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Nonprofit to build home for disabled veteran in Wildwood

By: Mary Shapiro

Army Specialist Heath Howes [in Cardinals jersey] and his wife, Savannah, are surprised with the donation of a Wildwood home.

Army Specialist Heath Howes was severely injured in an IED Explosion while returning to base in Afghanistan.

“He was with four others, three of whom were killed, including his best friend. They were two weeks shy of coming home. It was their last mission,” said Wildwood resident Matt Belcher, who is a principal of Verdatek Solutions LLC as well as executive vice president of Hibbs GC/Hibbs Homes.

Howes, who has family in St. Louis, now lives in western Oklahoma with his wife, Savannah, and their three sons.

“He was retired out of the Army there,” explained Belcher. “[But] they desire to move back to the St. Louis area, as his family is here and can help his wife care for him as he gets older and his injuries have more effect on him.”

Enter Operation Finally Home.

Thanks to an anonymous nomination, Howes has been chosen to receive a home in Wildwood’s Hawk’s Rest subdivision, custom-built for him by the nonprofit organization. The City Council, in August, approved vacation of part of an easement to allow for that work on the west side of Hawk’s Rest Road north of Hwy. 100. Belcher is coordinating the project for OFH.

“This will be the first OFH home in Missouri,” Belcher told the council. He said the lot was donated by Simmons Bank and John Shaw of Tom Shaw Realtors. A groundbreaking event is planned for the fall.

According to Belcher, “OFH does a thorough job of vetting prospective recipients including interviewing their Veterans Administration case manager, commanding officers, etc. They also do a financial review as they do not want to put a vet or his family in a situation where they cannot afford to live in a ‘free home.’”

He noted that while the construction of the home is free, there are still some operating costs, etc. that the family must cover.

“Although we [Hibbs Homes] build durable, energy efficient, healthy homes, which helps,” he said.

Belcher said he was contacted by a close friend who is vice president of OFH Family Services.

“He let me know they had a veteran and his family wanting to ‘come home’ to St. Louis and sent me their info to review to see if we would manage the build,” he said. “After learning about them, there was no question we would help and have since become close to the Howes family. This is the type of family we want in this community,” Belcher said.

The family learned of the home donation during a St. Louis Cardinals game last September. And Belcher noted that the Howes’ sons are “big time baseball players, so the fact they’re now going to be in Lafayette High School’s attendance area is more than just irony.”

The new home, with accommodations for Howes’ regressive injuries and post traumatic stress disorder will “cost out” at around $550,000, Belcher said.

“Members of the homebuilding industry through the HBA of St. Louis and commercial building industry through the AGC-St Louis are already very supportive and some of the home’s construction needs and site prep have already been donated,” he said. But he added that there’s a long way to go.

“We are planning two fundraisers to help with construction and some expenses for the family,” Belcher said. “It’s not just funds for construction – items ranging from furniture to food in the fridge are often donated by local stores and the community. We plan on starting this fall. We plan to get the family moved at the end of this school year.”

Molly Halliday, senior vice president of marketing and project management with OFH, said the organization is a national nonprofit based in New Braunfels, Texas, that provides custom-built, mortgage-free homes to wounded, ill and injured veterans, and widows of fallen veterans and their families. To do that, the 12-year-old organization partners with national and local corporate sponsors, builder associations, builders, developers, individual contributors, and volunteers in communities across the country.

“We’ve built, have under construction or have in planning over 200 homes in 34 states,” Halliday said.

“We do this to help veterans make the transition from military to civilian life and ease the burden on them while they’re healing. Donors like the ones in the St. Louis area make a huge difference.”

Readers seeking more information or wishing to make a donation, can visit www.operationfinallyhome.org.

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