Birdies for the Brave raises funds for more vets’ homes
by Kim Gibson
Jon Roberts was born in the Philippines. His missionary parents, Steve and Heidi Roberts, would stay there four to five years at a time, so Jon essentially grew up there. He enjoyed the many different cultures he encountered on the Southeast Asian island country.
Roberts loved trying new things as he grew up. In high school, he learned to Scuba dive. He also developed a passion for motorcycles, even learning some trick riding. When he was old enough, he decided to enlist in the Army.
“I needed something to do, and I didn’t see myself sitting at a desk and working all my life on a computer. I would have gone crazy,” he explained.
As a member of the U.S. Army’s Airborne Division, he learned to parachute from airplanes, and in 2005, he went to Iraq – and his life changed forever.
In August 2005, eight months after arriving in Iraq, Roberts was ordered to pick up an officer at Baghdad Airport. It was night and, according to Steve Roberts, the road was not marked or illuminated. An oncoming 18-wheeler drifted over what would have been the center line, and the truck collided with Jon Roberts’ military vehicle.
Roberts suffered two separate brain injuries, according to his father. The collision actually shook his brain within his skull, and separately, debris penetrated his skull and brain. After emergency surgery, Roberts was eventually transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and then a hospital in Richmond, Va.
Steve and Heidi Roberts left the Philippines to come to their son’s side. But their son showed very little response, and doctors gave them little hope. During Christmas 2005, four months after the accident, their son still hadn’t come back to them.
Then in January, some of the hospital personnel working with Jon Roberts noticed he was pointing at letters on charts. They got him an augmentative-and-alternative-communication keyboard, and suddenly he was communicating once again. Today, he still calls the machine his “typer.”
Roberts came to Waxhaw to live with his parents and his aunt, who is a physical therapist, on land adjacent to his maternal grandparents’ house. His grandparents donated land so the Roberts family could begin building a new home.
Around that time, someone e-mailed Steve Roberts with information about Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit foundation that builds adapted homes for severely injured veterans at no cost.
The Roberts applied, and months later, Homes for Our Troops said yes. In that time, the family already had cleared the land. So the home building began quickly.
Jon Roberts, now 27, has no memory of the crash that changed his life. He is grateful for the house built around his needs, though. The hallways and doorways are wide, and there are no raised thresholds in the doors. The wrap-around porch is flat to allow him access to most anywhere.
Workers installed a specially designed bathroom and a wheelchair-accessible, automatic door opener that helps him go to the garage.
“It (the house) was a real blessing,” Steve Roberts said. “The financial freedom allowed us to do other things for Jon, like the driveway.”
The driveway is a 1,600-foot paved path that allows Jon Roberts to visit his aunt or grandparents in his wheelchair.
Since 2005, Homes for Our Troops has built more than 60 new homes and renovated several more, according to Executive Director Dawn Teixeira. The Massachusetts-based foundation expects to build its 100th home in mid 2011.
“We are planning the next 100 Homes for Our Troops with our fundraising campaign named just that: ‘The Next 100…Homes for Our Troops,’” Teixeira said. “We hope to raise $40 million over the next three years to build our next 100 specially adapted homes.”
Teixeira encourages people to visit the foundation’s website, www.homesforourtroops.org, to lean more.
In Charlotte, people can support the foundation and five other nonprofit, veterans’ outreach organizations by participating in the Nov. 3 Birdies for the Brave Tournament & Auction at TPC Piper Glen country club. Sponsored by PGA Tour Charities, Birdies for the Brave fundraising tournaments are held throughout the country.
Currently, Homes for Our Troops has more than 30 home-builds in progress, and more requests for assistance arrive weekly.
Nowadays, Jon Roberts looks forward to weekly trips to the gym and the massages afterward. He also goes to Mephibosheth Farms, a nonprofit therapeutic horseback riding facility in Union County that specializes in helping people with disabilities ride horses.
“Before the accident, I really liked riding motorcycles,” Jon Roberts said through his “typer.” “It reminds me of that, and, plus, you can make friends with horses.”
He hasn’t given up motorcycles, however. Once a week, a friend from his church who owns a Gold Wing motorcycle takes Roberts for a ride in his sidecar.
He also hasn’t given up on walking. A set of parallel bars sits right outside Roberts’ bedroom. He can pull himself up and take steps using the bars. The concentration and strength of will shows on Roberts’ face.
With everything else the house has to offer, the young veteran seemed most anxious to show a visitor the American flag displayed from his porch.
You can’t miss the pride in his eyes as he points to the flag.
Birdies for the Brave supports nation’s heroes
On Nov. 3, TPC Piper Glen will host the 2010 Birdies for the Brave Tournament & Auction, part of a national network of the PGA Tour Charities tournaments that raise money to support six, nonprofit military outreach organizations. In a variety of ways, those organizations help wounded and disabled soldiers or the families of soldiers killed while serving their country. Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group is a media sponsor of the upcoming charity tournament. This is the second in a series of articles about the work of those nonprofit, outreach organizations. Participation and sponsorships for the tournament remain open. Find more information at the TPC Piper Glen website, www.tpcpiperglen.com (click on Birdies for the Brave, at the left of the page). Or call 704-846-1212 x235 or e-mail email@example.com.