board composed of veterans' advocates and construction
experts, and enlisted the help of the New England Regional Council
of Carpenters. Members of that organization drew up plans, worked through the
permitting process and, along with building supply vendors, donated tens of
thousands of dollars in labor and materials.
Homes for Our Troops is now working on a home for Peter Damon and his family
in Middleboro, Massachusetts, a small community south of Boston. The home is
specially designed to allow Sgt. Damon to function as a normal homeowner in
spite of his injuries, with door levers rather than knobs and other adaptive
fixtures and materials. The project is also being utilized as a training site
for apprentices in many of the building trades.
Now HFOT is going national. The group has identified several other severely
wounded military vets in California, Virginia and North Carolina in need
of either new homes or the specialized adaptation of existing homes to accommodate
Funds are being raised through donations and the 'sale' of bumper
stickers, T-shirts, and magnetic car ribbons (each given away for a specific
level of donation.) In addition the organization that sells GI bracelets has
designated HFOT as one of its fund recipients; singer Billy Joel has made a
sizable contribution; and singer Vicky Emerson is donating proceeds from her
song 'Empty Boots' to the organization. Golfer Phil Mickelson has
dedicated his 2005 PGA tour to HFOT, pledging $100 for each birdie and $500
for each eagle he makes on the tour. He made a similar dedication to another
veterans' organization last year and paid off on every fourth hole, scoring
332 birdies and seven eagles. HFOT volunteers are now attempting to establish
funds to match Michelson's donations. Many groups and companies are sponsoring
golf tournaments and other fund raising activities on behalf of the organization.
The organization has lots of volunteer opportunities and, of course, can always
use donations. Visit its web
site for further information.
And Peter Damon? It will be a while before his special home
is ready for occupancy. In the meantime you may have seen him, using his new
prosthetic left arm, throw out the first ball at a recent Boston Red Sox home
Growing group of volunteers are working to provide severely wounded American
troops with the best kind of house - their own.