By STEVEN MAYER, Bakersfield CalifornianFebruary 25, 2009
When Elubia Barrientos learned in December 2007 that her son had lost both legs in a bomb blast in Iraq, she wanted nothing more than to be by his side.
So she didn't think twice about leaving immediately for Washington, D.C., after her son arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
She left her job as a manicurist, left her home in south Bakersfield and spent the next seven months supporting her critically wounded son, U.S. Army Cpl. Wesley Leon Barrientos.
By the time she returned home the following July, she was significantly behind on her mortgage payments. Some of her clients had moved on, and thousands of dollars worth of nail polish and other supplies had dried up.
Going back to work was hard. Customers would ask about Wesley and she would well up.
"With clients, I was always crying, crying, crying," she said. "But I'm better now."
Especially with a little help from her friends.
WOUNDED HEROES FUND
That this family, which has sacrificed so much for so long, could be in danger of financial ruin as a direct consequence of that sacrifice, may seem unthinkable.
But the Barrientos home was indeed headed toward foreclosure.
And going back to visit Wesley - who still receives treatment and therapy five days a week at Walter Reed - had become financially impossible.
Then members of a grass-roots organization known as the Wounded Heroes Fund, Kern County Chapter, heard about Barrientos' situation.
They made plans to fly Wesley's mom back to Walter Reed in April and will come with her to sponsor a Bakersfield Day at the hospital during which all patients and their families will be served food prepared by the Chefs of Bakersfield.
Hundreds of gift packs containing locally themed goodies will be handed out.
In the meantime, a WHF volunteer is working to save the Barrientos home.
To throw this single mom out "would be like pulling the wings off a butterfly," said local real estate broker Glenn Porter.
Porter is in talks with the bank holding Barrientos' mortgage and says he expects to "work out a plan to make the property viable."
He considers his effort "insignificant" compared to the sacrifices made by Barrientos and countless others.
That sense of humility is prevalent among the scores of Kern residents who have raised more than $40,000 in the fund's first year.
"If a wounded veteran needs help, we want to be there," said Wendy Porter, a former teacher who founded the Wounded Heroes Fund.
Like Wesley Barrientos, U.S. Marine Sgt. Justin Clenard of Tehachapi had already come home safe from two tours in Iraq when he was deployed again last year - to Afghanistan.
On June 23, he and his squad were going door to door looking for Taliban insurgents when Clenard tripped a land mine.
The 23-year-old Tehachapi High graduate lost both legs in the explosion and his right arm was badly wounded.
Clenard's sister, Brooke Sander, and other members of the close-knit family have since visited him several times at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, visits that might not have been possible were it not for help from the Wounded Heroes Fund.
"My mom and I never had to worry about missing work because we wanted to be there when Justin was having a surgery or when he just wanted someone to come visit him," Sander said.
"They called us in August to see if they could help us in any way," she said. "They just touched our hearts."
She's since volunteered to speak to local service organizations and businesses to support the growing group.
Wendy Porter, not related to Glenn, is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Her father didn't receive help and it was difficult for the whole family, she recalled.
Said Porter, "We're just trying to make things better."