In 2004, Marine Staff Sergeant Vincent Gizzarelli’s life changed. During his second tour of duty in Iraq, Vince’s anti-armament platoon was called out to assist a rifle squadron that had been engaged in combat. While in transit, an IED went off about 20 feet away from his HumVee. “I saw an orange flash; then everything went black,” Vince recalls of the night that would eventually end his military career.
Diagnosed with severe brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder, Vince, a recipient of two Purple Hearts, was medically discharged from the Marines and was left wondering, “Now what?”
Unable to focus and suffering from massive headaches, his ongoing injuries made normal daily tasks difficult and put a great deal of stress on him and his wife, Jamie. It also made it difficult to make ends meet.
Though his brain suffered immense trauma and his family’s future was uncertain, Vince still had the heart of a lion. Despite the day-to-day challenges he faced, he and Jamie took in three young brothers—all under age five—who were in an abusive home and faced separation in the foster care system. Vince couldn’t allow the boys to be split up, and after months of caring for them, filed for full custody, which was granted in fall 2011. Suddenly, the home he shared with his wife and their two teenagers wasn’t adequate, but they didn’t have the means to remedy the situation.
In 2012, Vince’s life changed again, this time for the better. The members of the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Building Systems Councils (BSC), with the help of the philanthropic organization Operation: Finally Home, wanted to thank Vince for his service and sacrifice. They wanted to give the Gizzarellis a home—a log home—in his hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina, near the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps base.
“It was an incredible story,” says Dan Wallrath, Operation Finally Home’s founder. “Even with all the pressures and economic challenges Vince faced, they stepped up and adopted these three boys.”
The BSC (which encompasses the Log Homes Council) went into full swing, led by two of its most gregarious and generous members. Nicole Robinson not only acted as the project manager, her company, Log Homes of America, donated the 6×12 Eastern white pine log shell; and Roger Nelson of Andersen Windows was instrumental in securing product and financial donations for the home, including all the windows from his own company. In all, nearly 75 companies (including Log Home Council members Expedition Log Homes, Hearthstone Inc., Honest Abe Log Homes, Moosehead Cedar Log Homes, and Kuhns Bros. Log Homes) donated materials. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised to offset costs for items that weren’t contributed.
Working with donations has its challenges. Though the group appreciated every gift it received, often there aren’t as many options as there would be if you were buying the materials outright. But the generosity of all those involved knew no bounds, and the home couldn’t have come together more beautifully.
“All the materials worked together so perfectly,” says Nicole. “From the Ply-Gem stone on the foundation and the fireplace, to the rich Merillat cabinetry, to the Mohawk hardwood and tile flooring—it was seamless.”
The nature of Vince’s injuries didn’t require special architectural considerations or universal design techniques, which gave the team flexibility. The two-story home features all the amenities you’d come to find in a modern log home, including an open floorplan with spacious island kitchen and living/dining area, a mud/craft room, powder room, and a master suite on the first level, and four bedrooms, two baths, and a loft on the second. A “man cave” was thoughtfully designed in the bonus area above the garage and features a separate exterior entrance. Since moving-in day in April 2011, Vince has turned the man cave into a home theater, and though he jokes that he’s got a “no girls allowed” policy, he and Jamie have been known to hang out there with a good movie. However, Jamie’s favorite spot is the kitchen. “It is so awesome. There’s a place for everything,” she says.
The kids are enjoying having a place to call their own, too. Though she’s currently enrolled at West Virginia University, the eldest (and only daughter), Chotta, has her own feminine bedroom suite with private dressing area and vanity sink. Brother Jonathan is across the hall in his treasured Penn State room, which is decked out in navy and white stripes and the Nittany Lion crest. And the newest additions to the Gizzarelli family, Alyjhia and Xavier, share a bunk room, while T.J., the baby of the family, has a comfy room to call his own.
“That’s the thing about this house,” explains Vince. “It’s so comfortable. Everyone has their own space but we’re all still together. And the indoor climate is so nice and neutral. We get some hot summers here in Jacksonville. It doesn’t take much to cool this house down.”
As Nicole was drawing up the plans for the 3,000-square-foot house, she consulted Vince and Jamie on the design and asked them for their preferred color scheme, but for the most part the finished and completely furnished home was a total surprise when they walked through the door for the first time. So how do they feel about the house that was built for them? “We are just so content and happy,” says Vince. “The whole experience was amazing. We’re so grateful.”
“It’s so hard to get used to saying this is ‘our home,’” Jamie confides. “It doesn’t seem possible.”
“But this house wasn’t a gift,” according to Operation Finally Home Executive Director Daniel Vargas. “Vince paid for this house on the battlefield. We owe Vince and our military everything. Giving him a home was the least we could do.”
Special thanks to Operation Finally Home, the members of NAHB’s Building Systems Councils, and generous donors and benefactors for making this home possible.