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Santa is giving a new home to some North Texas vets

From the most worrisome times amid the pandemic, we marveled at the service and sacrifice of those on the front lines — in hospitals, laboratories, senior care centers. In many ways, those brave workers are compatriots to America’s military veterans, who also kept pushing ahead during the last two challenging years — even those carrying heavy burdens from battle.

They often suffer in silence, having put their country above their personal safety and well-being. They all are true heroes, and while the coronavirus upended our daily lives, my organization — Building Homes for Heroes — maintained its nationwide efforts constructing, modifying and giving mortgage-free homes at an average of one home every 11 days to injured veterans and their families.

The program stayed active, overcoming slowdowns in construction and the delay of material shipments caused by supply chain restrictions. Loyal donors stayed by our side and new homebuilders have joined us nationwide, providing expertise and generous support.

Now, we have reached a milestone for those who have selflessly served our country. Home 300 was dedicated the day before the 9/11 anniversary in Pecan Square, a Hillwood Communities development in Northlake. Texas homebuilder Highland Homes constructed it in partnership with Hillwood, a Perot company.

Building Homes for Heroes’ founder Andy Pujol has said the courage and sacrifice of veterans is inspirational — as has been the work and dedication to community by first responders. To honor them, Pujol announced last month the expansion of our home-gifting program to police, firefighters and other emergency first responders, in Texas and across the country.

Pujol, who volunteered in the search and rescue at Ground Zero, said Building Homes for Heroes hopes to give its 343rd home around Sept. 11, 2023, recognizing the 343 New York City Fire Department members who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

What has made this work so rewarding is knowing the kind of people we’re helping, easing the financial burdens for those who have spent years putting themselves in harm’s way to protect our country.

On Veterans Day, our nonprofit presented a home in Princeton, northeast of Dallas, to retired Army Sgt. David Speights, who was medically discharged in 2011. Injured in Afghanistan from a rocket-propelled grenade, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, herniated discs and permanent nerve damage in his legs.

At the Home 300 celebration, with Perot Group chairman Ross Perot Jr. and other dignitaries present, the keys went to another deserving veteran, Jonathan Merchant, who had just returned from Bosnia when he suffered a quadriplegic spinal cord injury in a car accident.

Merchant, who was an Army specialist stationed at Fort Hood, has not let his injuries define him. Doctors told him if he survived, he could not expect to be self-sufficient and would have a limited life. He instead has regained some feeling in his arms, becoming a competitive cyclist, swimmer and triathlete.

It’s that kind of resilience that drives our work at Building Homes for Heroes. I don’t see us stopping, and, as we expand our mission, I can’t wait to reach 1,000 homes.

Kimberly Vesey is vice president and general counsel for Building Homes for Heroes. She wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.

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