To hear Matthew Lowers tell it, he and Jason Brownell formed Loudoun-based HeroHomes in 2015 after Jason, a builder by trade, met retired Marine corporal Tony Porta, who was burned beyond recognition when his Humvee drove over a roadside bomb in Iraq. Jason managed a home building project for a national charity in Lovettsville for Tony. Tony underwent more than 128 surgeries to address burns over 35 percent of his body and Jason was deeply moved by his sacrifice.
“Jason came to me and said, ‘Why don’t we do something like this in Loudoun? I’ll build the homes and you do the business end.’” Both men had grown up here and were, by Matthew’s definition, “blessed,” so he immediately agreed and the foundation was formed with a mission to “build houses, jobs, and community for those who have fought for the preservation of freedom and democracy for others.”
Matthew says, “We’re all volunteers – no one gets paid. Our goal was to build one house a year and we’ve come close to that. We’ve built three and the fourth one is almost done, with our sights on number five in Round Hill.”
Project 4, scheduled to be finished in mid-March, has been dubbed “AV House,” after its intended recipient, US Army veteran Vainuupo Avegalio. Matthew says AV grew up in Samoa, caught a fishing boat to Hawaii and joined the military. He served 15 years, sustaining injuries including severe PTSD. As a way of coping with his trauma, he’s taken up painting and posts his work to Instagram as http://www.instagram.com/vais_art.
His work can be jarring, but no more than his nightmares, forged at a blockade in Afghanistan where he was ordered to fire on a bus that refused to stop and proceeded to run the roadblock. AV fired and the results have haunted him. When he was introduced to Jason and Matt, he was living in his car, spending his retirement and disability pay traveling around the country seeking to help other disabled veterans through art. “He put everything he had back into helping others, so we decided he was definitely the right kind of guy for us to help in this way,” says Matt.
HeroHomes’ bylaws have just three criteria for selecting veterans for assistance:
- A 100% disabled discharge designation from the US Armed Services
- Injuries sustained in the recent war on terrorism
- A willingness to live in Loudoun County – because the partners aren’t going anywhere
The third criterion is partly based on the founders’ own love of Loudoun and partly due to the incredible network of partners that they’ve amassed who are willing to donate materials and services. Nearly 100 building companies – supplying everything from lumber to drywall and HVAC, and more than 40 service providers from food to interior designers to maid services, are listed on the group’s website http://herohomesloudoun.org.
Loudoun is an ideal place for veterans to thrive with its combination of both beautiful natural surroundings and quiet communities. Says Matthew, “They’re trained to kill, have killed, been shot at. We feel like, if you can give them home ownership or just a place where they can feel comfortable, that is invaluable. Having this place to call home where they can close the door and be private and get away from whatever it is that’s bothering them – it makes all the difference. They’ve all made such huge sacrifices; it’s the least we can do to repay it.”
HeroHomes’ biggest challenge is funding – pure donations to help them purchase either the land or the materials needed to build the homes. Its two biggest fundraisers, a Casino Night and Golf Tournament both were cancelled last year, and the casino fundraiser was cancelled this winter again. And yet, often when they least expect it, someone reaches out to help.
“Literally, our largest donor reached out to us and said, ‘I’ve sold my government contracting business for more than I can spend, but I grew up with nothing – I could once put everything I owned in a paper bag. So now, I’m going to give it all back. What’s your biggest need?’” Matthew relates. When the partners said they had the land picked out for their second home, but didn’t yet have the money to buy it, the donor gave them $160,000 to fund the entire purchase. “We offered to make that a house in his honor, but he wouldn’t hear of it.”
Now, whether the lot is sold at a deep discount, or the recipient buys it, the foundation believes that veterans benefit by having “some skin in the game.” AV’s Purcellville home, though it has a value of more than $600,000, will have a mortgage of $125,000, offered by the Bank of Charles Town on whose advisory board Matthew serves. HeroHomes will be a subordinated lender, and given right of first refusal should anything happen to AV.
HeroHomes is looking to fund house number five, and asks prospective donors to consider making a recurring gift of $100/month or more. The website is a great place to learn more, or just pick up the phone and reach out, he says. Military service is certainly no pre-requisite; neither Matt nor Jason served. “We both just felt this calling to help veterans,” and sadly, there’s no shortage of those needing help.
You can reach Matthew at email@example.com and read more at https://herohomesloudoun.org.