NORTH TONAWANDA – A lot of people will be coming home for the holidays in the next week.
Good luck finding a homecoming that can match the one that happened Tuesday on Sherwood Avenue.
Hundreds of people stood in the cold rain to welcome Marine Cpl. Paul Schaus to his new, state-of-the-art, handicapped-accessible house, built through the efforts of donations and volunteers. Fellow veterans, family, friends and supporters saluted him and lined the road and driveway cheering and waving flags as Schaus stepped into his new home.
Schaus, who lost both legs and a finger in Afghanistan in 2009 and has been fitted with prosthetics, was overwhelmed by the outpouring as he was handed the keys to his new house.
“It’s been amazing,” he said as he joined well-wishers in his new house.
“It’s a fantastic Christmas present. It’s a great home for him,” said his uncle Frank Grandinetti Sr., the owner of Grand Jude Plumbing, the general contractor for the project. “He’s a great kid.”
The land was donated, and dozens of local businesses volunteered time and/or materials to help on the project.
“The first day we started here with the backhoe [in July] we had 200 volunteers. Then as we were going along we had volunteers all the time. It was unbelievable,” Grandinetti said. “The [outside of the] house was built in one weekend.
After Schaus was presented the keys, veterans from Stephen Sikora Post 1322, American Legion, of North Tonawanda saluted Schaus and raised the American flag on the pole in the front of the house. Inside, wood floors, large automatic doors, lowered counters with shelves that pull out and a large bathroom with a seat and roll-in shower are part of the four-bedroom, two-bath home.
“We don’t do this for everybody who moves to North Tonawanda,” Mayor Robert G. Ortt said with a smile. “I’m so proud of my hometown and everybody here who turned out to help and make this project a reality.”
The project was funded by Homes for Our Troops, a national organization that helps to build handicapped-accessible homes for severely injured veterans. The group donates up to $320,000 per house nationally.
Dawn Teixeira, a founding board member and executive director of Homes for Our Troops, said, “We give injured veterans freedom and independence and take away some of the day-to-day stressors. The mortgage is also fully paid for, and that takes away the financial stressors.”
“I wish this was the last house we had to build, but 1,600 veterans are so severely injured that they qualify for these homes,” Teixeira said.
Schaus, 24, a Town of Tonawanda native, was injured when he stepped on a land mine during a fight with insurgents in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. A Kenmore West High School graduate, he enlisted in the military when he was 17 and had already served eight months in Iraq.
After extensive rehabilitation at Bethesda Naval Medical Center and then Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., Schaus moved back to the area 15 months ago and lived with his mother, Cindy Martello, but she said her house was not suitable for her son’s needs.
“It has been a struggle, but he never complains,” Martello said.
Schaus, a lifelong hockey player, was able to fulfill another dream over the past year – to get back on the ice as a member of the USA Warriors, a national sled hockey team.
The project was marred by a pair of crimes. In one, thieves stripped a small amount of copper from the outside of the house. Then, in late October, a security television was ripped from the master bedroom, damaging the drywall and bending steel plates that held it there.
But the generosity of goods and spirit more than outweighed those incidents.
“We went to businesses [for donations of materials or work], and they said when do we start. Everyone wanted to help,” said Schaus’ cousin Jodie Buckley, who works with her father, Frank, at Grand Jude Plumbing.
“What happened [in Afghanistan] forever changed his way of life,” Buckley said. “But now he has everything he needs right here and nothing to worry about.”