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The Daily Record, NJ: Community Lends Hand to Soldier PDF Print E-mail
Written by Laura Bruno   
Monday, 27 March 2006 00:00

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Community lends hand to soldier
Monday, March 27, 2006

Area contractors to help make life easier for Benoit WHARTON -- Three weeks after Wharton's mayor and council asked for volunteers to help build a handicapped-accessible home for Army Spc. James "Jimmy" Benoit, 20 area contractors have come forward with offers for everything from free kitchen cabinets to heating systems.

James Benoit
Jimmy Benoit of Wharton goes through the halls of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., on March 17 during his recovery from war wounds he received from an explosion while serving in Iraq.

On March 1, officials announced that borough-owned vacant land on Eileen Court would be donated to the wounded 23-year-old so he could return to his hometown.

Benoit finds it amazing that so much is being done for him and his family. In addition to the house, several fundraisers were held since Benoit's single mother, Missy, took leave from her job to tend to her son at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"I was in awe with how people were helping," Benoit said. "Definitely, I'm very grateful, but it's hard to believe it's happening."

Benoit said he's surprised that folks back home even remember him. "I'm a quiet guy, and I've been away for quite a while," Benoit said.

"The response is impressive," said Kirt Rebello, of Homes For Our Troops, which is working with town officials to coordinate the project.

The Massachusetts-based nonprofit helps build and retrofit houses for wounded veterans and has completed seven home projects around the country in the past two years.

"This is a nice reflection of the community," Rebello said. "To have 20 contractors, that's very good at this point, considering we're at a beginning phase."

There are offers for bathroom and kitchen cabinets, interior painting services, a roof, heating systems, excavating and general contracting work, said Wharton Councilman Scott Hutchins, who came up with the land donation idea. Once the project is under way, they will need more construction, masonry and sheetrock help, Hutchins said, but he's not worried based on the initial response.

"People are very enthusiastic and can't wait to get going," Hutchins said.

Among the first volunteers were Wharton-based architect Kenneth Fox of Fox Architectural Design and Paul VanGelder, a principal of Clough, Harbour & Associates, an engineering company based in Parsippany. The two are integral in getting the project started. Fox is working on the designs for the house and plans to have a preliminary set ready in two weeks. VanGelder's firm is providing engineering design services for the home construction.

"This is a way of honoring his commitment to us," VanGelder said. So far, Fox plans a two-story colonial-style house with a wrap-around porch so Benoit can go outside and see the Rockaway River below.

The first floor would be handicapped-accessible for Benoit with a master bedroom and bathroom, as well as the living areas, including a kitchen and dining area. The second floor would include two bedrooms and bathrooms for Benoit's mother and his younger brother, Marc. Also included is an oversized garage to accommodate a handicapped-accessible van. Designs will include room for an elevator that can be added later.

"These young men give their lives and bodies to their country," said Fox, whose son, Jimmy VanValen, was a sergeant in the U.S. Marines and served for four years, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. "They've sacrificed a lot; we can sacrifice a little."  

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 November 2008 03:47 )