Purple Heart Homes volunteers hold 'Demo Day' in Manchester
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Wed., Apr. 24, 2013
Volunteers in Manchester were ahead of schedule as they stripped down a house that will be renovated and donated to a wounded veteran through the nonprofit organization Purple Heart Homes. The volunteers, working on the project's “Demo Day” on Saturday, April 20, hailed from the Manchester Fire Rescue EMS Department, the Manchester Police Department and the Manchester Public Works Department.
“I can't believe what they've done [in such short time],” said Beth Stafford, president of the Manchester Area Conference of Churches, speaking only several hours since the volunteers began work at 7:30 a.m. Volunteers worked to remove siding, shingles and windows from the outside and gut the interior of the Cornell Street house.
Purple Heart Homes is a national organization that brings housing solutions to service-disabled veterans. Solutions range from adapting a house for handicap access to building a new house entirely. The renovated Cornell Street house will become the home of Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee.
The success of every Purple Heart Homes project depends on the involvement of the community, and organizers were amazed by the level of support the town of Manchester has shown.
“The town has been unbelievable,” said Molly Devanney of Highland Park Market, who along with Barbara Mozzer, former assistant to the fire chief, co-chairs the project's Building Committee. “Everybody you turn to has been amazing.” People come once and they want to continue to help, she said.
“It's about thanking our veterans,” Devanney said. “We don't thank them enough.”
Lt. Sean Grant of the Manchester Police Department helped rally his fellow officers to the cause and was able to bring many willing volunteers to the demo. “Everybody volunteered their time and brought tools, equipment, working hands,” he said. “It's been very successful.”
The Manchester Fire Department was also well represented. “This is right within our mission,” said Fire Chief Robert Bycholski. “We're quality of life people, and this is a quality of life project.”
Bycholski called the project “very worthy.” “We've had no trouble getting volunteers,” he said.
MACC will stock the pantry of the home once it is finished. A member of the Manchester Rotary Club in addition to running MACC, Stafford said the club has raised $2,500 for the project, and will be serving dinner at a Volunteer Salute Night, held at the Army Navy Club on May 3. She also highlighted the contribution of other Manchester Rotarians involved in the project, including Rick Lawrence, the project's architect, and Assistant Fire Chief Dave Billings and Police Chief Marc Montminy.
Purple Heart Homes Project Manager Marleene Figeroa was overwhelmed by the outpour of support the community has shown. “Everybody is great,” she said. “I might move here.” She had spent the prior week coordinating with the general contractor, Dave Sposito of Sposito Brothers Construction, preparing for the day and ordering materials.
Sposito, whose business is based in neighboring Bolton, was pleased with the amount of materials that have been donated to the project and hopes that area businesses continue to give generously so that the project will be seen through. He was grateful for the work put in by volunteers. “So far, all the labor is donated,” he said.
“It's just a magic day,” said Vicki Thomas, northeast regional director for Purple Heart Homes. “I love my job because every day I get to see what's right in America.” With members of the police department, fire department, public works department and neighbors all gathering to lend their support, Thomas called it “just an amazing testament to community.” Thomas also thanked Manchester's General Manager Scott Shanley, Mayor Leo Diana, Assistant Town Attorney Tim O'Neil and Director of Administrative Services Dede Moore for their help. She had special thanks for state Sen. Steve Cassano, who, having witnessed the success of a Purple Heart Homes project in Glastonbury, worked to bring the program to Manchester. “We wouldn't be here without Senator Cassano,” she said.
The next phase of the renovation will be done by HEART 9/11, a nonprofit disaster response and relief organization. Its members, many of them victims of the 9/11 attacks, will lend their construction expertise on May 3-5. They will put on a new roof, siding and windows, and will construct a 1,200 square foot addition. The house will be weather tight and ready for interior work to commence from May to July, when professional trades men and women will install new electrical, plumbing, HVAC, dry wall and cabinets. Painting, landscaping, yard clean up and interior decorating will be done by volunteers from the community.
Seated quietly beneath a tent, with her service dog, Emma, in her lap, Lee watched the work and bustle. “It's incredible,” she said. Lee is excited to move both into her new house and into Manchester.
Curious neighbors, attracted by the commotion, came to investigate. When they learned about the Purple Heart Homes project, they welcomed Lee warmly to the neighborhood. One baked cookies for the occasion.
Lee was deployed to Iraq in December 2003, and helped rebuild schools in Baghdad. She also served as a liaison between local councils, military and international organizations and the Ministry of Education. She was injured by four improvised explosive device blasts on four separate occasions and was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier. Since her return to the U.S., she has struggled with the symptoms of her post traumatic stress disorder and, traumatic brain injury, including short term memory problems, constant headaches, vertigo, and night terrors and depression.
“I am humbled, appreciative, and so thankful that Manchester has rescued me,” she said, speaking at a ceremony that began the project in February. “For that I will remain forever grateful.”
The house is slated for completion no later than July 15.