THE BLOG

A Journey to 1000

11/09/2011 11:38 am ET | Updated Jan 09, 2012

As it is often quoted, but nevertheless relevant, "The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." This ancient adage, coined by Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, has transcended millenniums to still be referenced during decisive moments.

Our journey of a 'thousand miles' began against a backdrop of a turbulent period in modern U.S. history. Recent times have exposed the philosophical and political differences surrounding our nation's military engagement in the fight against terror. Much has changed about our country during this journey, but the one constant is the belief that our nation must provide effective ways to support our veterans. Rebuilding Together's solution: the Heroes at Home Program.

Rebuilding Together and Sears created Heroes at Home to address the domestic needs of military families. It ensures their home is modified to meet their most basic needs. Heroes at Home provides solutions for developing societal urgencies, as a new wave of veterans return home and our aging veterans continue to suffer from insufficient resources.

For Rebuilding Together, our 1000th mile marker on this journey has come in the form of helping this frequently overlooked member of society. Recently, we celebrated our Heroes at Home's Journey to 1000 by completing our 1000th home rebuild for a veteran.

Our first step began four years ago with Operation Iraqi Freedom Army Specialist Ryan C. Major. In November 2006, Specialist Major suffered severe wounds from an explosive device. His injuries resulted in the amputation of both legs, damage to both arms and traumatic brain injury. Major had been in Iraq for nearly a year at the time of his injury.

Upon his return home, Major was carried around the house by his brother, and his mother agonized about the uncertainty of her son's future: Where would he live? They certainly did not have the resources to provide the essential home modifications required to appropriately care for Ryan.

Heroes at Home created a safe and accessible home for the Majors; volunteers and skilled trades' partners donated thousands of dollars worth of time and expertise modifying his home to accommodate his disabilities. The renovations were completed at no-cost to the Majors, who could not have personally afforded these critical modifications.

We repeatedly experienced Ryan Major's story of sacrifice and hardship, through the many veterans served on our journey. We also found another group of unexpected heroes - the military families. We have observed spouses exhaust their life savings to meet the needs of their loved one. We have seen parents, on the cusp of a worry-free retirement; assume the role of principal caregiver for their wounded son or daughter. We have seen children surrender their youth to accommodate the needs of a disabled parent or sibling. The families' sacrifices provide a snapshot of the struggles our veterans encounter upon their return home.

Along our journey, we have discovered that the needs of the veteran community have intensified. Unemployment among post 9-11 veterans peaked at over 13% this past summer. In March, USA Today reported that veterans are more likely to be homeless, citing that in 2009, 16% of homeless adults were veterans, although veterans only made up about 10% of the population. Other social epidemics characteristic of the veteran community include high rates of depression, divorce and suicide.

Many laudable organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project and Homes For Our Troops have stepped forward to address the increase in need. We have also observed efforts on the federal level that seeks to shed light on the needs of our returning heroes and their families.

Our 1000th step took place last month in Washington, D.C, at the home of Veteran Johnny Agbi. Mr. Agbi was an army medic who sustained debilitating injuries during a mission in Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Mr. Agbi's home also was ill suited for his injuries and lack of mobility. After learning of Mr. Agbi's plight, Rebuilding Together provided much needed assistance. With the support of dollars raised through our Heroes at Home, we made sure that our 1000th step would be one of lasting significance. Over the course of three months, and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, the Agbi home received handicap accessible renovations, new appliances, and extensive modifications. It is a makeover befitting Agbi's heroism.

The Agbi rebuild was celebrated in the presence of First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. I wholeheartedly thank Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden for supporting not only Rebuilding Together and Sears' Heroes at Home, but also the welfare of veterans through their own initiative, Joining Forces. As they helped complete the finishing touches on the Agbi home, I marveled at the incredible progress of our journey. As we continue our support of veterans and meet new American heroes, I am forever grateful for the first step that led us to this extraordinary milestone.