Inside amazing ‘smart’ home built for NJ Marine who lost legs in bomb attack
This is such a great Fourth of July story even if the presentation took place just after Memorial Day.
It's the story of vets helping vets and those who wouldn't take no for an answer.
It's the story of how Marine Sgt. Aaron Alonzo, a double amputee veteran who grew up in Jefferson and who lost both of his legs due to an IED in Afghanistan in 2014, received a new "smart" home given to him as a gift, free and clear.
Scroll down to see photos of this amazing home.
Here's the story of how that home got built thanks to the Tunnel To Towers Foundation and the help of retired Lt. Col. Robert Vicci of vetRest, who told me the story on New Jersey 101.5 later wrote me this email.
I am compelled to write this story as the CEO of VetREST.org about some great people who often go unrecognized for the work they do. I feel it is my duty to bring this story of happiness, dedication, loyalty, and giving to help one of our Veterans and his family live a better life, due to the sacrifices he and his family have made serving in our military.
First, some background: The T2T Mission: The Tunnel to Towers Foundation honors the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller who laid down his life to save others on September 11, 2001. We also honor our military and first responders who continue to make the supreme sacrifice of life and limb for our country. www.T2T.org.
The T2T organization in my mind is one of the finest when it comes to helping our veterans and first responders. I am only summarizing my personal experience, so please forgive me if I leave out details.
Basically, the organization identified Marine Sgt. Aaron Alonso, a double amputee veteran who was in Walter Reed Hospital, who lost both of his legs due to an IED in Afghanistan in 2014 to receive a new home. He was 25 years old at the time, and he deployed one week after his wife gave birth to their daughter. He had less than a 1% chance of survival, but this brave, strong man beat all the odds.
On May 27, 2021, the T2T Organization gifted Alonso with a fully functional, brand new “smart home” for the sacrifice he made for our great nation.
In late 2018, I was a broker-salesperson for Keller Williams in northern NJ when I received a call from a dear friend of mine, and Combat Brother John Koch, a retired 1st sergeant and a project manager at the Tunnel to Towers Foundation in NY and he had a special mission for us to complete. T2T had identified SGT Alonso to become the next NJ recipient to receive a “smart home” for his dedication and commitment to our nation, sacrificing himself for our freedoms. He wanted to live in northern NJ, so our mission was to find a suitable lot for the organization to purchase, and then build his new fully adaptive home.
We donned our winter gear and searched most of north NJ for a suitable lot. We toured at least 25 lots, braving snow, rain, ice, and the elements, but this was a small sacrifice based on the mission at hand. Finally, one day in late December, we found “home”. We brought Aaron to the lot in Hampton Township and he said that he used to hunt on the property right across the street as a kid, so this would be perfect for him and his family. Now we were off to the races and began the purchase process for this site. It is quite an extensive process purchasing property in NJ, but we got it done in late March 2019.
Our VetREST mission was complete, or so I thought. A few weeks later, Top called and me and asked if I could recommend a home builder, as they were having some challenges finding one to build the new home. Without hesitation, I told him VetREST would build the home. I heard nothing but “silence” on the other end of the phone and re-assured him that I would take the lead and build this home. He doubted me, but only for a moment.
I reached out to my dear friends Henry and John DiGirolamo (father and son, 5th generation builders) of HJD Construction, and told them (I did not ask) that we were going to build this home for Alonso. They had not built any homes but have built over 50 buildings in NJ, predominantly in Raritan Center. When I was with my family firm, Hull-Vicci Construction, we build several large homes throughout the years for investment purposes, even though we were and still are a mid-sized GC firm. So, we agreed that we would accomplish this mission together.
Koch sent us the plans and we got busy. Building a home is an art form in itself, but now try accomplishing that same task with over ½ of the items being donated through the charity. It took us quite a bit to figure this entire process out, but we did it. We brought on a stellar sub-contractor team consisting of Big Top Construction for all the earth work, septic system, and water well, McCormack Electric, which had never built a home before, but Ryan was up to the challenge, and Lanzara Plumbing. The T2T Team provided the HVAC contractor through Home Depot and several other vendors critical to the completion of this smart home. I apologize for not listing them all.
The folks at the Township of Hampton went above and beyond the call of duty to help us expedite the process, and all permits and inspections were completed surgically and with ease. Many donors participated in the project through the leadership at T2T, and we are grateful for all their input and donations. This home is truly magnificent, and I personally wanted to thank everyone for their involvement, especially Henry and John, for overcoming the many obstacles placed before them, and building this wonderful home for a deserving American Soldier.
Please accept my thanks to everyone who participated in this special project. It was truly a blessing for me to be a part of this magical event. God Bless SGT Alonso and his family, the Team at T2T, HJD Construction, and all those who helped bring this to fruition. God Bless America.