published Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Nonprofit works to build home for wounded soldier

TO DONATE:

* Online: Beginning Saturday, donations will be accepted on www.steps2hope.com

* Mail: Make out check to Generosity Trust; in the memo line, write: Steps 2 Hope, 1901 Central Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37408

* Phone: Call Mark Wilson at 423-267-3708

When U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Smith set out on his first combat foot patrol in Afghanistan, he knew hidden explosives could trigger at any moment — he just didn't think they'd hit him.

But before the 25-year-old Lee University graduate finished that walk, his comrades were carrying him to a helicopter, pieces of him left behind.

Since the March 8 bomb blast effects claimed his left leg below the knee, his right leg above the knee and shot shrapnel into his abdomen, Smith has endured nearly 40 surgeries and hours of sweat and pain.

With likely a year left at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Smith and his wife, Tori, have one clear goal -- returning home to Chattanooga.

Local businessman and family friend Mark Wilson wants to make that goal a little easier by having a home waiting for the Smiths.

Wilson has established a nonprofit called "Steps 2 Hope" to raise money for land, building materials and construction by spring or early summer.

The goal resonates personally for Wilson, whose son was trapped in tornado-ravaged Union University in Jackson, Tenn., in 2008. His son initially lost the use of his legs and shuttled among three hospitals in less than three months, then spent another year and a half in physical rehabilitation, he said.

Wilson got an email message that Smith, a Chattanooga Christian School alumnus, had been injured in March. Wilson immediately contacted Smith's mother, Kathy Smith, to reassure her that though her son's body was wounded, he would still be her boy.

Andrew and Tori said recently that the work of Wilson's organization came as a surprise and a blessing. Deeply religious, the couple has taken the struggle over the soldier's wounds as a sign that something bigger is yet to come.

"Another huge part of it is my belief in the Lord, that everything is done for a purpose and a reason," Spc. Smith said. "I don't believe he puts anybody through something this big without a plan or a reason."

Wilson hasn't set an exact figure on the amount needed for the project but has an already-full 120-guest fundraising dinner scheduled for Saturday at the Lindsay Street Hall. Local retired U.S. Army Gen. B.B. Bell will introduce the Smiths, who will speak via online video.

The couple is scheduled to return on Sept. 28 for a visit and fundraiser at Chattanooga Christian School's homecoming game, Wilson said.

His goal is to have most, if not all of the money, raised by Christmas. He hopes to break ground in late spring/early summer and build the home in one week, similar to the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" television show.

Wilson worked on that project through his church and said the organization's members would like to emulate its methods.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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