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Homes for Our Troops builds adapted homes for deserving vets

REGION — Army Sgt. Odin Ayala and Marine Cpl. Travis Greene are both military veterans and double amputees who have a long life ahead of them. 

To help ease the challenges these young veterans face,

Homes for Our Troops is providing each veteran with a forever adapted home.

The veterans were given the keys to their new homes in El Cajon on Dec. 2.

“These homes are presented to them as gifts mortgage free,” Jennifer Reed, manager of public relations and marketing for Homes for Our Troops, said. “There is no way to put into words how grateful individuals are with the opportunity to move forward.”

Ayala was on his third deployment when he lost both of his legs in an IED blast in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Sept. 14, 2011.

He continues to receive treatments and therapies at Balboa Naval Medical Center. And would like to return to school and earn a master’s degree in Engineering.

“Receiving an accessible home from Homes for Our Troops will help me focus on my recovery and my future,” Ayala said. “Thank you for making my life and the lives of so many of our injured warriors easier.”

Greene lost both of his legs in an IED blast in Ramadi, Iraq, Dec. 7, 2005. He spent close to two years in the hospital being treated for his injuries.

“Not having to worry financially about providing such a home for my wife and family and gaining freedom because of it will be life changing,” Greene said.

Ayala and Greene have been closely involved in the process of designing their new homes for the past two years.

Homes for Our Troops builds adapted homes for severely injured veterans from the ground up.

Veterans apply to the nonprofit for support. Then they are interviewed to ensure they are ready to take on the responsibility of homeownership.

Once they are part of the program they attend a seminar on finance and homeownership responsibilities. Most are first-time homeowners.

“The average age of our veterans is in their early to mid 20s,” Reed said.

Armed with homeownership knowledge they select the U.S. city where they would like to live and approve the lot where their forever home will be built. Home layout and finishes are up to the veteran.

“It’s a partnership,” Reed said. “They choose where they want to live. We identify suitable lots. They accept the lot purchase. We do the building.”

Homes are built for veterans’ needs now and in the future.

They are large enough to accommodate a growing family. And include wide halls and doorways that are wheelchair accessible.

Other features are roll under kitchen countertops, ranges and sinks, pull down shelves and roll in showers with temperature gauges. There are also automatic opening doors and lift systems built in.

Homes for Our Troops was founded by building contractor John Gonsalves in 2004. Touched by a news story about a veteran who had lost both of his arms and was returning home to Massachusetts, Gonsalves set out to build a home for the veteran and found out there was no nonprofit group providing that service. He went on to establish Homes for Our Troops as a nonprofit.

Reed said Homes for Our Troops has evolved and improved its services to help veterans since it began, including encouraging veterans to pursue their goals of education, career and family.

“It absolutely astounds me the spirit these guys have,” Reed said. “They positively embraced the new life they have and try to make the best of it.”

The need for adapted housing for recent military veterans is currently at about 1,700 homes and with ongoing military combat that need continues to grow.

Nationwide the average cost to purchase land and build an adapted home is $430,000. Homes for Our Troops currently builds and gifts about 40 homes a year.