LINCOLN, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — On Sunday night, Army veteran Scott Jackson laid his head to rest inside a new home. For the first time in recent memory, he wouldn’t have to worry about where he’d sleep again.
Facing a steep pile of medical bills and housing insecurity, Jackson eventually agreed to let his daughter help him apply for help.
“At first, I didn’t want any part of it really. I flat out rejected it,” he said.
He said he and other veterans who are reluctant to accept help “just always think there’s other people more worthy than we are.”
His family, friends, and new neighbors would soon prove him wrong.
In a span of seven days, the nonprofit ‘2x4s For Hope’ joined forces with the Central Illinois Veterans Commission to recruit volunteers, pour concrete, frame studs, hang drywall, install appliances, and put a roof over a new ‘Tiny Home.’
Gene Hassebrock, a 77-year-old farmer from Beason, drove into Lincoln to offer a helping hand.
“I started when they put the concrete down. And that’s all I volunteered for,” he said, choking up with tears. “And then I got interested and stayed with it.”
Hassebrock served in the Army in 1965 and felt an obligation to look out for other veterans.
“They need help,” he said, “and I think we ought to support them.”
Mike Lawrence, the 28-year veteran builder who cofounded ‘2x4s For Hope,’ said the floor plan and building materials were all part of a “sustainable solution.” Lawrence, a Quincy native, handed the keys over to Jackson at the end of a 45-minute ceremony on the front steps paying respects to his service to our country.
Nearly 200 people showed up at the event. Many of them used permanent markers to sign their names and welcoming notes on two-by-fours that were laid outside the home.
Chris Lawrence, Mike’s wife, told the crowd, “Every single veteran deserves to have a community and a permanent home, a permanent place to call home.”
Later, she said Jackson’s apartment had either been sold or condemned and was scheduled for demolition. The speed of their project allowed them to stand up a new home before his old one could be torn down. She and her husband built the nonprofit’s first home for a veteran in 2018. This was their 10th project like it.
“We have our chronic homeless veterans, which is about 48,000 on any given night, and that’s a US statistic,” Lawrence said, as he spoke about the urgency of his mission. He said far more veterans are at risk, facing medical problems, housing insecurity, hunger, and other setbacks that often result in either homelessness or suicide.
A local pastor, the mayor of Lincoln, and Lynnae Bessler with Quilts of Valor were among the speakers who welcomed Jackson into his new home.
“We honor you for your service,” Bessler said, before wrapping Jackson in a quilt and a hug. “We honor you for leaving all that you hold dear to stand in harm’s way in a time of crisis, protecting us from the effects of war. We know that freedom is not free. The cost of our freedom is the dedication of lives of men and women like you. And this quilt is meant to say thank you for your service. And finally, this quilt is meant to offer comfort to you. And to remind you that although family and friends cannot be with you at all times you are forever in all of our hearts.”
“There are thousands of women and men across this land that are forever in your debt,” she told him.
Several people in the crowd wiped tears from their eyes as Jackson was awarded the new set of keys.
“Walking in, I was just amazed,” he said from his new armchair. “Overwhelmed. Totally overwhelmed.”
“I only intend to pay it forward to try and help other veterans,” he said. “This is what I want to do now because they have done so much for me.”
Jackson’s birthday is Monday, so his family sang and lit candles on a cake. Magnets hold pictures of his family, friends, and new neighbors on his refrigerator door.
A blue painting with red stripes hangs just above the living room couch. As community members filed through to greet him, the white cursive letters introduced them to their new neighbor: “Home of the Brave.”