Effort to build, adapt homes for disabled veterans

BY WILLIAM ATKINSON SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR PLYMOUTH, MASS. John Gonsalves is president and founder of Homes For Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that plans to build and adapt homes to meet the physical needs of severely injured soldiers. He had been watching news reports of soldiers injured in Iraq, and one story focused on a soldier who lost both of his legs in an attack. "I asked myself what

BY WILLIAM ATKINSON
SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR

PLYMOUTH, MASS. — John Gonsalves is president and founder of Homes For Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that plans to build and adapt homes to meet the physical needs of severely injured soldiers. He had been watching news reports of soldiers injured in Iraq, and one story focused on a soldier who lost both of his legs in an attack.

"I asked myself what I could do," he told CONTRACTOR. "Since I'm a licensed construction supervisor and have been in the trade for 20 years, I felt the best thing I could contribute would relate to housing needs, to build adapted homes or to help adapt existing homes."

Gonsalves assumed that an organization for this purpose already existed.He did an Internet search to find one, so he could donate his time. When he found that nothing existed, he decided to create one.

"I realized that, if I hadn't made the effort to start this, I would have been haunted the rest of my life with the question, 'What if?'" he said.

The idea for Homes For Our Troops was launched about a year ago. The organization was formally incorporated in February and received nonprofit, tax-exempt status. It received its registration with the Division of Charities in March, Gonsalves said.

"I feel very fortunate that I was able to get two of the largest law firms in the U.S. on board with us, pro bono, to help with all of this work," he added.

To identify qualified veterans, Gonsalves works with the Veterans Administration to find out which veterans qualify for home modification grants. Then, he helps the veterans make the most of their grant money by encouraging the building industry to contribute products and labor to modify existing homes or build new residences.

To date, the organization has received donations of land for two homes in Massachusetts, both from anonymous donors.

"We already have a plumbing contractor who is willing to donate his services to install the plumbing fixtures in the first home," said Gonsalves, who declined to identify the contractor at this time.

American Standard agreed to donate the specially designed plumbing fixtures to be installed in the first home. Gonsalves hooked up with the plumbing company after contacting Building Profits Inc., a consulting firm that specializesin retailing, marketing, and public relations strategies for building product manufacturers, including American Standard.

As the projects in Massachusetts are moving ahead, Gonsalves is already eyeing other projects in North Carolina and Arkansas. In addition, the Marines have contacted him about a project in Pensacola, Fla. At this point, Gonsalves is open to all types of assistance.

"We need building product donations from manufacturers," he said. "We also need cash contributions. What we really need, though, is volunteer labor help."

In fact, Gonsalves has plans to create a nationwide volunteer labor database of qualified tradespeople to help build adapted homes or to adapt existing homes. He wants to be able to call on their services when he plans projects in various regions, he explained.

Nora DePalma, a partner and owner of Building Profits, continues to provide assistance by contacting trade shows to see if they would donate booth space to Homes For Our Troops to get labor volunteers in different parts of the country.

Any contractor who is willing to donate his time to assist in these projects as they develop is encouraged to visit the organization's Web site to sign up (www.homesforourtroops.org). Then, as the time gets closer to building or remodeling homes in specific geographical areas, the organization will contact the contractors.

Ultimately, Gonsalves said, he hopes that Homes For Our Troops becomes as well known around the country as Habitat for Humanity.

"I hope to make it a strong national presence, recognizable to most people by name," he said.

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