WASHOUGAL — The weather wasn’t ideal for landscaping on Saturday morning, with temperatures in the 40s and gusty wind sending rain sideways, but that didn’t stop about 100 volunteers from getting their hands dirty.
People from across Southwest Washington and throughout the Portland-metro area showed up in force to slog through mud, lay sod and plant flowers at a home still under construction in Washougal. They did it for one reason: to give back to Army Spc. Alex Hussey.
Hussey, who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, was deployed in early 2012 to the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan. Two weeks before his tour was over, on Aug. 7, 2012, Hussey was on patrol when an improvised explosive device went off. Hussey was knocked unconscious by the blast and spent six months in a coma. He lost both his legs, most of his left hand and sustained a traumatic brain injury.
In a few months, Hussey, 26, and his wife, Kim Hussey, 25, will be handed the keys to their first home — a 2,500-square-foot, mortgage-free home built and donated by the nonprofit Homes For Our Troops. On Saturday, the volunteers helped prepare the outside of the house for the Husseys upcoming homecoming.
The Husseys, who currently live in Milwaukie, Ore., were amazed by the turnout — particularly by those the couple had never met.
“So many people showed up to support us,” Kim Hussey said. “It is heartwarming. It really is.”
“I’m very thankful,” Alex Hussey added.
Homes For Our Troops builds and donates specially adapted custom homes for severely injured post-Sept. 11 veterans, said Mell Barbosa, a community outreach coordinator with the nonprofit. Last weekend, the organization handed over the keys to the 250th home built since 2004, she said.
In Washington, the organization has built three homes and currently has five others, including the Husseys’ home, in progress.
Most of the veterans served by the nonprofit are amputees and many have sustained traumatic brain injuries, Barbosa said.
“We want to make sure all these injured veterans have homes,” she said.
The Husseys’ four-bedroom home is fully accessible and designed with more than 40 adaptations, including lower countertops and roll-under sinks. The home, which sits on 5 acres, is also fully automated with voice-activated doors and lighting.
Businesses throughout the metro area have donated materials, equipment and labor for the project — from plants and bark dust to a complete HVAC system and garage door, said general contractor Shaun Griffith, of Tom Griffith Construction and Chaney, Inc.
When the home is complete, Homes For Our Troops will host a community key ceremony and turn the home over to the Husseys. For the couple, who currently live with Alex Hussey’s parents, it’s a day that can’t come soon enough.
“Our entire marriage we’ve been either in a hospital or with his parents,” Kim Hussey said. “We get to start our family together. This is our new start.”
Friends and family of the Husseys turned out Saturday to help with the landscaping, but so did many people who have never met the couple.
Jenny Sung of Beaverton, Ore., heard about the volunteer event from a co-worker. She brought her 5-year-old son, Parker, out to help, as well.
“I think it’s good to show him that we do things for other people,” she said. “It’s just a great community to help.”
Washougal resident Richard Sitton has followed the work of Homes For Our Troops on Facebook for a while. So Sitton, who retired from the U.S. Army two years ago, jumped at the opportunity to get involved and help someone in his community. He was joined by his wife and two sons, one of whom is in the National Guard.
“He deserves it,” Sitton said of Alex Hussey. “I’ve been where he’s been.”
As the rain began to fall harder Saturday, Sitton and the other volunteers continued their work. Despite being covered in mud from head to toe, they smiled and laughed with each other.
“It’s absolutely awesome,” Sitton said of the turnout. “Everyone working together for a common goal. That’s what we do in the military. It’s amazing to see.”