CHEVY CHASE, Md. — Military families know what it’s like to have to adapt to change.
Army Captain Luis Avila and his family have faced typical military changes, like moving 15 times during his career.
But when Avila was severely wounded by an improvised explosive device in December 2011, his family had to adapt to the damage it inflicted on his body. He had one leg amputated, suffered multiple strokes and now uses a wheelchair to get around.
His family has learned to navigate all the changes that new life has brought including managing simple things like running errands or going out.
His wife, Claudia explains that every task requires advanced planning. She sounds a bit like a military logistics expert herself as she describes the lessons learned from finding that those “handicapped accessible” signs don’t always prove to be accurate. “Before we execute any movement, we call—verify—to make sure that it is accessible.”
But through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s RISE program, (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment), the Avilas will be able to relax in their new home, knowing that it has been built to meet Luis’ specific needs. The Maryland home being built through the foundation—with a host of donors and sponsors—will come with features that will allow the veteran to do everyday tasks on his own.
Chris Kuban, with the Gary Sinise Foundation, said that the home includes features like an extra wide garage. The additional 6 feet of space will allow Luis to maneuver an automated ramp from the minivan to the garage floor.
Bathrooms will feature showers wide enough that Luis can roll right in. And the kitchen will include a refrigerator that’s easy to access from a wheelchair.
Kuban says many of the features can be controlled through a tablet computer.
“He can open up all the blinds with the click of a button, or control the HVAC system” through an automated setup.
Not all the features are automated; some offer only best wishes for laughter, joy and hope. But they leave an indelible mark.
On Monday, friends, volunteers and builders—many of whom have become friends to the Avila family—attended a Wall of Honor ceremony. Participants wrote messages on the unfinished interior walls using permanent marker.
“Home of the free Because of the BRAVE,” one message reads.
“Americans Helping Americans,” another said.
Ted Nettles, with the Patriot Guard, wrote “Behave!” – a nod to Luis Avila’s mischievous sense of humor — and signed it Papa Bear.
Nettles has worked as a volunteer on veteran’s issues in a number of capacities. And when the Avilas’ house is ready, he’ll stock the kitchen with dry goods and he’ll be there to hand over the keys.
“It’s very rewarding,” Nettles said of his work.
At Monday’s ceremony, it was time for Claudia Avila to say a few words. Tears soon welled up. She apologized, explaining they were really tears of joy.
In the years since her husband was first wounded, she said she’s formed many new families—all pitching in to help her own.
“We thank all of you, from the bottom of our hearts for the friendship, for the prayers, for the support and for just being you. We hope that one day we can continue to serve our community … Thank you, very much.”
Their new home is slated to be move-in-ready in November.
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