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April 10. 2012 10:15PM

Achieving a dream, meeting a need for Merrimack Marine


U.S. Marine Cpl. Chuck Donnelly, left, who was wounded in Afghanistan, and his wife, Kelly, thank volunteers before cutting the ribbon on his Building Dreams for Marines home renovation in Merrimack on Tuesday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MERRIMACK -- Building Dreams for Marines unveiled its first home renovation on Tuesday, celebrating the start of what it hopes will be many more home improvement projects for wounded servicemen in New Hampshire.

Cpl. Chuck Donnelly was the recipient of an estimated $65,000 in renovations to his home at 29 Woodland Drive thanks to a non-profit organization that helps veterans with limited mobility.

Donnelly, 27, was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan that resulted in the amputation of his left leg just below the knee. Volunteers from Building Dreams for Marines have spent the past two months at the Donnelly home modifying the two-story residence to accommodate a wheelchair.

Doorway entrances were widened, the kitchen was fully renovated and two bathrooms are now handicap accessible for Donnelly, who has since been fitted with a prosthetic leg.

“This has been fantastic,” Donnelly said with his wife, Kerry, by his side. “All of the improvements that were made make it so much easier for me to get around our home. It is much more accessible now, and I can do whatever I need to do.”

Donnelly said he is most appreciative of the newly renovated upstairs bathroom complete with a walk-in shower and seat. The house is much safer now that the modifications are in place, according to Donnelly, explaining handrails have been added throughout the bathrooms to help him if necessary.

Although Donnelly can now walk with his prosthetic leg, he does still use a wheelchair to get around sometimes, according to Kevin Lagree of KCL Homes, who was instrumental in making sure that all of the doorways were widened.

New hardwood floors were placed throughout the kitchen and new tile flooring was installed in the lower-level bathroom and hallway. The pantry was even expanded to allow enough space for a wheelchair to turn around.

“We really wanted to do this right the first time around,” said Brian Hooper, president of Building Dreams for Marines. “Even if it is just building a ramp, we want to help anyone who has served our country.”

Hooper founded Building Dreams for Marines, an organization that helps disabled or wounded Marines and Marine veterans of any age who have honorably served and live in New Hampshire. It is the group's mission to help them live more comfortably and confidently in their homes with maximum independence and freedom, according to Hooper.

“This is really amazing. We are so grateful,” said Kerry Donnelly.

Much of the labor was volunteer work, and many of the supplies were provided at cost for the project.

Donnelly's story reached beyond the Merrimack community, as residents of other New Hampshire towns heard about his story and wanted to help, including a 10-year-old boy from Londonderry.

On Tuesday, Sen. Kelly Ayotte presented the boy, Nathan Truesdale, with an American flag for his generous donation of $355 to the Building Dreams for Marines program.

Truesdale said he decided to donate all of his birthday money to help make Donnelly's home more accommodating.

“It has been quite a year, but he is doing so well,” Debbie Donnelly said of her son, Chuck. “I can still remember getting that call. It was quite a moment.”

Gov. John Lynch was on hand for Tuesday's celebration, commending the new program that is helping to make a difference in the lives of disabled Marines.

“You are a true American hero,” Lynch told Donnelly, thanking him for his service.

Building Dreams for Marines has already received two more applications from New Hampshire Marines with limited mobility. Donations are still needed to help make the program a success.

Anyone interested in providing financial assistance may visit its website at www.buildingdreamsformarines.com.


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