'Homes for Our Troops' Gets $3 Million Donation

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2007 - After receiving $250,000 in donations last week through a partnership with the Duquesne Home and Garden Show in Pittsburgh, "Homes for Our Troops" founder John Gonsalves didn't think things could get much better.

But yesterday was one for the record books; Gonsalves found a $3 million check in the group's mail.

Homes For Our Troops is a nonprofit group that builds or adapts homes to meet the needs of severely wounded servicemembers. It's also a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights the ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers.

"We've probably gotten eight or 10 donations that have been in the six-figure range," Gonsalves said, noting an anonymous $100,000 check received during the home show. "But then today I opened up (the mail) and there's a $3 million check. And it came in the regular mail!"

The $3 million donation, also anonymous, is just what the doctor, or in this case, the contractor ordered. Homes For Our Troops has completed homes for 16 servicemembers and is in varying stages of construction on another 14, all completely funded. With the multi-million-dollar donation, the 15 servicemembers on the waiting list won't have to wait for much longer.

"The fourth anniversary of the (start of the Iraq) war, and we got the biggest donation we've ever gotten," Gonsalves said yesterday. "That's going to allow us to take every veteran off the waiting list.

"What a way to mark this anniversary," he added.

And the day just kept getting better, as a donor stepped up and pledged to pay for anything that wasn't donated to complete a home for a young Marine, Gonsalves said. There was another donation yesterday, but it was bittersweet.

"A World War II veteran in Pennsylvania passed away and left his home to us to donate to an injured vet," Gonsalves said.

All of this came on the heels of a successful partnership with the Duquesne Light Home and Garden Show in Pittsburgh, which concluded March 18 and benefited Army Spc. James Fair, 25, of Coraopolis, Pa. Homes For Our Troops is preparing to build Fair a high-tech adapted home, and the $100,000 anonymous donation was designated by the donor to purchase property for that home, Gonsalves said.

Fair was stringing barbed wire around an ammunition supply point in Fallujah, Iraq, in November 2003 when he stumbled onto a makeshift enemy bomb. He lost the sight in both eyes and both of his hands. Shrapnel severely injured his right leg and caused a traumatic brain injury.

Some of the items that will be needed for James' unique situation are voice-activated appliances, controls that can be operated with his feet, proximity readers that open and close doors automatically, and varying floor textures in each room, so he will be able to sense, by touch, which room he is in.

In all, show-goers and vendors donated $250,000 in cash and materials during the show to help build Fair's home.

The generous donations Homes for Our Troops receives are impressive enough to the group's founder. The fact that in the short space of a week two people have anonymously donated $3.1 million for that purpose is a bit humbling.

"I think when somebody comes along to donate money anonymously, ... it really tells you that they're doing it for the right reason, just because they want to," Gonsalves said. "They don't want any credit. They just want to do the right thing."

Homes For Our Troops is also grateful for partnerships like the one with the Duquesne Light Home and Garden show.

"They put a lot of their heart and soul into this," Gonsalves said of Duquesne Light. "It paid enormous dividends."

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