By Miriam Landru
Helping a Hero, founded in 2007 by Houston, Texas attorney Meredith Iler, is a 501 (c) (3) non-partisan, non-profit organization created to give our wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan a better quality of life in the most important place: their home.
“Over the past seven years, we’ve grown to the point where we will build 40 homes this year in 16 different states. We hope to continue this expansion to aid as many of our wounded veterans as possible in receiving an adaptable home. An accessible home restores the veteran’s independence and takes a great deal of stress off of his or her personal life. We are grateful for the opportunity to be in their lives and say ‘thank you’ for their service in a meaningful way,” explained Iler.
While Helping a Hero has built a large number of adapted homes in the Lone Star State and other parts of the country, they are only getting started in North Carolina. Our state has one of the largest military presences in the nation and one of the reasons is Fort Bragg. Many soldiers are coming back from the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan with life changing wounds. Loss of limbs and extensive burns are not uncommon. A normal house is usually not very accommodating for these types of situations. You have to adapt the homes and sometimes that can be more costly than just building a new one. The Helping a Hero website stated, “For paraplegics, quadriplegics and leg amputees, the homes provide roll-in showers, wider doors, lower counters, roll-under sinks and adapted toilet areas.” The homes of burn victims are “positioned to allow very little light in” and very high-quality air filters are implemented.
This patriotic non-profit has partnered with Fayetteville builder McKee Homes to “Nominate a Hero.” One lucky wounded warrior will receive a home in the master-planned community of Legacy Lakes in the military community of Aberdeen. McKee Homes has already built adapted homes in Cottages at North Ramsey in Fayetteville, Oakmont in Harnett County and Fairfield Farms in North Fayetteville. The biggest problem is getting the military to apply. “The majority of the warriors are very proud and feel as though there is someone else who needs it more, someone whose wounds are worse, someone deserves it more,” said Pat McKee. With great service comes great pride.
A famous Hope Mills resident is helping bring awareness to the cause, army brat and Miss North Carolina USA, Olivia Olvera, a graduate of South View High School and The University of South Carolina. “It hits home for me,” conveyed Olivia, the daughter of retired SFC Pedro Olvera. Helping a Hero began building homes in North Carolina last November and their goal is to build 10. “We’ve already built five,” she emphasized. Olivia’s favorite part of the process is seeing the soldiers active in building the home, choosing the lighting fixtures and looking at the blueprint. “I love being able to spend time with the families. Getting to know them and their personalities is really awesome! I have had opportunities to go around town and meet with builders and companies that can offer their supplies. It’s really rewarding to have the Fayetteville community involved in this process.”
Olivia’s father was part of the initial group of soldiers from the Global Response Force to deploy from Fort Bragg on September 11, 2001. “I was in the eighth grade and my teacher turned the television on. We saw the second plane hit the Twin Towers. My mother checked my brother and I out of school. Minutes later, we were on base receiving updates. Next thing I knew, we were at Green Ramp saying goodbye,” she recalled with tears in her eyes. SFC Olvera was stationed at Bragg with the 82nd Airborne as a Jumpmaster. He served our country on four deployments: one to Iraq and three to Afghanistan.
“It has been wonderful for us to have the ability to partner with Olivia on this project. She is so inspiring. As a daughter of a soldier, she was the perfect person to lead our North Carolina effort. Her passion for our heroes and her commitment to their success in life is contagious. It is especially inspiring to see the way the veterans respond to that enthusiasm,” said Iler proudly. Olvera is looking forward to representing her home state at the Miss USA pageant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on June 8. She looks forward to carrying the message of the needs of our wounded veterans.
The adapted homes are made possible through large donations from corporate sponsors as well as smaller donations through builders and waiving legal fees for titles and deeds from local attorneys. To maintain a level of responsibility, there is usually a mortgage of around $50,000. “It’s not a burdensome amount,” explained McKee. The homeowner must live there for at least 10 years. “There are a lot of people who can take advantage of this. The VA loan process takes a long time. We are looking to do more of these in communities around and in Fayetteville,” he said.
LT. Governor Dan Forest also has a key role in promoting and helping the organization. He aptly confessed, “To play a part—even a small one—in helping a wounded warrior know they are appreciated is very special. What Helping A Hero, McKee Homes and the Legacy Lakes Community are doing is truly ‘life changing.’ Rare are the times in life you can play a part in drastically altering one’s life for the better. May God bless our Wounded Warriors.”
For more information on Helping a Hero visit www.helpingahero.org. To cheer for our Miss North Carolina USA, Olivia Olvera on the national stage, tune into the Miss USA June 8 on NBC at 8:00 p.m. EST.