Community comes together to build house for veteran

(photo supplied / Times Union)

Home builder John Kidd went to a convention in Las Vegas in January 2016 and came home with a daunting idea – ask the community to pay for and construct a mortgage-free home for a disabled U.S. military veteran.

The idea came after he and other local builders met representatives of Operation Finally Home at a concert at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, where Kix Brooks, of the country band, Brooks and Dunn, was participating in a surprise announcement in which a disabled veteran from Texas learned he would be the recipient of a new home.

Operation Finally Home has been helping construct new homes for veterans for more than 10 years. Even though they’ve constructed about 130 in more than 30 states, none of those had been in Indiana and most were in much larger cities, where builders and suppliers are more plentiful.

As it turns out, Kidd and other organizers had little difficulty finding people willing to donate money, materials and volunteer their time to construct a home at 2613 E. Ontario Lane.

On Thursday, the efforts led by the Home Builders Association of Kosciusko and Fulton Counties and a huge array of volunteers will be on full display in Shadow Lakes subdivision east of Warsaw.

That’s when retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Justin Raymer and his family will see the newly completed ranch home that includes five bedrooms, 3.5 baths and some state-of-the-art amenities.

The 3,200-square-foot home features an open design between the kitchen and living room, as well as a nicely detailed laundry room and rec room in the lower level, where some of the bedrooms are located.

How It Happened

Soon after returning from Vegas, Kidd began researching OFH and eventually won the support of the builders association to take on the project.

OFH provided a blueprint of sorts to organize the effort. Construction and fundraising were organized by the builders association.

Kidd, who owns R.W. Kidd Construction, chaired the committee for the project and was the contractor of record.

Brett Harter, a former president of the builders association and owner of Freeman & Harter Custom Homes, served as co-coordinator with Kidd. Both spent much of the past few months on site, organizing, overseeing and helping out where needed.

Trisha Steger, executive officer for the builders association, oversaw fundraising.

Kidd estimates the number of companies that stepped forward is near 100.

Ronnie Lyles, a project manager for OFH  who tracks the progress with regular on-site visits, said the Warsaw application initially raised eyebrows.

“It is one of the smaller areas and that was of concern to me going into the project, but that quickly became a non-issue,” Lyles said. “The folks in Warsaw have just knocked it out of the park.”

Normally, OFH offers up as much as $75,000 in gap funding to local projects, but fundraising has been so successful that it appears Warsaw will not need any financial support, according to Lyles and Kidd.

Even though the project isn’t officially complete, Lyles said he’s started using Warsaw as an example for projects.

“The community has just really wrapped their arms around it,” Lyles said.

A Leap Of Faith

Adam Clemens, sales manager for Rabb Water Systems, said just about everyone who was asked to help stepped up in some way.

The builders association had never undertaken such a big project, but officials thought it would be a great way to honor a veteran and his family, Clemens said.

“It’s been a leap of faith and John Kidd’s passion about doing this, I think, inspired the rest of us,” he said.

“We are blessed to live in a community with people who are generous and able to help,” he said.

Kidd downplayed his role and said he is proud of how the community responded and his chance to be part of it.

“It’s like I’m the guy on the front of the surfboard and we’re all just riding a great big wave,” Kidd said.

Raymer’s Service

Raymer, 35, is a Warsaw Community High School graduate and served three tours in Iraq over the course of 14 years of service with the Army and Army National Guard. He suffered more than one concussion and other injuries in combat. He sustained a traumatic brain injury, has PTSD and is 100 percent disabled.

He and his wife, Kaci, have five children from previous relationships. The couple lived  in Georgia after his medical discharge in June of 2015, and applied for the program in hopes of being closer to his family.

Raymer first learned they would be recipients of a new home in November at a  surprise announcement during a concert at Wagon Wheel Performing Arts Center featuring Craig Morgan.

That night also marked  the first time all the siblings had been together. Raymer credits Operation Finally Home.

Bringing everyone together, he said, “wasn’t something we were able to do.”

“It was heartwarming,” he said.

The Unveiling

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Raymer and his family will be escorted to the house by police and members of the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders.

A tent will be set up across from the home on East Ontario Lane in case of rain. Various officials will give brief speeches. The national anthem will be sung. A color guard will perform. Country music entertainer Jason Michael Carroll, who is set to perform at Wagon Wheel later than night, will provide musical entertainment, according to Kidd.

The family will then see the finished home for the first time.

Raymer said he is “humbled” by the community’s efforts.

They’ve been counting the days until they get to see the home and then move in.

“I’m excited,” Raymer said. “I’m ready for it.”