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Corporal Paul Schaus; photos courtesy of Homes for Our Troops

In June 2009, during his third tour, Corporal Paul Schaus and his squad were on foot patrol in Afghanistan when they came under insurgent fire. Schaus stepped on a landmine and was airlifted to a medical facility in Germany, where he lost both legs and his left ring finger. After considerable time recovering, first at Bethesda Naval Medical Center and then at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, twenty-four-year-old Schaus was fitted for prosthetics and returned to the area about a year and a half ago to an outpouring of community support. This past December, that support meant a new home.

Schaus’s new North Tonawanda home was funded by Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that has provided more than 110 homes to severely injured veterans nationwide since 2004, all completely free of charge. Schaus’s home is the first WNY build, and this year, the organization has plans to construct thirty-four more homes across the country and is already looking ahead for 2014.

Since returning to Western New York, Schaus had been living with his mother in a two-story home with stairs and doorways that made it difficult for him to move about. His new ranch house, like all houses constructed by Homes for Our Troops, is completely handicapped accessible and was designed specifically to help Schaus regain the independence he lost with his injury.
Starting outside, there are no steps to the front door, and the garage, too, has an incline to the door, which allows Schaus to move safely from car to house in his wheelchair. Inside, the four-bedroom, two-bath home features elegant hardwood flooring (instead of carpeting), wider doorways, and automatic door openers, all to help Schaus move from room to room in his wheelchair. Everything is on one level, including the water heater and electrical panel, which are in a utility closet off the garage.

In the kitchen, roll-under countertops sit low and allow Schaus to more easily prep meals, access the sink, and use the stovetop. Several upper cabinets include pull-down shelving that he can reach from his chair. Opposite the kitchen, natural light pours in from two large windows in the living room.

“This house definitely makes me more independent because it’s all one floor,” Schaus says. “I can get to my washer and dryer really easily and cook on the stove real easy because I can slide under there with my wheelchair. It helps out a lot.”

The master bathroom also includes roll-under sinks, with two mirrors slightly tilted downward. “There is a big, wide roll-in shower with handles that are accessible from the bench, so that Paul can go in on his wheelchair and transfer onto the bench,” Homes for Our Troops executive director Dawn Teixeira explains. “There is also a wide surround on the tub, so he can transfer safely from the wheelchair to that deck and into the bathtub.”

Other special features include a security system with four cameras mounted outside, as well as a top-notch HVAC system, the controls for which sit low on the wall.  “The climate control is very important because amputees have a hard time regulating their own body heat,” Teixeira says. “It’s not just a luxury.”

According to Teixeira, Homes for Our Troops receives some corporate sponsorship, but about seventy percent of its funding comes from private donations. Case in point: North Tonawanda resident Mike Wachowicz donated the plot for Schaus’s home, and it was constructed by about 200 volunteers led by Schaus’s cousin, Frank Grandinetti of Grand Jude Plumbing. Schaus, a Kenmore West High School graduate, was involved in the design process from the start, choosing a floor plan, paint colors, finishes, and other details.

Construction began on July 27 and took about five months, with many volunteers arriving from their nine-to-five jobs to work into the night on the project.  “It’s an honor,” Grandinetti says of working on the home. “These kids join when they’re seventeen years old and go over [to Iraq and Afghanistan]. Paul did three tours and lost his legs, and I felt that we had to do something for him.”

In December, a crowd of hundreds—including Schaus’s large extended family, friends, and new neighbors—welcomed him into his new home. The street was lined with veterans proudly waving the stars and stripes, and signs representing local companies that had donated resources to the project filled the front lawn, where an American flag flies proudly, a fitting symbol for this veteran’s bravery and his bright, independent future.

“It’s a little overwhelming and surreal,” says Schaus, standing in his new kitchen. “It feels really good deep down that all of these people came to help me out. It’s just nice to see the community come together.” 
 

 

Matthew Biddle is assistant editor of Western New York Heritage magazine and a frequent Spree contributor.

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