by Gary Nager

Congratulations to U.S. Army Sgt. Joel Tavera and his family, who recently became the recipients of the ninth home given away to wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars by “Building Homes for Heroes” (HFH), a nonprofit organization whose mission is as amazing to me as the stories of the wounded soldiers and their families.

I feel fortunate to have been one of more than 1,000 people who gathered on November 19 in a still-being-developed subdivision in the beautiful Grand Hampton community along County Line Rd. to see Sgt. Tavera, his mother Maritza and his father José be led inside their finished 4,200-sq.-ft. William Ryan Homes home for the first time.

I arrived at Grand Hampton about a half-hour before the Taveras did and I saw magnificent new houses in a pristine neighborhood where, for the event, there were American flags literally every ten feet or so, with not only outside visitors like me, but also the residents of the subdivision lining the streets to give a true American hero a true hero’s welcome.

I don’t know how anyone who attended got through the day without shedding a few tears and I certainly was no exception. I first felt them welling up as I waited for Joel and his family to arrive, thinking to myself that although I believe I try to help people as much as possible with what I do with the New Tampa & Wesley Chapel Neighborhood News, that some causes make you realize that there is so much more we all can do, whether to help sick children, battered wives, injured soldiers and so many others.

I watched not only regional president Jeff Thorson of William Ryan Homes but also generals, admirals and other top “brass” from all branches of the U.S. military, his own sergeant and an FBI agent all pay tribute to Sgt. Tavera, who was the only survivor of a rocket explosion. Joel has had 73 surgeries, with more scheduled, since he was injured in 2008 at the age of just 21. This sad truth kept coming back to me: that while HFH and the home builders who provide these homes are likely doing even more than their fair share to help these wounded warriors, there is still so much more to be done.

Considering how many home foreclosures there are nationwide these days, it makes sense to me that instead of hanging onto them, the banking industry — which sorely needs a public relations boost — should donate every last one of them to members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and yes, police and fire fighters who need them, free and clear, like Sgt. Tavera’s family now owns their home. It would give those who protect and serve us something of real value for their service and would likely stimulate the U.S. economy more than any spending cut or tax programs, while giving the banking industry legitimate writeoffs instead of more empty homes.

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