Wounded veteran getting new home in Ringgold

Wounded veteran getting new home in Ringgold

October 16th, 2014 by Hannah Smith in Local Regional News

Sgt. Jason Smith, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, speaks Wednesday at a news conference to announce plans by nonprofit group Steps2Hope to build a new home for him and his wife, Lauren Smith, right. The news conference was held at the home site on Salem Valley Road near the state line in Catoosa County, Ga.

Sgt. Jason Smith, who lost both legs while...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

AT A GLANCE

What: A fundraiser and kick-off party to help raise funds and encourage volunteers.

Where: Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m.

Where: The Colonnade in Ringgold. It is open to the public.

How to help: To donate money or volunteer, visit Steps2Hope.com.

The home site is on Salem Valley Road, just south of the Tennessee border.

When Jason Smith was first approached by Mike Fitzpatrick about accepting a new house from the community, he was hesitant.

Smith is a former soldier who has served in Afghanistan. On July 25, 2012, he lost both of his legs there in an improvised explosive device blast. He had since recovered and learned to walk again on prosthetic legs, and he'd moved back to Ringgold, where he had graduated from high school. He had an apartment, but it didn't fit his new physical needs.

Smith said he told Fitzpatrick that he didn't want the attention a new house would bring -- he wanted "to disappear" from the spotlight.

To which, Smith said, Fitzpatrick replied, "You can disappear once you get a home."

On Wednesday the nonprofit group Steps2Hope and Fitzpatrick, a veteran and retired firefighter from Kentucky, announced that they're going to build Smith and his wife, Lauren, a new, accessible home in Ringgold. Steps2Hope's mission is to help young adults who have lost mobility in traumatic events. The project is called "Jason's New Journey."

Steps2Hope founder Mark Wilson said this is the second home they've built as an organization, and that it's an important part of the healing process.

"We believe part of his complete recovery ... is a place that meets his needs," Wilson said.

Construction will begin in April. Sherman Smith, the owner of Dreamtech Homes LLC, said the company hopes to be done with the build in about 10 days. His company is organizing the materials and skilled labor. He said the last home Dreamtech built was done in seven days, and that the biggest challenge with a build that fast is getting enough volunteers.

"That's the word we got to get out there," he said.

Fitzpatrick said he has already recruited 40 other firefighters to come down and help during the first week. He said the opportunity to help build a home for a wounded veteran is an honor.

"Everybody, regardless of background, it's the one solid cause we can get behind," Fitzpatrick said.

On Wednesday, Steps 2 Hope hosted a press conference at the site of the future home. A banner featuring a photo Smith in his military fatigues was strung between two trees. Bill Hullander, founder of Hullco Exteriors, donated the four-acre plot of land that nestles between hills, overlooking a ridge, with many trees.

"It'll be kind of private," Hullander said of the land.

Specific plans for the home are still being determined.

At the conference, Smith said he was at a loss for words to describe what it feels like to see his community support him like this.

"None of this would be possible without the community and Steps 2 Hope," he said. "It's a blessing."

Jason and Lauren Smith are expecting a child in November, and both said they're excited to be able to move into the new home after their baby is born.

"It's a fairy tale," Lauren Smith said.

Jason Smith said that, although his life has changed, he knows now that it is still full of possibilities.

"My life isn't over," he said. "My old life is."

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at hsmith@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6731.


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