A Marine and a home
What a new home means to a veteran
"I've never really had a home of my own since I became a Marine. I've lived out of packs and suitcases, but now I have my own home, a base where I can continue to heal and support my fellow wounded soldiers," said U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Kirstie Ennis in Glenwood Springs, Colorado when Building Homes for Heroes, various supporting companies, and the community welcomed her to her first, permanent home.
But let’s begin at the beginning of this story. On June 23, 2012, Ennis was flying combat and rescue missions in Afghanistan. She and her team, after already completing one mission, were en-route to pick up Marines who were in an active combat zone. The helicopter crashed, nose first and then rolled onto its side.
Kirstie awoke with severe damage to her face, spine, shoulders and left leg, plus a traumatic brain injury. In the years after the crash, Kristie has endured more than 44 surgeries to reconstruct her face and attempt to save her left leg. In 2015, doctors amputated her leg—first below the knee, then, after an infection was discovered, above the knee. Kirstie fought to relearn how to walk again.
Along with the physical challenges, came the mental mountains and emotional gullies. To aid her recovery, Ennis acted. A group called Disabled Sports USA began teaching Ennis how to snowboard, she started rock climbing and then swimming. Soon, Ennis began training to join the 2018 U.S. Paralympic snowboard team.
Receiving a home from BHH opens the door to my future. It will provide me the platform to be able to continue serving people, the foundation to have a family, and the opportunity to grow past my injuries.
And that is where Building Homes for Heroes comes in. “We want to give people the opportunity to put down roots and raise their families. That’s the number one most important thing,” said Kim Vesey, director of military relations for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit that renovates donated homes for injured veterans in need or builds a home from the ground-up. The organization has built and given 127 homes to veterans since its inception in 2001.
Kirstie applied and was selected out of the thousands they receive every year. She needed a home close to the training facility for the Paralympic team in Colorado. “We have a process of not only finding a builder partner, but also a community partner. Ironbridge Community said yes and so did contractor RM Construction.
“Before we knew much about Kirstie we agreed that Building Homes for Heroes was a program we were interested in,” said John Young, managing partner at Ironbridge. “The community really got behind the effort and you could feel the energy that was produced. Once we met Kirstie and heard her story we were even more excited to have such an incredible inspiration become part of our community.”
Kirstie’s tenacity fueled others to get involved and help support the new home, including RM Construction, a local builder in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. “We always try to do what we can, and view giving back to the community as part of our company mission,” said Bob Gibson, owner of RM Construction. In turn, Gibson began contacting his local vendors, including Pella Colorado about windows and doors for the home.
With the design and construction of the home, many materials and aspects of Kristie’s needs and lifestyle needed to be considered. Falling is a real risk for Ennis, so minimum carpet, slip-resistant flooring, and ample handrails were important in the new home. Ennis does use a wheelchair on occasion at home to preserve her body. Because of that, the new home has wide hallways and doorways.
"We went over the architectural design to make sure everything is set up to accommodate her specific needs," adds Kim Vesey from BHH. "Kirstie reviewed our plans and let us know how many rooms she wanted and what styles she liked. We based the design on her feedback — but we still wanted the final reveal to be a surprise."
“When it came to product selection, there were also environmental considerations, because
Ennis’s home was built to be ENERGY STAR certified,” explains Alan Wolf, General Manager of Pella Colorado. “In [Ennis’s] neighborhood, where houses are close together, we did a foam-filled window fiberglass window, Pella Impervia, both for energy efficiency and noise reduction.”
Construction began in early 2017 and on September 16, 2017, Ennis along with community members, fellow service members, and family, Ennis took her first tentative steps into her new home. "Receiving a home from BHH opens the door to my future,” Ennis said. “It will provide me the platform to be able to continue serving people, the foundation to have a family, and the opportunity to grow past my injuries."