WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 27, 2011) -- A former construction supervisor and home-improvement contractor was recognized Monday at the Pentagon for giving it all up to help seriously-injured veterans.
Homes for Our Troops founder John Gonsalves was awarded the 2010 Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher Distinguished Civilian Humanitarian Award for his commitment to build specially-adapted homes for wounded warriors at no cost to them.
Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh draped a red, white and blue ribbon and brass medallion around Gonsalves neck and presented him with a framed citation signed by all the service secretaries.
Gonsalves' move to create the nonprofit organization began after he watched a television news story about a Soldier who had lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq. He wondered what was being done to help provide severely injured and disabled veterans with specially-adapted and barrier-free homes.
After finding no organization supporting such a need, Gonsalves began researching the needs of the severely injured by visiting service members and their families at military hospitals and speaking before veterans' organizations.
In 2004 he donated most of his life savings to start Homes for Our Troops. Today, he volunteers all his time and expertise to the organization by coordinating donations of building materials, professional labor and funds. To date, Homes for Our Troops has built 83 homes at no cost to the veterans. Gonzales said the homes give them physical freedom, independence and restore their personal dignity.
Hosting the ceremony, McHugh praised Gonsalves for exemplifying Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher's personal qualities of patriotism, generosity and selfless dedication to improving the quality of life for members of the armed forces.
"Homes for Our Troops has been recognized as one of the best charities in the nation receiving top honors from the American Institute of Philanthropy and other independent watchdog groups," McHugh said. "John Gonsalves truly represents the best of the American spirit and the spirit of this award, finding inspiration by serving those who serve."
Following McHugh at the podium, Gonsalves said he was humbled by the award, but credited his staff for their work and dedication.
"It's an awesome thing to see to hundreds of people come out and reintegrate these wounded warriors back into their communities and to really say thank you with more than just a slogan or bumper sticker -- they do it with action," he said. He explained that the frames of the homes are constructed by volunteers who work together over a long weekend in what resembles an old-fashioned barn raising.
"It's the greatest privilege of my life to be able to do this and I thank you for this honor that you bestowed on me," Gonsalves said, "but it really is for those who make Homes for Our Troops."