No place like home

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Veteran Jeff Argrave, left, gives a tour of his newly built Prairieville home, while contractor David Albrecht, right, tests a shower in the master bathroom. Argrave received the keys to the home at a ceremony on Saturday morning. The home was built by community volunteers and Homes for Our Troops, a Boston-based charity.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Veteran Jeff Argrave, left, gives a tour of his newly built Prairieville home, while contractor David Albrecht, right, tests a shower in the master bathroom. Argrave received the keys to the home at a ceremony on Saturday morning. The home was built by community volunteers and Homes for Our Troops, a Boston-based charity.

Veteran with disability gets keys to new house custom-built for him

Partially paralyzed from a battle wound in Afghanistan, Army Cpl. Jeff Argrave has recovered better than his therapists expected. Now, the Baton Rouge area has exceeded Argrave’s expectations for generosity.

On Saturday, Argrave received the keys to a Prairieville home that was built to thank him for his service and to help him cope with his physical limitations. The home was provided through the Boston-based Homes for Our Troops program, but made possible — and enhanced — by local donations.

The three-bedroom, two bathroom house with a study features exterior doors that open with a push of a button, switches and appliances that can be easily accessed from a wheelchair and state-of-the-art conveniences that will make life more comfortable. It includes 2,700 feet of living area, plus a garage.

“Having this house is going to help him lead pretty much a normal life,” said David Albrecht, co-owner of Green Leaf Custom Homes and a Navy veteran who was the project’s contractor.

None of it will cost Argrave a dime. Local businesses and individuals were so eager to donate to the project that many of the fixtures are an upgrade from those usually provided in Homes for Our Troops houses, Albrecht said.

Argrave, 25, is grateful.

“When you’re in the Army, when you’re actually enlisted, there are parts of yourself that actually almost doubt the support system,” he said. “This has all been a huge surprise to me how much support I’ve gotten through the community, just random people who didn’t know me from Adam just jumping on board doing anything they could do to help. It opens your eyes.”

Argrave, who had already served a tour of duty in Iraq, was deployed in Afghanistan just three weeks when his unit was sent to an outpost near Forward Operating Base Wilson near Kandahar, Afghanistan. This outpost had been regularly attacked by insurgents. Shortly after 8 a.m. on May 30, 2010, Argrave was in a guard tower when it was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. In the ensuing skirmish, a bullet struck him in the back of the neck.

The bullet struck the C-5 vertebra, broke in two and exited behind his left ear and the lower part of his neck. Argrave was taken to a hospital, then transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, then James Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla.

None of the medical personnel encouraged him to think he would one day walk.

Doggedly determined, Argrave poured himself into the rehabilitation process and walked out of the Tampa facility the following February. But he can’t walk long distances or stand for long periods of time without becoming exhausted, so he still needs his wheelchair. He loses much of his already diminished hand strength when reaching above his shoulders.

His home is built with that in mind. Doors and passageways are wide for wheelchair access. The two-tiered kitchen island allows him to work there while seated. The microwave is positioned the same way, and the stove-top vent fan has switches below the countertop. The counters extend outward so that Argrave can extend his legs and wheelchair below them.

The master bathroom includes a tub, large walk-in shower and heated toilet seat that can be flushed by remote control. The shower is equipped with sensors so that the water doesn’t come out until it is the desired temperature.

“We make jokes about having parties in my bathroom,” Argrave said.

In coordinating the home’s construction, Albrecht involved professional and volunteers, including a “build brigade” event in August 2012 in which about 150 people showed up on a weekend with hammers and nails in hand to kick-start the construction. Albrecht’s contacts in the building industry came through with donations of their own materials and time.

From a long list of donors, significant contributions came from Green Leaf Custom Homes, the Capital Region Builders Association, All-Star Builders and Louisiana Turnkey.

That largesse meant the project took longer to complete, but that is understandable, Albrecht said.

“You’re asking for people to do stuff for free,” he said. “Homes for Our Troops has their timeline for when they want things done, and you can’t call and yell at somebody and tell them to do something when they’re doing it for free. It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but an honor to do it. It’s been really fun.

“It’s been really cool seeing the whole community rally around and do this.”