Veteran Tony Chobanov and volunteers from the Soldier’s Journey Home organization visited the school today in order to meet students and accept the donated $16,000 for his new home that is being built for him.
“The part that I’m most excited about is meeting all the kids that helped raise the money. It’s rewarding. To know that you guys are doing all this stuff for us is a big deal. It’s an honor. I couldn’t have a better reason for going and fighting when I did, for you guys,” Chobanov said.
Throughout the day, Chobanov and Jason Smith, (the 2014 veteran involved in the program) walked around and met with different students. They talked with the choir and athletic teams about staying positive in times of hardship and took questions about their experiences and how they became better people because of them.
“The thing that I do to cope is that I remember that someone always has it worse. I have no legs, but someone out there might have no legs and no arm and they’re out there doing crunches while I’m feeling sorry for myself,” Smith said.
For the first time in three years, the soldier that A Soldier’s Journey Home helps isn’t suffering from a physical injury, but rather mental illnesses that are just as debilitating. Chobanov suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.
“PTSD is really hard to predict, you don’t know what you’re triggers are. We could be sitting here and someone could take a picture and that flash could bring you back to an explosion and you panic and you sweat,” Smith said.
For the past couple of months, students have been working to raise money in order to build a house for this veteran. Different classes and clubs have joined together to raise money in different ways. From photo booths, to raffles, to pushups, everyone pitched in.
“There’s a thousand answers to how much this house will impact our family. The financial aspect is huge. This is gonna be a 180 for us. And then there’s my kids, this is going to be the house that they grow up in. That’s huge,” Chobanov said.
The process of choosing a veteran is very extensive and involves a lot of different pieces, like applications and interviews.
“The thing that struck me most about him, was one of the things that Tony said. The interview was going great and suddenly he got really quiet, “if by chance if Abby and I get this house, would we be taking a house away from a deserving veteran?” And I just thought, oh my god, you are a deserving veteran. There’s a lot going on in your life that we would be able to address,” organization secretary, Chuck Frankiewicz said.
In past years, the houses have been built in order to accommodate the unique families that live inside of them. For example, Jason Smith’s house was built to be accessible to someone who doesn’t have either of his legs. “This house will provide stress relief. That’s major. What you guys have done, for Jason, for Cody, and for Tony, it’s the same thing. The same way your knee can get hurt, your brain might get hurt. You can’t do some of the things that you might be able to do. We’re taking stress off of this family and that’s what matters,” Jim Miks said.
Apart from raising money, different classes used their talents to help with the build in different ways. For example, the architecture classes worked on floor plans, one of which will be used as a legitimate plan for the house. The classes have done this in past years, but this year, they only had a few weeks to get everything together.
“We learned how to make the exterior first and went from there. It was a progressive learning experience. The house is basic in architectural structure, but it’s very good considering how much time we had to work on it,” junior Michael Thomas said.
After we raise money and create plans, a team of volunteers head to the build site, using their vacation days to spend an entire week building the whole house. This year, the plan is to have it built within 9 days.
“I can promise you that the build is a life altering experience. You go into it thinking about that it’s all about this house for this veteran, but you go away knowing that it’s so much more. You can’t duplicate this energy. You gear up for it and you can’t wait for the next year. You can’t be afraid of thinking about what there is to do for you. You will always be a part of it, there’s always something to do,” volunteer, Judy Morgan said.
The organization, A Soldier’s Journey Home, is dedicated to building houses for veterans so that they can feel accepted back into the community. It started when the cofounders met each other building a house for a non veteran after Hurricane Katrina. They went to build for a veteran a few weeks later, and decided that those were the people they were the most passionate about helping. Five years or so later, the organization was born.
“We build incredible houses for severely injured soldiers. We build a house in a week. We build a house based on their needs. We rely heavily on the community. We expect the community to jump in and give us a donation whether it’s labor or money. Last year we had 15 states, 75 people,” organization president Mike Fitzpatrick said.
The organization is based off of the idea that veterans transition back into normal life best if they are instantly wrapped up by the community and supported collectively. The people who donate their time to build are often veterans, fire fighters, or police officers as well.
Despite everything that has happened to both men, they both agree that joining the military was the best decision that they ever made and that their families are huge motivators and supporters, both before and after their service.
Chobanov’s wife, Abbey, came to the school as well, and shared her perspective. “It’s hard. I probably sleep better at night than anyone else in the entire world. Whether it’s someone coming into the house or someone being mean, he’s right there always. He treats me and my children like he treats the men in the army, puts us first. It’s an amazing feeling of protection and for me that’s important,” she said.
Chobanov believes deeply in what he fought for and doesn’t regret the experience at all. He joined in order to protect his family and his country and he succeeded.
“You’re the future, you’re high school kids right now, you should be telling me a good reason for why I fought. You couldn’t be a more prime example of what we fought for,” Chobanov said.
For the past three years, our school has been proud to successfully give back to veterans in anyway possible, and that effort will only continue on in the future.