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Connect Iredell

Beyond Veterans Day

Nov 11, 2020 09:28PM ● By Catherine Diehl
From 1996 to 2005, two Iraq veterans served side-by-side, but in 2004, things changed for both of them. “Our vehicle, while on a routine patrol, hit two anti tank landmines and ultimately resulted in the loss of both legs below the knee for Dale and traumatic brain injury and back injuries for myself,” said John Gallina, owner of Purple Heart Homes. Purple Heart Homes was started because “personally I saw a lot of veterans, particularly older veterans, that were being left behind for many reasons. I saw a lot of veterans that had invisible injuries that were being left behind and some inequities in the realm of veteran charities and how they chose to help who. A lot of charities were only helping post 9/11 veterans and they were not assisting the Vietnam generation, so we really wanted to help bring some balance. And I saw ‘we.’ I started the charity with my battle buddy, Dale Beatty, who passed away two years ago. There’s a lot of hype about Iraq veterans, but you know, all around us there were older vets, and we both saw that and we really wanted to make a difference and help them,” said John, and out of their pain came hope for so many veterans.

Their purpose is found in the name 

Upon their return home after their injuries, they saw that there was a significant amount of housing challenges for people in a wheelchair. “I’m a general contractor by trade, that’s what I’ve done all my life is build houses, and so we said, ‘hey, look, we can go out and help older veterans and renovate their homes, which will allow them to stay in their homes, and not have to go to nursing homes, not have to leave where they really want to be,’ and that’s how it started.” They wanted a name that would allow veterans to connect with what they were doing within their community, and when someone made a comment about the name Purple Heart Homes, John and Dale ran with it. “It’s a name that presents a trust for veterans. I think it’s a name that many veterans can connect to and say, ‘they must be veterans,’” and once you learn about how deeply John cares about veterans, the name takes on a whole new identity, and it becomes more than just a name, it becomes a true community.

“We have the veteran community, those who we’re helping, our primary customer, and when they connect and know that we ourselves are veterans, it helps to bridge the gap of communication. There’s this pride that oftentimes blocks a veteran from asking for help, but suddenly when you know someone that you’re talking to is a veteran, it allows you to kind of remove some of those blocks of pride and say, ‘ok, here’s what I’m experiencing,’ and when the person on the receiving end can say, ‘oh yeah, I know all about that,’ and then all of a sudden, you can get to the real issue and solve the problem, versus, when the veteran is walled up, and they won’t tell you or explain to you what the issues are. There’s no way for anybody to truly help, you have to break down some of those barriers, and I think that’s the real value in the name.”

Creating safe spaces

Just after they started the charity, in 2008 the housing market economy collapsed, but in 2010 they started turning tragedies into gifts when they started working with banks to procure foreclosed houses. To date, they have accepted and turned over just a little under $10 million dollars in housing inventory that they have turned around to veterans. They now provide some rental houses, build tiny houses and modular home additions, modular wheelchair ramps, and have a nationwide presence, totaling a little over 657 completed projects for Purple Heart Homes. “We have 20+ chapters from Alaska to Florida, and pretty much wherever you can imagine in-between. We’ve completed projects in 38 states in the country, even in Hawaii.” 

Each build is different, but they’ve tried to make it as affordable as they can for each veteran. If the build is a traditional home, the veteran is responsible for 50% of the value of the home after the renovations. If it’s a tiny home and the veteran owns their own land free and clear, they work with sponsors in order to provide the tiny home for free, but if the veteran doesn’t own their own land and they have to set up the land with plumbing, electric, etc., then it’s going to be about 50% value of the home. Ramps in any home renovation are 100% charity, so if you need your bathroom remodeled or ramp access for your home, they’ll renovate that for free.

10 years of military service and a lifetime of servitude

In order to do all of the work that John does every single day, there has to be something that drives him, and that drive is fueled by his passion for helping veterans and their families. “Seeing our veterans know that they are appreciated and connected to their community in a way that makes them want to give back, really motivates me to do this job. I see veterans as by and large, they’re the elite of Americans. They not only had the desire, but also the ability to do and to serve, and so when they come home, most often, they feel defeated and in the process in feeling defeated, they don’t know where they belong or how to fit in or how to contribute and that just puts them in a perpetuating cycle of self defeatedness,” said John. Fighting against that perpetuating cycle of self defeatedness is something that really drives him, and when he talks about veterans, you can tell it comes from a place of knowing, not just of observing.

Veterans are people and they have seen things and experienced things most people have not, and when you go from being ranked in the army to seen as someone who can be pushed aside, it cannot be a feeling of love or strength. “Veterans are loving and compassionate people that may have a rough protective exterior, but when approached in a loving manner, can share viable life experiences that can help anybody and can be applicable to any situation, and you know, how you treat people, matters,” John said and he continued with kind words that are filled with an adoration for his veteran community, and we could all learn a lot from him.

“When you put it in a perspective like this, it’s tough to be an overachiever and then suddenly be told ‘you can’t,’ all the time and in every turn, and so when we go out and we help these veterans, and they realize they have value and they want to bring that back to their community, and you see them getting engaged in other charities, creating charities of their own, just being able to make a difference in their community, it means a lot. We as taxpayers have invested millions of dollars into our veterans, why wouldn’t we want that benefit to come back to our community and help make our communities better? And that’s what really drives me each day, like the dozen or so veterans that we have working for Purple Heart Homes, it is a passion for them. One of them was homeless, one of them was in a perpetual state of education - just wanted to go to school, and I asked him if he was ever going to use what he was learning at school and he said, ‘when somebody tells me to,’ and it’s like, well I have a place where you can apply that over here. I plug them in and turn them loose, and by doing that, we have grown by double. They just need to be plugged in and told ‘it’s ok, we want you to apply yourself and what you bring to the table matters,’ and so I think when more business do that, I think our community wins and I think when our veterans know that their neighbors appreciate them and those veterans can start sharing those life experiences, our community wins.”

The need doesn’t go away, it gets bigger

If you would like to be a part of what Purple Heart Homes is doing within our community, there are a lot of ways for you to get involved and start making a difference. There is volunteering happening at their warehouse in Statesville during Covid, but not a lot of project site volunteering, which they hope to get back up and running soon. You can also visit their website and give financial support there, and if you want a little more than just seeing the money leave your account, you can sign up for their monthly recurring giving program, Hearts of Honor, and they will give you updates and even sponsored apparel. Beyond these few things, you can help with project based giving, event participation and giving, and people can even leave their homes! “People have left their homes to Purple Heart Homes in their will and so we get that home and we put a veteran in that home and that's really rewarding in a lot of ways, and really humbling when you’ve never met an individual who’s giving you a $200,000 house that you can go and help a veteran, you know, that’s really really cool.” You can also donate cars, furniture, and clothes by contacting their office to arrange a pickup or a drop off.

John wants you to know that “Purple Heart Homes is a community based organization that is simply trying to share God’s love with people and help them live out their lives in a peaceful and pleasant manner, and that there is a place for everyone to get involved and support as a community, because we can’t do it alone. There’s too much need.” We hope you’ll find a way to help a veteran this holiday season through the mission and passion of Purple Heart Homes.