Bob Gibson, owner of RM Construction in Glenwood Springs, was the primary builder in a new subdivision when he got a call from Building Homes for Heroes, a national nonprofit that gives accessible, mortgage-free homes to wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. BHH wanted to know if Gibson was interested in building a home for wounded veteran Kirstie Ennis, a Marine Corps sergeant injured in a helicopter crash in 2012. After a series of surgeries and amputations, Ennis ultimately lost her left leg above the knee and uses a wheelchair and prosthetic leg to get around.
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Gibson met with BHH and decided right then to take on the project.
“I don’t know what possessed me, but I said yes right there,” he told Colorado Builder.
Since its founding in 2006, BHH has given over 140 homes to veterans and their families, and aims to reach its 200th home by the end of 2019. The organization is on track to give 33 homes this year, according to marketing manager Jazmine Leon—that’s one about every 11 days.
Founder Andy Pujol had been involved in the rescue attempts following 9/11, Leon said. He started giving money to organizations that supported servicemembers, but was disappointed by the lack of transparency in other organization’s financials. He created Building Homes for Heroes and donates his time and salary to the foundation.
BHH’s Ground Up program works with local builders and contractors to build brand-new homes for severely wounded veterans. The organization also has a modification program, where BHH works with Chase to find foreclosed homes and modify them to make them accessible for the veterans who will live in them.
The home Gibson and his team built was designed specifically for Ennis. As the team worked with BHH and Ennis, they learned she liked to cook, so “we spent a lot of time on the kitchen,” he said.
“We had an architect who donated his time, but Building Homes for Heroes had an architect who really refined it” to be accessible, Gibson said. “A lot of thought went into usability.”
Between his company and his subcontractors, Gibson said between $200,000 and $250,000 was donated toward the build, including smart home technology from Legrand and windows from Pella.
“Most of our subs are smaller guys,” Gibson said. “To see what they stepped forward [to give] was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.”
The experience had a profound impact on Gibson.
“When I got to know Kirstie and met some of the other vets that Building Homes for Heroes has helped—they sacrifice for us every day. To see the strength of these young men and women, the things they have to do in their day-to-day life and their good attitudes, they’re just amazing people. It changed me for the good.”
More than just a home
BHH’s primary mission is to provide mortgage-free homes for injured veterans, but Leon noted that they don’t want to just build the home and walk away.
“We try to build a family atmosphere,” she said. “There’s a very tight-knit community among our military members, and unfortunately, sometimes when they get out, they lose that camaraderie.”
BHH also hosts team-building events to create a sense of community for recipients. This year, BHH will take some of its female veteran recipients, including Ennis, to climb Mount Denali in Alaska.
“Having our team-building program and bringing our veterans together helps to create the bond and helps keep us in touch with our veterans in case they need additional things as they move forward,” Leon said.
Danielle Andrus was previously the managing editor for Colorado Builder, and is currently Editor for the Journal of Financial Planning.