Earlier this month, members of the New York City & Vicinity District Council of Carpenters and their families raised over $325,000 at the union’s 5th Annual Charity Golfing Outing in New Jersey to support Jared Allen’s Home for Wounded Warriors.
The union surpassed the $250,000 it raised last year, and brought its total of funds over the half-decade to more than $1 million. The funds raised go towards aiding the non-profit in its efforts to build accessible homes across the country for U.S. veterans with Purple Hearts who were wounded in a post-9/11 conflict and have since become disabled.
“We want the chance to recognize the extraordinary men and women who put their lives on the line for us,” said Joseph Geiger, the executive secretary-treasurer of the NYC & Vicinity District Council of Carpenters. “We strive to support the Jared Allen’s Home for Wounded Warriors in every way we can to welcome these soldiers home.”
The non-profit was founded by Jared Allen, a retired defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings football team who went on a USO tour of the Middle East in the early 2000s. To pay it forward to servicemen and women who fought in Afghanistan and/or Iraq, the football player created his non-profit to remodel or build accessible houses for wounded warriors and give them ADA mortgage-free homes.
“In the beginning, we did a couple of homes a year,” said spokesperson Amanda Rahtz. “Now we’ve grown into a nationwide organization. We’ve built 13 homes since 2009.”
The non-profit will build their 14th home on Sept. 20, in Arizona. The group is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. With the funds from the District Council of Carpenters, the group was able to go from building one and two homes a year — to five.
Three more homes are under construction in Florida, California and Nevada. Previous homes have been built in Texas, Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The homes were specialized to support those who have suffered blindness, traumatic brain injuries, paralysis and/or amputation.
In April, Cpl. Paul Skarinka, an amputee from Whitman, Massachusetts, became a beneficiary of one of the ADA mortgage-free homes.
Like other paramedics/firefighters from the state, Skarinka decided to join the military after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
In 2003, he enlisted in the Army, did his basic training and later became a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Specialist. But eight months into his first tour of duty, a rocket-propelled grenade exploded, severely damaging his left leg and arm.
“After I got hurt, my main concern was getting out of the kill zone,” Skarinka said.
The Army tried to preserve his leg, but after 12 years the limb, which had no feeling in it below the calf, started to feel like a “peg-leg” and Skarinka decided it was time to let it go.
“I was at the firehouse and I went to put on my bumper gear but there was nerve pain,” he said. “I decided there has got to be a better way.”
Skarinka underwent over 25 surgeries, 10 blood transfusions, in addition to suffering a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Ultimately, Skarinka had his left arm partially amputated and his leg below the knee.
With the support of his wife Jennifer, military and firehouse friends and children, he was able to overcome the initial shock of losing the limbs and even went back to work. But navigating his home left Skarinka stressed and frustrated.
“Psychologically, you have surgery and they put you on enough meds to take down an elephant, but you look at the [stump] and you’re like, is this really happening? But my wife helped me through it,” he said. “The biggest thing though, was the stairs. That would kill me because I was not able to rest and take the prosthetic leg off.”
Without an ADA-home, Skarinka was also not able to get into his wheelchair or move around his garage. This made it difficult to be fully present with his wife and kids Noah and Lily.
When he learned of the Jared Allen program, he didn’t believe it at first.
“When they said they are going to make you a fully accessible home, that was mind-blowing in itself — but when they said it was going to be mortgage-free, I thought they were messing with me,” he said. “They told me that all these people, including the Carpenter’s union, were going to volunteer all their time and build this for me. It was unreal.”
Skarinka loves the home, including the Jacuzzi bathtub, the sunroom and his new garage.
Despite Massachusetts having the coldest winter on record and some of the heaviest snowfall ever this past winter, the union and other volunteers continued to work on the house.
“They really took that project personally and put a lot of care into it,” Skarinka said. “The guys and girls that took their time to volunteer on this were incredible.”