Veteran Site Opening March 7, 2015

By Greg Adomaitis | South Jersey Times 
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on March 07, 2015 at 5:00 PM, updated March 07, 2015 at 6:49 PM

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On Saturday morning, U.S. Army veteran Andrew McDonald, his wife Amber, 21, and their soon-to-be 1-year-old child saw just how many people have their backs as their new home in Clayton — thanks to Gloucester County Habitat for Humanity’s “Veterans Build” — began to take shape.CLAYTON — If it takes a village to raise a child, Audrey Rose is going to be in good hands.

“We hope to be in by Christmas,” said Andrew McDonald, 24, who served in eastern Afghanistan in 2011 and had been staying in Swedesboro with his mother, who saw an article in the newspaper calling for applicants.

Standing inside the 8th Street home that’s now just a wooden frame with plywood walls, McDonald and family from both his side and his spouse’s noted how hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” is part of the deal to receive the house — so is getting a mortgage and purchasing the 1,300-square-foot house at cost.

“As soon as we sent in (an application), we got a call to send in more paperwork,” Amber McDonald said of the approval process. “We can’t wait to be a part of Clayton,” she later added.

As part of Habitat for Humanity’s national initiative to provide housing solutions and volunteer and employment opportunities to veterans, military service members and their families, Gloucester County Habitat for Humanity (GCHFH) approved the McDonald clan as a post-9/11 veteran partner family for the Veterans Build program. 

Of the hundreds of man hours the couple must contribute toward building their new home, family members are also allowed to get in on the action.

“He deserves everything he’s getting,” said Andrew’s father, Doug McDonald, a Lower Alloways Creek resident.

Amber’s mom, Kimberly Brown, of Monroeville, said she’s been volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity store in Pitman. She’s also got construction experience, is interested in urban homesteading as well as organic gardening, all of which she hopes to contribute during construction and toward making this house a home.

“This is our first Veterans Build but it won’t be our last,” Habitat Executive Director Tony Isabella told the 50 people from various organizations present Saturday. Prior to construction, the land had been an empty lot.

Among those who had a hand in the project were Mantua Home Depot members, local banks, businesses and, of all things, Boston College students on their spring break.

Kevin Miranda, a junior at the school, explained that Appalachian Volunteers is an extracurricular community service construction program that partners with Habitat for Humanity.

On the Clayton project, he and fellow students helped with raising the walls, framing and other structural jobs and has hung drywall at other properties.

“We all learn something new,” Miranda said of the program, adding it’s a lot of on-the-job training when at a work site.

Although this was the Gloucester County organization’s first build for a veteran, the effort was dubbed “Charlie Mike” — military code for “Continue Mission.”

Veterans risk life and limb to ensure our way of life, their spouses endure career interruptions among other bumps in the road and their children face an uncertain future if mom or dad doesn’t return from their tour of duty, said Daniel Sulpizio, Habitat board president.

“Our debt to our veteran heroes cannot be repaid,” he added.

The borough was just as proud to see new residents move in and become part of the neighborhood.

“On behalf of the borough of Clayton, it’s an honor to have Andrew, Amber and Audrey Rose move into our community,” said Mayor Tom Bianco.

Greg Adomaitis may be reached at gadomaitis@southjerseymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregAdomaitis. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.