Home for Ellington hero nears completion

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Ellington - posted Fri., Aug. 23, 2013
Sgt. Greg Caron stands in what will be his kitchen, in his soon-to-be-completed
Sgt. Greg Caron stands in what will be his kitchen, in his soon-to-be-completed home in Ellington, made possible by Building Homes for Heroes, and numerous sponsors and volunteers. Photo by Steve Smith.

A new home for Sgt. Greg Caron is nearing completion, and on Aug. 22, a celebration/work event took place to thank some of those who made it possible.

Caron was injured on Nov. 12, 2011, while on patrol in the Southern Marjah area of Afghanistan. He and his USMC unit were searching known Taliban compounds, and he was severely wounded when an IED exploded, costing him both legs and the use of his right arm.

The non-profit organization, Building Homes for Heroes, is building a new home for Caron and his wife, Nina, (and their three dogs) in Ellington – the town in which Caron grew up.

Andy Pujol was one of the first wave of search and rescue volunteers to enter the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Two of Pujol's brothers-in-law were first responders, who enlisted his help. Pujol said that sometime in the early morning of Sept. 12, 2001, after working all night searching the rubble, he looked up at all of the other volunteers and made a promise to himself to serve the country in some way. Later, when the soldiers began returning home from the war on terror, he began serving with different organizations, before deciding he wanted to run his own. He said he wanted to make sure that the program rating was above 90 percent (of monies collected going to help the soldiers). To date, BHH is at 93 percent.

At first, he intended to build just one home – in Gainesville, Fla. – but after seeing the outpouring of community support, he realized it may catch on elsewhere. In 2013, BHH will complete 25 homes for injured soldiers.

“For the first few years, we struggled, but now we have major corporations jumping on board to donate dollars,” he said. “Even more amazingly, we have contractors and builders jumping on board all over the country.”

Nordic Builders of Tolland is overseeing the construction of the Caron home.

Liz Koiva and her husband own Nordic, and said they heard Caron was injured, and contacted BHH about helping. “They said, 'We need someone to run the whole show,' and we said, 'Okay, we're here,'” Liz recalled. “It's been a wonderful project to be involved in, especially because Greg is a hometown person. It makes us feel wonderful to be able to give back.”

Pujol said that usually contractors donate about half of the construction cost, but Nordic is donating closer to three-quarters. “What they've done, in effect, is build a home for Greg, and put money aside for the next soldier,” Pujol said.

The home will be equipped to make it easier for Caron, who uses prosthetic legs and sometimes a wheelchair, to navigate, inclusive of easy-access entryways, ramps, an elevator, and wide hallways and doorways.

Caron said he first learned about a house being built for him in January of 2012, when he got a phone call while still in the hospital.

“Andy just welcomed us into his family of employees,” Caron said, adding that he currently lives in a starter home in Vernon that he bought before he went overseas.

“It just doesn't fulfill my needs right now,” he said. “I can't get my wheelchair through the doorways, and I'm showering in a tub right now, on the floor. To have this being built for me, and be handicapped-accesible – it will fulfill all of my needs.”

Also important was to be home in Ellington, Caron said, near his family and friends who have been extremely supportive. “If I ever need anything, those are the people who are going to be there for me,” he said. “I think it's important to stay close to the people who love you.”

Sikorsky aircraft were integral to Pujol's day at Ground Zero, as those were the only choppers allowed overhead, he said. Several Sikorsky workers were also on hand on Aug. 22, helping work on the house.

Bob Araujo, a manager of sustainable development with Sikorsky, said that he was with about 20 co-workers, helping to bring Caron home. “We wanted to volunteer today to make sure this marine got home,” he said, adding that it was also a Sikorsky helicopter that picked up Caron after his injury.

“Everyone is sweaty and working hard,” he said. “We're painting, building a deck and deck rails, installing cabinets and closets, shoveling – whatever they need us to do, we're doing it. Our small sacrifice is nothing compared to what he's sacrificed for our country, and we're proud to do it. He's absolutely an inspiration.”

An official moving-in ceremony is scheduled for Caron on Sept. 28. Officials said that Caron will be kept away from the home for a few weeks before that date, because they want him to be impressed with the finished product, and there are a few last-minute surprise details to be added.

“We're making our communities and our country a better place to live,” Pujol said. “How many organizations can say that? It's a beautiful grass-roots effort, all over the country.”

“It's overwhelming, the amount of support I'm getting now,” Caron said of Building Homes for Heroes and the local community. “I couldn't tell you where I'd be right now without these people helping me out. It's hard to adjust, and come back from a combat zone, besides me being injured. The community has made it very easy for me to make that transition.”

For more information, visit www.buildinghomesforheroes.org.

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