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, 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 his own.

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 their disabilities.

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 game.


Growing group of volunteers are working to provide severely wounded American troops with the best kind of house - their own.