An effort to provide new Loudoun homes for military veterans injured in battle kicked off this week.
The Hero Homes project is led by builder Jason Brownell, Matt Lowers and Aimee McGranahan and draws its inspiration from the work of a national group that built a home for a badly burned Iraq War veteran in Lovettsville last year.
The trio wants to put a local touch on the effort to support those who lost limbs fighting overseas.
They’ll begin with building a home in the Village Case subdivision in Purcellville.
The effort kicked off with a reception Tuesday at the West End Wine Bar that featured talks by two injured vets and a retired U.S. Army brigadier general.
Brownell said the nonprofit was dedicated to building homes for those “who fought for freedom and democracy for others.” The goal is to build a minimum of five Hero Homes in Purcellville.
Among the speakers was Tony Porta, who lives in a specially designed Lovettsville home that was financed by the Siller Foundation Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Brownell was the project manager on that construction project, built by Fuog-Interbuild of Purcellville.
Porta was badly wounded in Iraq in 2007 by an improvised explosive device, on a day he described as “when my life changed for ever.” The then-20-year old was burned over most of his body, and lost his two best friends in the blast. Badly disfigured, he suffered mentally, spiritually and physically while in a hospital in San Antonia, TX, undergoing multiple surgeries—more than 130, he estimated. In 2012, life began to revive when son Kenneth Charles, named after Porta’s two dead friends, was born. “It was the most amazing thing in my entire life; it was a gift,” an emotional Porta told the crowd.
After a difficult search for just the right place to call home, avoiding areas where people would stare or point at him, the Portas settled on Lovettsville, where they found a welcoming community.
“I thought my life was over, but when I met Jason and you guys, you gave me a second chance,” he said. That inspires him to help other wounded vets.
The Leesburg-based Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes is contributing $10,000 to the Purcellville project. Jorge De Leon, a former police officer who lost a leg in Afghanistan in 2004 and is now retired, represented the organization.
De Leon, who met Porta in San Antonio’s Brook Medical Center, now travels the country raising the morale of other wounded vets and competing in handicapped sports, including skydiving. De Leon’s home in Texas was built for his family by a similar organization supporting wounded warriors. “I cannot explain how important it is to know that my wife and kids will never be missing a roof over their heads,” he said.
Brownell said work on the house—a 2,100-square-foot, three-bedroom rambler on Irvine Bank Lane—already has been supported by community donations–money and talent. Among those already donating to the project are architect Ron Mizerak, Loudoun Valley Floors and Dominion Paving and Sealing. More will be needed.
Brownell, Lowers and McGranahan formed a bond while building Porta’s house. After their experience with the Siller Foundation, they also found agreement that a local group could make a big impact.
Lowers, of Lowers Risk Group in Purcellville, met Porta through Brownell. He quickly pledged to help in whatever way he could. The company raised nearly $5,000 in a grant match to help build a playground for Porta’s son and upgrade the granite countertops in Porta’s house. Porta has donated the remainder of the money to Hero Homes.
McGranahan worked as a volunteer during the construction of Porta’s home. She brings 12 years of nonprofit experience to Hero Homes, which received its 501(c)(3) nonprofit certification last fall.
Lowers noted the nonprofit is run entirely by volunteers. “We’re aiming for the highest return on the dollar—99 percent,” he said. He and Brownell put up the initial funding, but the community has responded well, Lowers said, noting so far the project has raised $25,000, with another $10,000 from the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes.
Retired Brigadier General Burt Thompson, who left the Army after 30 years, is also supporting the project. Four months into retirement, he was introduced to Mark Lowers and joined the effort to thank veterans for their sacrifice and service.
Acknowledging a certain “emptiness and struggle” in retirement, Thompson said his work with Lowers’ company has given him purpose.
“This company helped me fulfill that need to continue to serve,” he said, adding that what veterans want more than anything is respect and appreciation for the efforts they have made on behalf of the nation.
Brownell plans to submit for grading and building permits soon and get construction started by May. If all goes well with fundraising, the home could be completed by the end of the year, he said.
Future plans include trying to rezone two other lots in Village Chase—a two-acre commercial area and a five-acre church lot—to provide a total of 23 homes, owned by Brownell.
“We want at least four of them to be for wounded veterans and to make western Loudoun a place for these guys,” Brownell said. That plan would include a creation of a public street, which the trio hope to have named as Stephan Mace Court, in memory of the Purcellville area U.S. Army specialist killed in Afghanistan in 2009.