On a mission: Nonprofit’s help with accessibility projects includes new deck for Salisbury veteran

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, May 11, 2022

By Elisabeth Strillacci
elisabeth.strillacci@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Feeling forgotten after having all but laid one’s life down for one’s country should not happen to anyone; fortunately for veteran and former Marine Staff Sergeant Timothy Blume, that feeling has come to an end.

Purple Heart Homes, an organization out of Statesville that was created by two veterans to help meet the needs of other veterans who face challenges on their return home, selected Blume’s application for assistance from the hundreds they receive every year.

On Tuesday, Blume and his wife, Jenny were joined by family, friends, neighbors, folks from Purple Heart Homes and representatives from other  organizations that support the efforts for a Mission Complete Ceremony.

Blume’s back deck was rotted and dangerous and in dire need of replacement. The ceremony marked the completion of the project, which means Blume, his therapy dog, King, and his wife can now be outside safely to enjoy the peace of a backyard that looks down on a small lake without fear of falling through the slats or down the stairs.

More importantly, Blume now knows that there are people who care about him beyond family.

“When you are a soldier, you never take it upon yourself to think about yourself,” Blume told those gathered. “It actually feels odd to know there are people out there that want to help me.”

In addition to a 10-year-stint as an active duty Marine that included a tour in Desert Storm, Blume spent another 23 years working for the National Cemetery Association before back surgery forced his retirement at age 50. Physical limitations then meant home repairs, especially those as involved as what the deck needed, were no longer within his range. In addition, he was dealing with other issues.

“The challenges I face get worse as I get older,” he said, referring to PTSD that includes night terrors and anxiety among other stresses. His wife realized he needed additional help and contacted Saving Grace Canines. Blume said his beloved canine companion had been returned by two other vets for being “too rambunctious and not listening,” but Blume set out to train him properly, and never looked back.

“He had this Tempur-Pedic kind of bed right beside my bed at first,” he said, “but now he sleeps with me because of the night terrors. He knows when it’s coming.”

Blume said he is grateful for Purple Heart Homes’ work, which will allow him to be outdoors with King more easily. He is also grateful that Jenny surprised him with the contact at Saving Grace. “It feels like I matter a little,” he said.

Purple Heart Homes CEO John Gallina pointed out that “it’s important to celebrate all veterans, and to let them know that not only have the memories of their service not faded for them, but they have not faded for us. And it is a sign of our future, how we honor those who have come before and served.”

Gallina and his late partner, Dale Beatty, decided to form Purple Heart Homes because of their own experience.

“We were in Iraq doing a route clearance, and we ran over two anti-tank land mines,” he said. “I suffered head trauma and a brain injury, and Dale needed a double amputation below the knee.” When they came home, that meant Dale needed an accessible home in which to live and raise a family. When they finished building it, Gallina said they looked around and realized there were “a lot of older veterans who were not being helped.” They decided to find a way to do just that.

When they had a potential first project selected, a veteran named Kevin Smith who needed a wheelchair ramp, they were still unsure of how they were going to make it happen. They met with Smith, letting him know they were going to try, but were still finding their way.

“We told him that the one thing we did want to do was to tell him, ‘Welcome home.’ He looked at us for a minute, and then he told us, ‘I’ve been home for more than 40 years, and no one has ever said welcome home to me.’ ”

Gallina paused before noting that still gets to him. Beatty died in 2008 from long-term complications of the amputations, but Gallina insists he is still co-owner, that his partner is always with him.

The organization has received 12 applications in the last week alone, and 430 over the past year. Applicants are fully vetted, and needs, said former Project Manager Scott Stevenson, are separated from wants before applicants are chosen.

“We consider health, safety and accessibility,” he said, “It can be different in each case, but the goal is to improve the living situations of veterans who have given us their all.” Some projects are more simple — a wheelchair ramp into the house, adding rails — and some are more involved — building a tiny house for a veteran living in a storage shed. Projects take time, especially if they are out of state, because a contractor has to be found before the project can begin.

“When we get to this point, the mission complete, it’s always worth it, however long it’s taken or however tough it’s been,” said Stevenson.

h, letting him know they were going to try, but were still finding their way.

“We told him that the one thing we did want to do was to tell him, ‘Welcome home.’ He looked at us for a minute, and then he told us, ‘I’ve been home for more than 40 years, and no one has ever said welcome home to me.'”

Gallina paused before noting that still gets to him. Beatty died in 2008 from long-term complications of the amputations, but Gallina insists he is still co-owner, that his partner is always with him.

The organization has received 12 applications in the last week alone, and 430 over the past year. Applicants are fully vetted, and needs, said former Project Manager Scott Stevenson, are separated from wants before applicants are chosen.

“We consider health, safety and accessibility,” he said, “It can be different in each case, but the goal is to improve the living situations of veterans who have given us their all.” Some projects are more simple — a wheelchair ramp into the house, adding rails — and some are more involved — building a tiny house for a veteran living in a storage shed. Projects take time, especially if they are out of state, because a contractor has to be found before the project can begin.

“When we get to this point, the mission complete, it’s always worth it, however long it’s taken or however tough it’s been,” said Stevenson.

Comments