On a plot of land just outside Asheboro, Joshua Craven sees a place where he can move with ease, a place where he can help his wife do the dishes, a place with a huge shower. It’s a place, he says, that will allow him “the freedom to relax.”
That place doesn’t exist yet. But ground will soon break on a new home for Craven and his family.
The 34-year-old Army veteran, who lost his left leg during a tour of duty in Iraq, is working with Homes For Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, to build a new domicile.
“I’m kind of restricted in the house I have right now,” said Craven, who has a prosthetic leg, but often uses a wheelchair at home. “For me this is an awesome opportunity. I feel this will contribute a lot to my health and happiness. I can spend more time doing things with the family. That’s really the biggest thing for me.”
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The organization provides custom-built homes for injured veterans who’ve served in the post-9/11 era. Founded in 2004, HFOT has built more than 300 homes nationwide including 14 in North Carolina. Craven’s will be the fourth home since 2008 the nonprofit has built for a veteran in the Triad area, including homes in Thomasville, Burlington and Waxhaw. Veterans pay nothing for the houses or the land upon which they’re built.
“What we’re doing is paying a debt,” said Bill Ivey, executive director for HFOT. “We owe these women and men who’ve made significant sacrifices defending our freedom and independence. And a specially adapted home that is fully accessible restores some freedom and independence to these great servicemen and women.”
Craven, who was raised in Asheboro, lives with his wife Holly, a fifth grade teacher, and 6-year-old daughter Aubrey.
A graduate of Southwestern Randolph High School, he joined the Army in 2007.
“My grandparents were in the military, I looked up to them, and this was something I always wanted to do,” he said. “Also, I wanted to do law enforcement, and so became a military police.”
He deployed to Iraq in 2009.
On Aug. 4, 2010, Craven, who then held the rank of specialist, was driving a lead vehicle in a convoy just outside the city of Najaf.
“We loaded up to go on this mission,” he said. “And we noticed that our interpreter was a no-show, as well as the Iraqi military, which we normally had lead our convoy. When that happens, we know that something bad is going to happen. But it was a critical mission, and we pushed out anyway.”
About 15 or 20 minutes after setting off, the convoy came upon a dirt mound on the left side of the road. An explosive inside the mound went off.
“It went through the door, went through both my legs,” he said. “I ended up passing out, ran the vehicle into a billboard kind of sign. The medic came in, pulled me out, put the tourniquets on. I was in and out of consciousness, and don’t remember much after that.”
Craven spent two months recovering at Walter Reed National Medical Military Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
His leg was amputated above the knee, and often when he goes out he wears a prosthetic leg. On a recent morning, while he was out in Asheboro, he was sporting a “Stay Classy” patch on the leg, some athletic shorts and a pair of brightly colored Asics running shoes.
However, wearing a prosthetic for long periods, he said, can get uncomfortable, so at home, he typically uses a wheelchair to get around.
“With the home I have right now, though, it’s hard to go anywhere inside with a wheelchair,” he said. “The door frames aren’t wide enough. It’s hard to get in the bathroom. You’re limited.”
Through some friends he met while convalescing at Walter Reed, he found out about HFOT and decided to apply to have a more accessible home built.
To qualify for a home, veterans must have sustained an injury in Iraq or Afghanistan, and must be retired or in the process of retiring from the military. They also have to be eligible for the Veterans Administration Specially Adapted Housing Grant Program, which assists those with certain types of military-connected disabilities.
“We do a pretty thorough vetting process, because we want to set up our veterans for success going forward,” Ivey said. “Part of that is a financial check. We want to make sure they have enough income for taxes, utilities, and keeping the home up. We also link our veterans up with a pro-bono financial planner for a three-year period. If we find a veteran whose finances are in rough shape, we might set them up with a financial planner early, and we won’t bring them in until they’re financially stable enough to take care of the home.”
Once a veteran is selected, the organization asks them to pick several potential building sites. Staff will then work with the veteran to choose one that’s most suitable.
“We build where the veteran wants to live, within reason,” Ivey said. “Some lots don’t work, because the soils aren’t right, or the grades are too steep. But, we do our engineering on the lot suggestions, see what works. We then buy the lot, and get a contractor lined up.”
Ivey said the organization typically hires local custom home builders to construct the dwellings.
“We’re not looking for a contractor to donate,” Ivey said. “We’re looking for someone to build a high-quality home at a fair price on schedule. But, if they do want to donate, that’s OK, we can sign a contract. And we interview the builders, make sure they’re on board to building to our standards.”
A home like the one being built for Craven, Ivey said, would typically include wide doorways and hallways, vinyl plank flooring and lower cabinets, along with sinks, countertops and stoves designed so that someone can roll up to and under them in a wheelchair. One of the most popular features is a roll-in shower with a bench inside, designed in such a way that one can transfer in and out without getting their wheelchair wet.
Recipients of the houses pay no mortgage, but HFOT does put a 10-year lien on the dwellings.
“A lot of people might try to talk the veteran into using their home equity to start a business,” Ivey said. “But if the business doesn’t go well, you can lose your home. This helps prevent that. And after that, the veteran has been in the community for 10 years, they’re established, they’re working or their spouses are working. They have a better chance of being successful.”
Ivey said a contractor has been selected for Craven’s house, though a contract has not officially been signed yet. Construction, he said, is set to begin in early spring.
Craven retired from the military in December 2012, took some gunsmithing classes, and ran a gunsmithing business for a while, though it had to shut down during the pandemic. After he got approved for a home, he had a conference with staffers from HFOT to pick out a style of house, paint options, cabinets and other details. He wanted to remain in or around Asheboro, and picked out a site in the area.
“My daughter, I don’t know that she understands what’s going on, she just knows that we’re moving,” he said. “But my wife is excited about that, that I’ll just be able to come home, jump in a wheelchair, not be in as much pain, and relax.”
Contact Robert C. Lopez at email@example.com