WASHINGTON -- Seeing servicemembers return from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan missing arms and legs or paralyzed was so heartrending for Victoria Mosier that she quit her full-time job to help improve their quality of life.
Mosier started working with her son, John S. Gonsalves, 38, president of "Homes for Our Troops," an organization he founded in February 2004 to build or adapt homes to the needs of severely wounded servicemen and women.
Their compassion for America's severely wound combatants garnered them second place and a $7,500 check in the Newman's Own Awards competition.
The annual competition is sponsored by Newman's Own, the Fisher House Foundation and the Military Times Media Group. Volunteer organizations that support military communities are challenged to present an innovative plan supporting military families and receive a share of a $50,000 grant to carry out that plan.
Eleven volunteer organizations out of 177 entries were selected as winners for the award.
Quitting her job as administrator of a pediatric clinic office to help severely wounded war veterans and their families was one of the best things she has ever done, said Mosier, who lives in Taunton, Mass.. She is now the administrative director of Homes for Our Troops.
"I said to a friend of mine, in all the years that I've been employed, I can finally say, 'I love what I'm doing,'" she said.
"Thousands of Americans have sustained life-altering injuries, and they need to have a home suited to their disabilities, she said. "We want to meet their special needs so they can maneuver around the house that just doesn't fit them any more. If they already own a home, we'll go in and adapt it based on their injury."
The group is completing its first home in Middleboro, Mass., and five more projects are under way.
Homes for Our Troops helps injured servicemen and women and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials and professional labor. The organization also coordinates the process of building a new home or adapting an existing home for handicapped accessibility.
"With our growing network of professionals in the building industry, building material manufacturers and generous donors from across the country, we're able to provide this service at little or no cost to the veteran," Mosier said.
The group's coffers are filled through fundraisers and corporate, business and individual donations. For instance, Mosier said, professional golfer Phil Mickelson, the 2004 Masters champion, "is playing his PGA tour for our troops. He gives $100 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle (he shoots)." Singer and songwriter Billy Joel made a $10,000 contribution to Homes for Our Troops, Mosier said.
Mosier said her son was a laid-off construction contractor when he decided to use his building expertise to build and renovate homes for war-wounded veterans of the global war on terrorism.
"He's still doing what he likes to do -- build homes," she noted. "He was out of work and heard stories about our seriously injured and wounded servicemen and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. He said there has got to be an organization that adapts or builds homes to meet the needs of severely injured veterans."
She said her son searched the Web for such an organization to volunteer with. "Since there was none, he decided to found Home for Our Troops," she said. Adding, "It has become a full-time job."
Army Sgt. Peter Damon of the Massachusetts National Guard, and his wife, Jenn, and two children, Allura and Danny, will receive the first specially adapted home built by Homes for Our Troops. Damon lost part of both his arms when a Blackhawk helicopter tire he was working on exploded.
In Dale City, Va., Homes for Our Troops is building a house for Army Staff Sgt. Eugene Simpson. The 27-year-old husband and father of four sons was severely injured when an improvised explosive device exploded near his vehicle in Tikrit, Iraq. The blast sent shrapnel into his stomach and shoulder, shattered bones in both legs and feet, and partially severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the waist down.
In Pico Rivera, Calif., Homes for Our Troops is adapting Chief Warrant Officer Juan Beltran's home to meet his special needs, which will enable him to move around his home in a wheelchair. A husband and father, Beltran was severely injured in Iraq while piloting an Apache helicopter and is now a quadriplegic.
In Dunbar, Pa., Homes for Our Troops is leading the effort to build a handicapped-accessible log cabin for Army Pfc. Sam Ross, a combat engineer with the 82nd Airborne Division, who was wounded on May 18, 2003, while disposing of munitions near Baghdad. Ross lost a leg and part of one eye, and is now blind from his injuries.
"Our goal is to help those who come to us," Mosier noted. "It doesn't matter where they're from or what branch of service they're in; if we can help them, that's what we want to do.
"We want to be here as long as the need is there," she added.