Vonda Rodgers said a prayer as volunteers pounded nails in syncopation in the parking lot of the VFW as they began the work of constructing the first McLean County Habitat for Humanity Hero Home.
The home at 1108 S. Oak St., south of Wood Street in Bloomington, is being named in honor of Army Sgt. Josh Rodgers, Vonda’s son, who was killed along with another soldier in combat during his third tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2017.
Volunteers from the Boy Scouts and other youth groups assembled the walls off-site at the veterans hall on Morrissey Drive so other site work could continue when the project kicked off in late May. It’s on schedule to be ready in time for Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Habitat Construction Manager Bill Waller said contractors embraced the project and donated a majority of the building materials for the first Hero Home. Several college students, retired Habitat crew members, individuals and military affinity groups, including the State Farm group to which Vonda Rodgers belongs, donated as many as 350 hours on the homebuilding effort so far.
But Waller said more volunteers are needed.
“It fills up pretty fast though. Every time the month changes it fills up pretty fast because people want to be a part of this thing and it’s wonderful that they do because we plan on building more houses in the future,” said Waller. “Habitat plans to expand from six houses this year, to eight next year, and 10 the following year, and we’re gonna need more volunteers. And this is serving as a platform to get those volunteers in the house because once we get you involved, you come back.”
Meanwhile, fundraising efforts for the first three Habitat Hero Homes continues and it has momentum. Waller estimates the organization is two-thirds of the way there, but he said the typical Habitat home costs $90,000, despite his efforts to reduce costs by modifying the design from earlier years.
Waller eliminated basements and now homes are built on a slab.
“I went from 16-inch centers to two-foot centers so I use less lumber and I do stuff like that,” Waller explained. “I build two-story houses now so I don’t have to dig as big of a foundation or pour as much concrete.”
While donations to the Habitat Hero House can be made online, the next big push will come during an Oct. 12 concert at the Castle Theatre in downtown Bloomington by Fiona Way, a band made up of State Farm executives who perform for select charity causes. Waller says the group plays popular music. Tickets are $15 but there’ll be more options to support the Hero Home initiative that night.
The first Habitat Hero House is being named for a war veteran killed fighting ISIS, so Waller thinks it’s fitting the project manager is also a veteran who has post traumatic stress from his time in combat. Habitat is giving him a fresh start, according to Waller.
“He’s learning how to cope (with his PTSD), and we’re teaching him how to cope and he’s doing a great job running our crew right now and it’s a fabulous thing.”
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