The concept for universal design started in the 1950s, when wounded veterans returning from World War II found their homes uncomfortable and unsafe to live in. This issue continues today, for both aging Vietnam veterans and soldiers returning from conflicts in the Middle East.
John Gallina and Dale Beatty know this problem first hand. After having served on the North Carolina National Guard, the two 25-year-olds went on to join the 1st Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. On Nov. 15, 2004, their unit was on a mission to provide security for an engineer unit that was sweeping for mines. Their vehicle struck two anti-tank mines, leaving Beatty a double amputee below the knees and Gallina with severe back injuries, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
As both men reintegrated into their communities, they found that their own homes needed to change. Their communities came together to help provide for them and show their support. They decided to pay this kindness forward – recognizing that there are so many other veterans with the same needs they had – and together co-founded Purple Heart Homes.
This nonprofit seeks out veterans in desperate need of home solutions, which range in everything from installing a wheelchair ramp or an ADA-accessible bath to beautifying a kitchen. These projects use a combination of volunteer and paid designers, contractors and builders and take place in most states.
“We provide a bit of comfort and security in the home and a greater connectivity with those in the community,” said Gallina, who explained in an interview with KBB that many volunteers are neighbors or community members. “You feel different after being in a war zone. Having a suitable home makes these veterans feel more comfortable in their community and not so different.”
Beatty also explained that this is particularly impactful for Vietnam veterans, who at the time were often not honored for their service because of the controversial war.
“When we can go into a neighborhood and rally the community around a veteran who never had a parade coming home or got thanked for their services, that has an impact,” he said. “The healing and impact comes from our engagement with them and showing them that there are people that care and understand, and they are probably their neighbors.”
For more information about Purple Heart Homes and to hear more about how to volunteer or donate, visit http://purplehearthomesusa.org.