Houston provides houses for America’s wounded soldiers
Dreaming of far away lands, exotic cuisines and ancient cultures, Kenny Adams followed his wanderlust by enlisting in the army after attending Stratford High School. Following his training at Fort Drum, NY, he was deployed to the Middle East where he ate camel for the first time and experienced sandstorms on a daily basis. However, while stationed in Afghanistan, PFC Adams’ hopes of becoming a police officer were shattered; he was permanently blinded in both eyes after a friendly-fire bullet pierced his skull. When he returned to Houston, Adams and his wife Katie lived in an apartment in a crime-infested neighborhood where they endured countless robberies. Each morning, the couple woke wondering if their car had been burglarized while they slept.
Like Adams, wounded soldiers often confront colossal struggles when they return from their tour of duty. Not only do these veterans encounter physical and emotional obstacles, but they also face problems with basic necessities, such as finding a job and a handicap-equipped place to live. The Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization formed in 2004 to help veterans address these problems. In 2005, they teamed with the Rotary District 5890 of Houston and Mayor Bill White to create the Wounded Hero Home program. This organization is slated to build and donate 15 homes to severely injured soldiers in the Greater Houston area by the end of the year.
The homes, built on lots donated by local builders, are constructed with funds from private donors and charitable foundations. The contract for each home comes with safeguards to ensure that the donations are not abused and the beneficiary contributes $50,000 to the cost of the building. A committee of Rotarians and community leaders selects recipients based on their degree of injury, financial need and family situation. The Rotary’s Community Shower program, whose motto is “Serving those who bravely serve us,” has funded gift cards to all applicants in appreciation for their service.
An affable and outgoing 25-year-old, Adams and his wife, who recently graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice with honors, have happily settled into their new Katy home. Despite the difficulties he has faced, Adams, ever the optimist, does not regret his service in the army for a moment, “For me, it was a wonderful experience. If I could, I would go back and do it again. I would go back and do it again with one eye or two eyes.” In addition to Adams, Cpl. Paul Gardner, a Marine paralyzed while serving in Baghdad, has been awarded a home in Sugar Land.
The Rotary Club of Houston has been very successful in mobilizing its fundraising efforts. The Wounded Hero Home program is led by Meredith Iler, an active Rotary board member and chairwoman of the project. Recently, George and Annette Strake donated $100,000 from the Strake Foundation. George Strake, a Rotarian and former Marine, says, “I really honestly believe that, ‘Thanks for serving,’ should be on everyone’s lips… I think this has the chance to really correct what we did not do in Vietnam, which was to say, ‘Thanks.'” The Wounded Hero Home program’s success has earned attention from many Congressional spouses who look forward to assisting with the national rollout of the program, which is expected to occur after the completion of this Houston pilot project.
Cpt. Scott O’Grady is another high-profile veteran who lends his support to this cause. Shot down over Bosnia, he survived a harrowing six days in enemy territory until he was rescued by the Marines. O’Grady’s saga received intense media coverage, and was named one of CNN’s top 25 stories of the last 25 years. His story inspired the movie, “Behind Enemy Lines,” a Hollywood adaptation made without his consent starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman. Recently, he attended a Rotary Club luncheon meeting and a Host Committee Kickoff Reception at the home of generous donors Gene and Astrid Van Dyke to raise funds for fellow veterans. O’Grady emphasized the importance of supporting America’s troops: “To know that you have the support of the American people back home gives you great inspiration to overcome whatever you face and whatever challenges you might be faced with when you are in a combat environment.”