DUNCANSVILLE — After eight months of hard work by supporters and businesses in Blair County and beyond, the family of a disabled veteran in Duncansville were “welcomed home” Monday.
“It has definitely been overwhelming,” said Jeffrey Campbell, who served in the Navy as a nuclear electrician aboard the USS George Washington in support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during the attack on the USS Cole and was harbored in New York City just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Campbell, and half of those in his unit, now are afflicted with a debilitating form of multiple sclerosis, which has kept him confined to a wheelchair, although recent experimental therapy has improved his condition and there are days when he can walk with a cane.
Campbell, his wife, Aimee, and their five children have until now been living in an 800 square-foot trailer, making it practically impossible for Campbell to maneuver around the house and help out with all those things dads like to do.
“My dad’s always helping out with stuff, and it really makes it hard when you don’t have an area to move around in,” his oldest son, Ben Campbell, told the small crowd who turned out Monday morning to welcome the family to their new 2,800 square-foot home on Fox Hollow Lane in Duncansville. “He needs a wheelchair sometimes, and he can’t get around. And this home is supposed to help, help my dad and help us be a family and help him be a dad and help out with everything.”
Through the organization Helping A Hero, the Pennsylvania chapter raised money and sought local builders and suppliers to build the Campbells a new home — one that has an open floor plan, wider doors and hallways, and a bathroom and kitchen designed to give Jeffrey Campbell access to the shower and sinks with his wheelchair, and a host of other amenities adapted to the disabled veteran’s life.
On Monday, the community and supporters turned out to turn over the keys to the Campbell family. The home isn’t free; it comes with a small mortgage, as well as a commitment to stay in the home for 10 years. A Hollidaysburg native, Campbell indicated they are looking at this as their new home for a long time.
Country music legend John Michael Montgomery drove from Kentucky to sing a few songs, including one of his most well-known hits, “Letters From Home,” and turned the keys over to Jeffrey Campbell.
“Congratulations. That’s an awesome place you’ve got right here,” Montgomery told Campbell as he handed over the keys.
General Contractor Joe Crossman said when he was approached about the project, he was confident the people in the community would step up and help.
“I consider it an honor to be a part of what I predicted to be a real outreach from a lot of guys that I work with,” Crossman said. “I’ve said for years we’re surrounded by a lot of good people, and it just really takes some leadership to pull it all together and make some great things happen.”
Crossman said the highlight of building the home was meeting and getting to know the Campbell family.
“As far as myself, our company, we’re pawns in a bigger scheme — a big picture of a lot of really good people who have done a lot of good things helping out a really good family,” he said.
Helping A Hero started as a Rotary project in Meredith Iler’s hometown of Houston and since 2006 has built 100 homes in 22 states. The Campbell home was made a reality through the Mechanicsburg and Carlisle Rotary clubs, which have built two previous homes in central Pennsylvania for veterans, with Altoona Rotarians helping with the latest house in Duncansville.
It was made possible through the Foundation for Enhancing Communities Foundation, which donated $200,000 to Helping A Hero for the construction for the house. Helping A Hero Pa. includes Rotarians from Mechanicsburg and Carlisle who, through their annual golf tournament over the past years, have raised more than $325,000 to help build these adapted homes for disabled veterans. The first in Pennsylvania was in 2013 in Harrisburg.
Iler said when ground was broken last year, Window World was first to step forward to say they wanted to donate the windows, a nearly $10,000 contribution. Mastic siding was donated by Ply Gem and help poured in from a long list of companies, including Fiore Tru-Value and Home Depot.
Jeffrey Campbell said he also wanted to thank 3-D Plumbing and Heating, 84 Lumber, Allegheny Glass and Mirror, Altoona Pipe & Steel, APR Supply, A. Rossi Painting, AQ Masonry, BC Stone, Brent Cogan Electrical Services, Brush Mountain Construction, GP Cabinets, Grannas Brothers, The Hite Co., Icon Signs, The Tommy Irwin Family, Ken Wertz Septic, Kohl Building Products, LB Water Service, Lowes, Maplebrook Nursery, Mike Ventre, Mingle Contracting, New Enterprise, Seymore Brothers, Stormy Ridge Construction and Zooks Masonry for their generous contributions. Dickey’s Barbecue Pit contributed lunch at the event Monday, as well.
“All those from the community who have supported us, we’re very grateful for that,” Campbell said. He thanked the Rotary Clubs who made it all possible and said Montgomery’s presence “made an already special day that much more memorable.”
Montgomery said later he made the trip because he knows this country owes a lot to people like Jeffrey Campbell.” The reason we can do anything, the reason I can be a singer, is because of guys like Jeff in the military,” Montgomery said. Montgomery said after 25 years on the road, when he gets invited to these events he feels blessed to be able to take part. “This gives me goosebumps,” he said.
“This is a beautiful home,” said Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., who along with Rep. Judy Ward, turned out to welcome the Campbells. “It’s a great family, a deserving family. Somebody who sacrificed greatly and who will continue to sacrifice.
“As the son of disabled American vet, I can tell you that there’s trials and tribulations for many years with people who have the effect of something that caused them issues when they fought for out country,” Eichelberger said. “This family’s gone through a lot and they will continue to go through a lot, but this will be a big benefit to them.”
Henry T. Fownes of Altoona grew up with Campbell and said there isn’t a more deserving guy.
“He’s just always been a great guy and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him,” Fownes said. “The private and public support for this project is really amazing.”
For more information on Helping A Hero, visit the organization’s website at www.helpingahero.org.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.