Winners all around: Fundraiser changes lives

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, June 12, 201

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Saturday night the lives of five veterans were changed forever.

They were told they were coming to the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge in Decatur to celebrate Military Appreciation Night – but to their surprise, they were each presented the keys to a newly-remodeled home.

WC Challenger Charities raised $100,000 to purchase five foreclosed homes through the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

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HEART-STOPPING ACTION – Wendell Berry Jr. and local veterans ran the final one-tenth of a mile of his 1,000 Miles ‘Til Home campaign in the arena Saturday night. The campaign raised awareness and money to purchase homes for wounded war veterans. Messenger photo by Cody Duty

Veteran Lee Sage, who grew up in Duncanville, received a three-bedroom home in Crowley and was still speechless Tuesday.

“It was unexpected,” he said. “But it means security. I’ll never have to worry about where I’ll be living and knowing I’ll have a roof over my head.”

Sage went to look at the home Monday.

“It’s got a big garden bathtub and a walk-in shower,” he said. “The first thing I’ll do is figure out what that bathtub is all about. I’ve never been in one of those.”

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SHAKE AND A SMILE – Wendell Berry Jr. shakes the hand of one of five wounded war veterans that were given mortgage free homes Saturday night. Messenger photo by Cody Duty

Other veterans receiving homes are Raymond Queen from McKinney, who will get a house in Garland; Don Cartwright of Wharton, who will receive a home in Canyon Lake; Hector Caceres, who grew up in Maryland and Texas and will receive a home in Terrell; and Felix Perez, Jr. who grew up in Mission and will receive a home in Mercedes.

As an additional surprise, each of these veterans was also given a $60,000-per-year job offer.

Retired Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, CEO of the foundation, said the jobs are related to cell phone towers, and the veterans could start work within 30 days.

“One of the guys was more excited about the job than the house,” said Sisco. “You can’t describe what it’s like to see their lives change before your eyes.”

Caceres posted on Facebook that his experience Saturday was a blessing.

“God, you are amazing. No matter what I have been through,” he wrote. “I remember that night in Iraq when I was on the ground bleeding out … You saved me, Lord, and gave me a future. I met my wife and had kids!

“And now you bless me with this Saturday. All I can say is, ‘Wow, you are amazing!’ Thank you …”

The foreclosed homes were purchased by MWSF from Chase Bank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo with money raised by WC Challenger Charities. The homes are remodeled to like-new condition before being presented to the veterans. Although the families will move into their homes immediately, they are required to complete a three-year mentoring program to learn how to be a homeowner and build other life skills.

The combined value of the homes and job offers presented to the veterans totaled $1.5 million, the largest single donation ever made in the 20-year history of the PBR.

“You just can’t say thank you enough for that,” Sisco said Tuesday. “I was blown away by the hearts of the people there.”

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