Fifteen years ago, Vainuupo Avegalio left his Samoan village on a fishing boat, arrived in Hawaii and joined the U.S. Army to fight for America. The experience left him disabled with severe PTSD. Now, he is joining the Purcellville community thanks to HeroHomes.
The nonprofit is set to dedicate a house in the town’s Village Case neighborhood to Avegalio in April. At that point, Avegalio will pay only $125,000 for the house, since the vast majority of the building cost will be absorbed by HeroHomes and through contractor donations. Brookfield Residential is set to begin construction on the home in November.
To help lessen the costs associated with bringing the house into the town’s utility system, HeroHomes Founder Jason Brownell asked the Purcellville Town Council on Sept. 8 to consider waiving water and sewer connection fees. At full price, both of those taps would cost HeroHomes nearly $50,000.
In all, Brownell said that’s a minimal amount of revenue for the town to give up—about 4 percent of the total $1.2 million in utility tap revenue the development’s remaining 24 unconnected lots will provide the town.
Town Attorney Sally Hankins is reviewing the request from a legal perspective and is expected to provide the Town Council with guidance at an upcoming meeting.
The request is similar to the one Loudoun County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1177 in Leesburg made to the town earlier this year, when it asked, and was granted permission, to connect to the town’s sewer system at no cost.
The home will serve as a place for Avegalio to rest as he continues to help others with PTSD, following his career in the U.S. Army, which ended in 2018.
Avegalio was born into a Samoan matai position—a chief position responsible for leading his village. Although he had a lifelong dream of joining the U.S. Army, his parents did not allow him to leave Samoa because he was a matai. On his 18th birthday, he hopped on a fishing boat and traveled 2,500 miles through the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. He joined the U.S. Army and served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was there that he manned a checkpoint with the command to fire on any vehicle that didn’t stop before entering the “death zone,” an order intended to prevent the passing of vehicles that could be strapped with an IED. When a school bus didn’t stop, Avegalio and his team destroyed it with .50-caliber rounds. Thirteen school-aged children died. That traumatic incident, and a few others, led to Avegalio’s PTSD and subsequent Veterans Affairs determination that he was 100 percent disabled and was issued an honorable discharge.
Since then, he has used his time and money to counsel others with PTSD using art and poetry to combat thoughts of suicide. He has traveled the nation visiting prisoners, religious congregations and other groups. For a while, he was even living in his car because he was spending all of the income from his disability and retirement checks to help others.
“He works to save peoples’ lives,” Brownell told the Town Council. “Creating stability in housing for him will help expand his mission to serve others.”
In addition to the new home for Avegalio, Brownell said HeroHomes is looking to install the county’s second Gold Star Families memorial in the Village Case neighborhood—tohonor the mothers, fathers and families of America’s fallen soldiers, or Gold Star families. That will be placed in the middle of the small traffic circle off Pipers Brook Drive in front of Avegalio’s future home. Brownell said that memorial would not be as official as the one unveiled in Lovettsville earlier this month but would still include concrete pavers, plaques and a 30-foot flagpole with an American flag.
Brownell, whose father began developing the now-148-home Village Case neighborhood more than 20 years ago, founded HeroHomes in 2016. The nonprofit dedicated its first home for a wounded veteran in the Village Case neighborhood in April 2017. The second home dedication came in December 2017, when the nonprofit presented former Army Staff Sergeant Jarrad Davenport with a house in Round Hill. The third home dedication came in 2019 in the form of a Hillsboro-area house for former Army veteran William Slease and his family.
Brownell said HeroHomes is planning to dedicate a fifth home in Round Hill sometime next year. He said it has already purchased land in the town and found a family for the house—a U.S. Marine veteran and his family who plan to adopt children in need.
Will HeroHomes continue its mission past that fifth house? “If God says so,” Brownell said. “I have a feeling there will be more.”