From the beginning, Jereme Sawyer has envisioned his new home being a gathering place for family and friends to do more than just drop by for an occasional meal or sporting event.
Saturday, Sawyer got a glimpse of what that will look like in about two months time. Homes For Our Troops, a national nonprofit that builds and donates adapted homes to wounded veterans, hosted a volunteer event on Sawyer’s property in Tenino. More than 150 people turned out to help put down as many as 12 yards of gravel, river rock and mulch in a single morning.
Volunteers teamed with professional crews to lay down more than 6,000 square feet of sod to create front and back yards surrounding the white and red house. Some broke off to roll out an additional block of asphalt off the main driveway; Sawyer hopes to erect a shop next to his house where he and his friends can work on their cars.
Sawyer, who lost both of his legs in April 2012 when an explosive device detonated underneath him in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, will receive the keys to his new house in a public ceremony on July 20. Details for that event are still being worked out, but if Saturday is any indication, he won’t be short well-wishers as he begins the next chapter of his life.
“It was very gratifying to have all those people come over and help me out,” Sawyer said. “I can’t say (Saturday) was really that overwhelming, because I knew 90 percent of the people there. It made me feel very honored to have them all in my life.”
Members of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office joined Sawyer’s family and friends in lending a hand outside his under-construction house on Saturday. So too did members of the local car club Sawyer frequents and the families of other veterans who have or will receive homes from Homes For Our Troops.
Travis Nichelson, a veteran of the Vietnam War and car club member, said about 20 fellow Mustang aficionados came out to land a hand around Sawyer’s property. Nichelson believes that not only does Homes For Our Troops provide an exemplary service to men and women who suffered severe trauma while serving the country, the nonprofit’s impact is felt by those who are currently serving overseas.
“I’m sure it means a lot to them to know that, if something happens to them, there’s a community back over here to support them as they carry on,” Nichelson said. “(Sawyer) is a gung-ho, always-on-the-go person, and this home will let him live his life as he wants to. I’m sure it means a whole lot to him.”
Cary Miller, a contractor based in Yelm who is leading the build of Sawyer’s home and has worked on many of the Homes For Our Troops houses dotting Washington State, said it doesn’t get old watching veterans go through the process of designing their forever home and then seeing it come to fruition. He held up his bandaged and splinted hand as an example of an injury that puts into perspective what Sawyer has gone through during the past seven years.
“Dealing with something little like this, feeling the impact of it, and then seeing what those guys go through, something like this completely changes their lives,” Miller said.
Sawyer plans to spend much of the next two months planning for his move from the Rochester home he rents with his mother to his new Tenino address. He’s hopeful that friends and family will be able to pitch in, but said he doesn’t want to overstep his bounds with anyone who has already helped him along the way.
Once he finishes moving in this summer, he plans to take advantage of the financial security brought on by not having a mortgage or lease to travel around and meet new people while helping to extend the reach of Homes For Our Troops. He envisions being a voice for veterans who come home from war zones and cut themselves off from most of the world, but could benefit from the services of nonprofits who have helped Sawyer get set up for the rest of his life.
“It’s incredible how many people in this world know each other,” Sawyer said. “You might know somebody who knows a person who just met someone you know. A stronger bond forms and it makes that connection. A lot of the people who came out Saturday probably did know each other in some way, and I thank each and every one of them for helping make my dream come true.”