December 19, 2015 [Jeff Piorkowski, special to cleveland.com]
SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — Mission complete.
That was the cause for celebration Saturday in the gym at St. John’s Lutheran Church where about 120 people gathered to acknowledge the completion of the latest South Euclid Purple Heart Home.
Purple Heart Homes, based in Statesville, N.C., is an organization formed by two military veterans that gathers volunteers and supplies from donors to rehabilitate homes so that disabled veterans can live in them.
In South Euclid, there are two such homes, making it the only city in the country to have more than one. In fact, a third such home, at 1180 Piermont Road, is already being planned.
“This is an event to mark the completion of our second house, and we’re excited to start our third,” said PHH Director of Real Estate Howard Goldberg.
The man who will live in the second house, at 4121 Harwood Road, is Corp. Leo Robinson, originally from Elyria. While serving overseas as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, Robinson sustained traumatic brain injuries and other physical ailments.
While PHH will modify homes for its occupants’ special needs, Robinson’s home didn’t need such modifications.
Work started on Robinson’s home in spring, 2014, when a crew of Notre Dame College football players help gut the home’s interior. The house, like the first PHH home in South Euclid, 1171 Avondale Road, and the third, were troubled homes donated to the project by the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.
“The house is very special to me because I got to help design it,” Robinson said. “I got to pick out the counter tops, the cabinets, the flooring, so it’s very special to me.”
As for those who turned out for Saturday’s event, which included volunteers, members of trade unions who lent their skills, veterans and residents, Robinson said, “It means a lot to me that everyone came out, especially in this (snowy) weather. They didn’t have to be approached to come, they wanted to.”
Robinson expects to move into the house in a couple of weeks with his girlfriend, Tabatha, and his service dog, Kota.
“He deserves this,” Tabatha said of Robinson’s new home.
Robinson will pay a mortgage equal to 50 percent of the home’s appraised value.
“It warms my heart to see the community supporting a veteran,” said John Gallina, a veteran and Purple Heart recipient who co-founded PHH in 2008 with disabled veteran Dale Beatty. “It’s the people in the community that make the difference.”
PHH Board Chairman Garrett Garland, originally from Rocky River, said the organization is continually growing.
“We started with one wheelchair ramp at a veteran’s home in North Carolina,” Garland said. “In our third year, we set a goal of doing five house builds.”
That goal was accomplished, and the South Euclid home marks PHH’s 99th across the country.
“My goal now is to have 100 chapters started in the next 5-10 years,” Garland said.
One of those chapters already in the works, he said, is being established in Greater Cleveland.
During her remarks, Mayor Georgine Welo told of how former South Euclid service director Ed Gallagher, a Vietnam veteran, read an article four years ago about Purple Heart Homes and came to her with the idea of establishing a home in the city.
“It’s heartwarming to me that we have a city that really cares about people,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to have three homes because of the city of South Euclid and its administration, as well as the Land Bank.”
Goldberg said he is now looking forward to the third house build.
“We need supplies, donors, or people who just can supply food for the volunteers working on the house,” Goldberg said. “Anyone who wants to help can call me.”
Goldberg’s phone number is 216-313-3032.