CANAL WINCHESTER, Ohio (AP) — The twice-injured veteran was moved to tears as he entered the beautiful, newly renovated home.
The house, offered mortgage-free to his family, was the ultimate Christmas present. But the gift went beyond the walls.
“It’s a fresh, new start in this house,” said Daniel Matheson, hugging his wife, Brandy. With their children, Danny, 18, and Hailey, 15, they surveyed their new living space in disbelief.
“I never thought anything like this could happen to us.”
The family from Hamilton Township started moving in Friday, thanks to Building Homes for Heroes, a national nonprofit organization.
The New York-based group builds and renovates homes and gives them to wounded or disabled veterans to help them build stable civilian lives.
Matheson enlisted in the Army shortly after the 9/11 attacks, continuing a family tradition of military service dating to the Civil War, he said.
The recipient of two Purple Hearts suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His eight years of military service, in which he rose to the rank of staff sergeant, included two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. A bomb explosion in 2005 and amisfire blast in 2010 left him with a traumatic brain injury, nerve damage and hearing loss, among other injuries.
The Matheson family’s house is the first in Ohio to be donated by Building Homes for Heroes and the organization’s 101st overall.
The group started in 2006 to raise money and build just one veteran a home, said Chad Gottlieb, national director of construction development. It has expanded to 29 states. Only veterans injured after Sept. 11, 2001, who do not own a home are eligible.
“Our wounded veterans made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, our freedom,” Gottlieb said. “This is the least we can do for them.”
JPMorgan Chase & Co., a corporate sponsor, donates many foreclosed homes to be renovated and given away, including the one the Matheson family will move into this week.
Building Homes for Heroes representatives joined family members and volunteers from Chase to decorate the house with Christmas lights, American flags and a massive “welcome home” banner before Daniel Matheson arrived with his wife and kids. A roomful of relatives surprised the family with applause and cheers as they walked through the front door.
Renovations remain to be done to the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home, but the nonprofit group wanted to ensure that the family was able to move in before Christmas. Their other early holiday gifts included a new television, washer and dryer and a Christmas tree with all the trimmings.
“We feel so blessed,” Daniel Matheson said. “This kind of thing just doesn’t happen to people. It’s absolutely surreal. Amazing.”