Veteran Austin Reese and his family walked through the front door of their new home last week, celebrating the freedom this home means to them.
Reese, a senior explosive ordnance disposal technician who served for 13 years in the US Navy, suffered a spinal cord injury during a 2013 exercise, leaving him paralyzed. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation has been building a specially adapted home for two years, and last Thursday the house keys were handed over to the Reese family without a mortgage.
Andrew McClure of New York’s Tunnel to Towers Foundation, welcoming the family to their new home, said only a few days were left before the Fourth of July.
“This is your personal independence and freedom that you deserve,” McClure told the Reese family.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation provides mortgage-free homes to disastrously injured veterans and first responders, and pays mortgage payments to families of first aid workers who died in the line of duty, as well as surviving spouses and young children of military personnel.
Reese and his veteran wife Charity and their daughters Nadia and Aspen moved to Whitefish two years ago from Virginia. They have a family in Flathead Valley, but they also wanted to live where they could ski together.
“We are very grateful,” Reese told a group of people gathered to celebrate the Reese family and their new home. “It was such a phenomenal experience. Thanks to the Whitefish community. ”
Reese, a weapons student, traveled to Iraq three times while serving in the army. He also served as a military free fall instructor, teaching sailors to jump in tactical conditions. In 2013, after completing more than 2,000 parachute jumps during a routine jump at the Little Creek-Fort Story Joint Expeditionary Base, Reese miscalculated his altitude and hit the ground at 65 miles per hour. He fractured his pelvis and ankle and sustained a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed. Although it does have some function in its legs, it is not enough to allow it to walk.
About four years ago, the foundation approached Reese with a proposal to build an affordable home for him, and they have worked with the family ever since to make it happen.
“It’s surreal,” Reese said. “It was a long process and to see everything complete, there are no words – it’s amazing.”
Raising the American flag at the main entrance, the Reese family entered the front door. Walking through the living room and kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms, for the first time, they experienced all the comforts of home that will make everyday life a little easier.
The house is fully accessible thanks to automatic doors, wide corridors, allowing Reese to easily move around the house in his wheelchair.
In the kitchen, the cupboard racks are designed to be lowered and the stove is on a powered lift so it can be lowered to wheelchair level.
“It’s phenomenal,” Reese said. “Being able to raise and lower a stove is amazing. I tried my best to cook and now I won’t. ”
The lighting, thermostat and home security system can be controlled using a smart device or touch screens built into the home.
“Some of them seem like little things,” Reese said. “But this is the kind of material that will give me additional help, and I do not have to constantly worry about it.”
Following his injuries, Reese became an avid adaptive sports enthusiast, earning swimming and cycling medals at the Warrior Games Department of Defense, and also participated in the Warrior Games and Invictus Games.
Previously, he was a snowboarder and also learned to ride monoski. Finding a place where they could ski and snowboard together was one of the reasons the Reese family decided to move to Whitefish.
Reese says the foundation has worked to make the whole process possible from finding land to choosing fixtures for the home.
Reese praised Tunnel to Towers for their commitment to helping veterans.
“This is an amazing group of people,” Reese said. “They are doing so much good for everyone.”
Tunnel to Towers was founded in honor of New York firefighter Stephen Siller, who died rescuing victims of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. On the same day off duty, after he learned of Siller’s attack. pulled up to the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, strapped on his 60 pounds of gear, and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he gave his life to save others.
“For 20 years, we have benefited from service members and their spouses,” said Andrew McClure. “We have provided 20 homes in 17 days with mortgage payments, and we plan to pay 200 home mortgages by 2021 and provide mortgage payments by the end of the year.”
For more information on tunnels in the towers visit https://t2t.org/