Mission nearly complete for Purple Heart Homes project

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Wed., Jul. 3, 2013
The renovation project started Saturday, April 20, when more than 40 volunteers worked to strip down the house. File photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
The renovation project started Saturday, April 20, when more than 40 volunteers worked to strip down the house. File photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

Purple Heart Homes will have reached its "Mission Complete Date" on Saturday, July 27, on a project that fully renovated a house in Manchester to be donated to Staff Sergeant Sandra Lee, a wounded veteran of the Iraq War. As the house nears completion, Purple Heart Homes Northeast Regional Director Vicki Thomas reflects on the generosity of the Manchester community. The nonprofit hoped to collect $70,000 in donations from the town – it instead received $75,000.

Thomas attributes the success to the "boots on the ground in Manchester," a group of dedicated fundraising volunteers she affectionately calls "the Band of Bandits," which includes Molly Devaney of Highland Park Market, Beth Stafford of MACC, Kevin Zingler of MARC, Inc., and Danita and Bob Sulick of Mulberry Street Pizza . "They went around town and got everyone excited," said Thomas.

In addition to the funds raised, the project has received numerous donations of building material and labor. "The total amount of that property is at $168,000," said Thomas. "I honestly don't know how we would have done this without the combination of fundraising and the professional tradesmen who donated their labor."

The project paid for only one labor bill: $8,500 for professionals to tape and mud the dry wall.

Every fragment of the home seems to have a story of donation or dedication woven into it. The HVAC system, a $20,000 value, was donated. It was installed free of charge as well – another $20,000 value. The concrete for the foundation and driveway was donated, a $16,000 value. And while the electrical materials were purchased, the installation, which would have cost about $10,000, was done gratis. The project benefited from generous donations from the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, which gave $20,000, and from UNICO, which gave $8,000.

Purple Heart Homes is a national nonprofit that builds, renovates or adapts homes for service-disabled veterans, and is able to do so based on the involvement of the host community. Thomas has been overwhelmed by Manchester's response. "Anytime you move into a community, like we do, you have to be in and out in six months, and the reason is, you start to burn out your boots on the ground," she said. Thanks to project manager Marleen Fiueroa and general contractor Dave Sposito, the project has been able to adhere to its schedule. "There has not been a missed beat," Thomas added.

Thomas gave special thanks to volunteers from the Manchester Fire Rescue EMS Department, the Manchester Police Department and the Manchester Public Works Department, as well as Mayor Leo Diana and state Sen. Steve Cassano, who she said put in "more than the usual" amount of work and dedication in this project. "They're in there with their shirt sleeves, pitching in," she said. "They're a vital element that has made this project in Manchester so unique and different than some of the other communities we've been in."

The project kicked off April 20, on Demo Day, when volunteers stripped the house to its bare bones and hauled away the debris. Later, Sposito and his crew prepped the house for the arrival of H.E.A.R.T.911, a team of first responders who worked on the site of the World Trade Center rubble turned volunteer builders. In the course of the May 3 to 5 weekend, the team framed the house and put in siding and roofing. On June 8 to 14, during Army Week, a group from the U.S. Coast Guard put in a block patio, and placed masking tape so that interior painting could be done. Later, plumbing, electrical and dry wall was put in, and recently, floors and cabinets, as well. Volunteers from Travelers Insurance and The Hartford will assist in the final stretch of painting the walls.

The home will receive the touch of interior decorater George Oliphant, who is filming his work for the NBC NYC TV show, "George to the Rescue." The project got a $4,000 furniture budget courtesy of Work Vessels for Veterans. "Of course the 'George to the Rescue' team was able to parlay that to $25,000," said Thomas. The TV show will air in mid September.

Lee will see the finished home for the first time at noon, July 27, at which time both the "George to the Rescue" crew and the Purple Heart Homes team will blend their ceremonies together.

The move-in will mark the end of a Manchester efforts, but Lee and Purple Heart Homes will still be much a part of each others' lives. Lee, who struggles with brain damage and PTSD after surviving four explosions, as well as sexual assault, in Iraq, will be paired with a mentor through Purple Heart Homes. The nonprofit will also make sure Lee stays engaged with the community and "pays it forward."

The founders of Purple Heart Homes, veterans SSG Dale Beatty and SPC John Gallina, are especially dedicated to helping elderly, service-disabled veterans. It is their hope to adapt a home for such a veteran in Manchester, around Veterans Day next November. "We'd really like to remain connected to Manchester," said Thomas.

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