Christmas came a little early this year for retired Marine Cpl. Garrett Jones and his family.
The Jones’ future smart home buzzed with activity on Thursday morning as dozens of volunteers from Home Depot started construction on an accessible backyard for the family.
Some of the volunteers got to work assembling a playground for the three Jones children-Hudson, 5, Halle, 3, and Kate, 1-while others slogged through the mud to lay bricks for a new patio, which will feature a built-in fire pit and benches.
Team Depot Captain Victor Scalercio said Home Depot would be hard-pressed to find a more deserving family.
Jones lost his left leg while serving in Iraq in 2007. Despite his injuries, he deployed to Afghanistan with his fellow Marines less than a year later.
Scalercio said veterans are central to the store community, since more than 35,000 of the company’s associates have served in the military. Over the past five years, Team Depot, the company’s employee-led volunteer force, has transformed more than 26,700 homes for veterans across the country.
“Everyone you see here today is a volunteer-they are here on their own time,” Scalercio said. “We take the skills and knowledge out of the store aisles and put them in the community.”
Giving back to veterans reflects the company’s core values, he explained. Since joining the company three years ago, he has been humbled to see the eagerness with which the volunteers dedicate their time to support their communities. This is the fifth project he has worked on with Team Depot this year.
“I’m as excited today to come to work as I was when I first joined the company three years ago,” Scalercio said. “I found my home.”
As the volunteers enjoyed coffee and doughnuts, Jones took the opportunity to thank Team Depot for their support.
“It is the holiday season, and you don’t have to be here,” Jones said. “You could be with your families or somewhere else, but instead you are here, adding to the beauty of this house. I am truly speechless.”
A story of sacrifice
Jones’ journey of service and sacrifice began on 9/11.
As he sat glued to the television screen watching the tragic events of the day unfold, he felt compelled to do something. Later, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, he would watch the news and see the stories of young men and women leaving their homes to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He knew he needed to join them.
“Frankly, I wanted to enlist immediately after 9/11, but I was too young,” Jones explained.
In 2005, Jones joined the Marines and, two years later, he deployed to Iraq. On July 23, 2007, he was on foot patrol when an improvised explosive device detonated under him. In addition to losing his left leg, he lost both eardrums, suffered a serious concussion, and was left with severe shrapnel wounds throughout his body.
“In many ways, I was fortunate,” Jones said. “It’s by the grace of God I’m still here. If I had been a foot behind or in front of the IED, I would have been mowed down, but I went straight up with the explosion.”
Jones’ journey didn’t end there. After months of painful rehabilitation and multiple surgeries, he deployed to Afghanistan in April 2008 as an intelligence analyst and hospital liaison. His doctors told him that he is the first above-the-knee amputee to deploy less than a year after his injury.
“Had I not been injured, I would have been deploying at that time,” Jones said. “I wanted to be there with my guys.”
Jones explained that, at the time, it was unheard of for a wounded or injured warrior to return to active duty. The commandant himself had to cut his orders. Since then, Jones has helped other wounded and injured warriors advocate for themselves.
“You might think that the greatest challenges since being home are the physical ones,” Jones said. “But the greatest lesson for me has been learning how to advocate for myself and others. Today, you’ll see more wounded and injured warriors are returning to active duty, but that wasn’t the case when I was injured. I was an anomaly.”
Before Jones started looking to build a home, he was building a family.
He and his wife, Allison, met as children growing up in Oregon. Although they were friends, they didn’t start dating until he returned from overseas and was recovering from his injury. When visiting at home for the holidays several years ago, he bumped into a handicap sign while his wife-to-be and her mother were walking into a restaurant. They started talking and swapped numbers, setting their budding romance into motion.
They now live in Stafford with their three children and service dog. They own their own school, Chiquitin Chiquitan, which offers Spanish immersion programs for preschool children.
However, their current house is not suited to Jones’ unique needs and creates many potential dangers.
After several years of unsuccessful attempts to build a handicap-accessible home on their own, the Gary Sinise Foundation swooped in to build the family a custom smart home designed to meet their needs.
Jones will be able to control everything-lighting, heating, audio and entertainment systems, security systems and the doorbell, among many other things-from his wheelchair using an iPad.
The home includes beautiful custom features throughout including reclaimed hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, custom lighting and wide hallways that can accommodate a wheelchair. The American Flag artwork hanging above the mantle was crafted from wood from the house.
“The Gary Sinise Foundation calls it a forever home and when you walk through the house you see why,” Jones said. “The custom touches throughout the house make it a dream house-it is stunning.”
Jones said the needs of each wounded and injured warrior returning home are unique. Many are constrained to a wheelchair and don’t have use of their arms or legs-or both. In those cases, the organization will place the microwave at an accessible level, put in retractable cabinets and other features that restore independence to the individual.
“Everyone’s needs are so different,” Jones said. “The Gary Sinise Foundation is not constrained by rules-it’s not how they operate. They do what it takes to get a project done, making sure no corners are cut, and always going the extra mile.”
The Jones’ home is scheduled to be finished in mid-January.
“The dedication is on Jan. 19,” Jones said. “I keep saying my Christmas is that day.”