By Gary SheftickNovember 15, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 15, 2010) -- After 54 surgeries and losing both legs to an improvised explosive device, retired Capt. Ferris Butler said the adaptive home donated on Veterans Day will provide him freedom of movement.
Butler and his wife Laura received the keys Thursday to a specially-designed house along Chesapeake Bay on Kent Island, Md. The house was built by the organization "Homes for Our Troops," with the help of hundreds of volunteers.
"The functionality of the house is just incredible," Butler said while standing in his dress Blues following the home-dedication ceremony. Walking on two prosthetic legs, he emphasized to the crowd and television news cameras that the house was more than just a home. He said it represented reintegration back into mainstream life.
Butler said it was hard at first for him to accept the idea of the house, but felt very fortunate to have so many friends and family members pitch in to help build it.
More than 100 volunteers showed up for a three-day weekend in August to erect the exterior of the house, an event akin to an old-fashioned barn-raising. The Homes for the Veterans organization refers to this event as the "Building Brigade." And a number of Soldiers from Butler's brigade combat team came down from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., to help with the construction.
Lt. Col. Thomas Levine of the Massachusetts National Guard also traveled to Kent Island to take part in the "Building Brigade." And he said it was a great opportunity to be able to return Veterans Day for the home dedication.
Steve Muchnick was there for both events as well and said, "every American should get dirt under their fingernails helping to build a home for a veteran."
In addition, Muchnick helps raise funds for the houses by running marathons. He said he does it "because of the way it affects individual lives so positively."
John Gonsalves, founder and president of Homes for Our Troops said the organization has donated 81 houses so far to disabled veterans in 33 states. Three homes were dedicated on Veterans Day alone, and 20 more projects are currently under construction or in the planning stages.
Gonsalves has been building homes for vets since the spring of 2004. He was a commercial builder until then and said he watched a segment on the news about a disabled veteran that touched him so deeply that he began inquiring about what could be done to help.
"There was no organization like this," Gonsalves said. Now his non-profit Homes for Our Troops has more than 25 employees and thousands of volunteers and benefactors.
Gonsalves met Butler at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Ward 57.
"That's a life-changing experience to go there," he said.
Gonsalves said he wishes there wasn't a need for an organization like Homes for Our Troops.
"But as long as there is a need, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing," he said.
The adaptive homes have wide doors - 36 inches - to facilitate wheelchairs. The homes' interiors are spacious for the same reason, and there's room under the kitchen counter, sink and stove for a wheelchair. The bathrooms are automated with a keypad that flushes the toilet, a spacious specially-designed shower and a therapeutic whirlpool bath. There are also walk-in closets big enough for wheelchair access.
At first glance, however, it's difficult to tell the homes are specially designed for the disabled. And that's on purpose, Gonsalves said.
"We really wanted to make it functional, without having an institutional feel to it," he said.
When Laura Butler thanked the crowd assembled Veterans Day, there were more than a few tears shed.
"Everyone cried," said attendee Lorraine Moore. "Even the cameramen cried."
Laura herself said she had a rough time holding back the tears as she talked about community, family and friends.
Laura also met Capt. Butler in Ward 57 at Walter Reed . She was volunteering there three years ago for an organization called "Operation Second Chance" and met the captain just a week after he arrived.
Butler was injured Dec. 21, 2006 when his platoon was on a mission in one of the most dangerous sectors along the Euphrates River south of Baghdad. His Humvee was destroyed by an IED.
Laura said it took more than a year of visiting Ward 57 before Butler finally had the nerve to ask her out on a date. The couple celebrated their first wedding anniversary last month. They moved into their new house this past weekend.