Volunteers build handicap accessible home for Columbia veteran

Monday, April 12, 2010 | 2:44 p.m. CDT; updated 4:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 13, 2010
VIDEO: More than 200 volunteers for Homes for Our Troops came to Columbia and built the structure of a new house within 48 hours. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Canine and his family plan to move into the new house by August.

*A previous version of this story misstated how Canine found out about Homes for Our Troops.

COLUMBIA — Residents of Columbia’s Thornbrook subdivision may have noticed that something different has been going on since Friday.

A motorcade that included more than 100 motorcycles and three U.S. Army Humvees might have piqued resident’s interest, and if not, the structure of a brand new house built in less than 48 hours could have tipped them off that something was happening in their neighborhood.

What happened is something the organization Homes for Our Troops calls a “Build Brigade.” Homes for Our Troops is responsible for the event.

Homes for Our Troops is a Massachusetts-based not-for-profit organization that seeks out injured veterans and finances a new home for them.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Canine is the recipient of their latest new home.

Canine lost both legs to a roadside bomb that struck his Humvee in Iraq in May 2009. Canine now walks with the aid of two prosthetic legs. He said his new home, which will be fully handicap accessible, will greatly improve his quality of life.

“My home’s going to be handicap accessible, but the world’s not… Most doorways aren’t wide enough to get a wheelchair through,” Canine said. “But this home here, every door, every entry is going to be wide enough to get a wheelchair in.”

Many of the more than 200 registered volunteers were working through the bright sun and climbing heat Saturday afternoon to make sure the home would be watertight by the end of the weekend.

The volunteers hope to have the home finished and ready for Canine and his family to move in by August.

*Canine was told about Homes for Our Troops through an employee at United Credit Union in Mexico, Mo. Canine said he was in disbelief when he later found out that he was getting a new home.

“It just seemed like something that you hear about, you know, but that’s not going to happen for you,” Canine said.

One of the most involved volunteers before this weekend’s groundbreaking was Earl Talbert. Talbert calls himself a foot soldier for Homes for Our Troops.

“I spent every day, six to seven days a week, day and night, trying to make this the best day for Sgt. Canine, and it ended up that he loved every minute of it,” Talbert said.

Volunteers like Talbert were not in short supply over the weekend at the building site, and despite the high temperatures, most of the professional construction workers said the atmosphere of the project was much different from a typical home build.

“I think there’s a level of pride knowing that the people that you’re working for really appreciate everything you’ve done,” said Steve McBee, a roofing contractor in Columbia.

One of the efforts Canine said brightened his day was Talbert’s rallying of 13 members of Canine’s unit in Iraq to be present in the motorcade. It was a surprise to Canine, who thought the green Army Humvees carrying the 13 veterans were from the National Guard.

“I don’t really like the spotlight too much so I was kind of worried about that,"  Canine said. "My unit was there, and I didn’t know about it… I got out and I saw them, and it was kind of an icebreaker. It was great.”

Canine said he raised $90,000 in an effort to match the $100,000 that Missouri Credit Union Association gave to Homes for Our Troops to make his home a possibility. He says he wants to pass along the generosity that he has received by raising enough money to make a home possible for another veteran.

“To me, getting the home was awesome, but volunteering and trying to do it for somebody is even better, I think,” Canine said.

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