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Volunteers rally to landscape wounded veteran's new home in Minatare

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Volunteers flocked to an unfinished home in rural Minatare Saturday to help a wounded veteran get a new lease on a more independent life. Friends and strangers alike helped beautify the future home of Army veteran SSGT Timothy Kramer and his family.

In 2006, Kramer suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq after a vehicle he was in drove over an improvised explosive device.

Three years later, he suffered a stroke and from then on needed to use a wheelchair. Kramer said this new abode will be much better than his old house and that he’s looking forward to the independence the design will allow him.

“I can actually get in my chair and get around this house. Our other house, I couldn’t go into certain rooms, I couldn’t go down certain hallways, because I couldn’t go in and turn. I’d have to back up,” he told the Star-Herald.

The home is being built through the Homes for our Troops (HFOT) organization. The Massachusetts-based charity has constructed almost 350 specially adapted, custom-made houses for wounded veterans.

Krystina Goroshko, a community engagement coordinator with HFOT, said the company focuses on building homes for severely injured post-9/11 veterans.

“We want our veterans to feel as welcome as possible in their new home. One of the best parts of our organization is that our veterans do get to choose where they want to live, anywhere in the country, and we’ll make it happen,” she said.

Goroshko said volunteer days take place about six to eight weeks before veterans receive the keys to their homes in key ceremonies.

“We do landscaping, whether it’s plants, mulching, sod … just to get everyone out and about and involved in the build of this home,” she said.

Many of the volunteers were Kramer’s friends, family members and neighbors, but several were people from around the community.

On Saturday, a team of around 60 volunteers planted shrubs and flowers around the exterior of the house. In exchange for their hard work, they received free T-shirts and lunch.

“It’s so rewarding being able to give just a little bit back to our veterans who gave so much for us,” Goroshko said. “…Getting to see strangers come out and help someone they’ve never met before, do a little bit of good for them, it’s just amazing.”

Kramer said a caregiver through the Veterans Affairs system first told him about the HFOT charity. A few years later, his and his family’s new house is just weeks away from completion.

The family’s future neighbor, Heidi Wahlstrom, said, “We’re excited for them, happy for them. They deserve this.”

She was helping plant, along with her husband and sons. She said her older son, Duane Wahlstrom III, who turns 3 in November, had loved driving his toy tractor to watch construction workers build the house’s foundation.

There’s still much to be done, including all the siding, floors and interior work. But the living room is wide open, and each room’s entrance is expansive enough for Kramer to maneuver easily. He and his family are excited for the opportunities it can provide, he said.

“I’m at a loss for words, (seeing) the amount of people who pay it forward and take time out of their schedules, their lives, to help fulfill a dream of mine,” Kramer said. “…I just say thank you. It’s overwhelming support from this community. That’s what Nebraska is all about. That’s why we love it here.”

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