by Leonard Shapiro
Please forgive Jason Brownell for choking up and pausing to compose himself as he recalls his decision 18 months ago to give back to wounded veterans living in Loudoun County by starting an organization called “HeroHomes.”
Recently, Brownell and other members of his fledgling 501(c) (3) non-profit broke ground on a lot in Purcellville that soon will have a new single family house on the property. At some point, it will go to a former soldier injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. Depending on the veteran’s circumstances, the dwelling will either be transferred with a modest mortgage attached, or totally free and clear.
Brownell, who’s family has lived in Purcellville for 285 years, is a builder and developer, just like his father, Bruce. His dad started Brownell Inc. and Jason has Western Loudoun Development and Charcol LLC. The new house will be located in the same subdivision Bruce Brownell first developed many years ago, on the only unbuilt lot remaining.
“I had been looking for a place to do this for a while,” Jason Brownell said. “One day, I was driving by and saw a For Sale sign on this lot. I just figured God had sent me there for a reason, and that’s where we’re building the first house.”
Brownell never served in the military, but has been doing good works most of his adult life. When New Orleans was
devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he spent nine months in the swamped Lower 9th Ward trying to help residents of a mostly impoverished area rebuild.
A few years go, he was the project manager for a local barn builder, John Fuog, who also was doing a home in Lovettsville for a severely wounded veteran named Tony Porta. That house was financed by “Tunnels to Towers” as part of the New York-based Siller Foundation. Steve Siller was a New York City fireman who was playing golf on 9/11 when he heard about the first of two planes crashing into the World Trade Center. He rushed to his fire house and made it into one of the towers, only to be killed when it collapsed.
Porta, a Marine, had been badly injured in Iraq in May, 2005 when a roadside bomb went off under his Humvee. The blast killed two comrades and pinned Porta under a piece of the burning vehicle, loaded with 500 gallons ofjet fuel and 1,000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition.
Porta was pulled out with massive burns over 80 per cent of his body. His face was disfigured, and he lost his right arm and fingers on his left hand. He spent 6 1/2 years in a San Antonio Hospital, undergoing more than 140 surgeries, before finally settling in Lovettsville a few years ago. He and his wife, Deicy, had gotten lost there on his way to look at land in Martinsburg,West Virginia. They, too, passed a For Sale sign and decided Western Loudoun was where they wanted to be.
Brownell had often spoken with Porta about the soldier’s near death experience in Iraq, and the two have remained good friends.
“Tony said to me he was following the light but that God told him he wasn’t ready (to die) because he had other stuff to do,” Brownell said, pausing to regain his own composure. “I guess you could say I am that stuff. I think God delivered me to Tony to do good for others. If he didn’t change my life, no one will.”
Porta told Brownell many other wounded veterans in Loudoun also needed help. Last October, Brownell began trying to raise money to build the first HeroHomes house. So far, he’s helped raise $50,000 and collected donated building materials from local contractors and suppliers, including the design for the first house from architect Ron Mizerak. The hone will cost about $350,000 and a number of fundraisers also are being planned.
He’s also particularly proud that HeroHomes is all volunteer, and virtually every dollar raised will be used to build homes. No salaries. No overhead. “When we pick out a veteran, depending on his circumstance, we’ll craft a contract based on his earning ability,” Brownell said. “If he’s totally disabled, he’ll get a free home.”
Brownell has seven acres in Purcellville where he plans to build homes on 24 lots. Four will be HeroHomes projects, and he’s constantly trying to raise money and materials to get them done.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” he said, “so I can pretty much walk into someone’s office and tell them what we’re doing and what we need. We’re going to build as many homes as we can. We’re going to build these homes until I run out of air.”
(For more information, go to www.HeroHomesLoudoun.org.)