LAND O’ LAKES — Only a concrete slab sits where a new home soon will be built, but the symbolism was not lost on Javier Torres.
“This foundation here, as you guys see behind you, is not just the foundation of our home, it’s the foundation of our family,” Torres said during an event March 25 at the new Land O’ Lakes neighborhood of Arden Preserve. “This foundation here will hold us up strong and will definitely keep my family standing tall and standing side by side for years to come.”
The Wednesday afternoon event was an official groundbreaking ceremony and celebration for the Torres family’s future home. It was made possible through Built to Honor, a program created by national homebuilder PulteGroup, and the nonprofit group Operation Finally Home.
The collaboration works to provide mortgage-free homes to U.S. military veterans. Torres served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army and was wounded during an attack on his convoy after deploying to Afghanistan in 2005. Torres’ Humvee was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and he was shot three times before being flown to safety in a medevac.
Among other honors, Torres is the recipient of a Purple Heart, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.
Torres, his wife Stephanie, and their four daughters — Bianca, 12, Kaylie, 11, Aria, 3, and Avery, 1 – found out the life-changing news that they had been selected as the next family to receive a new home this past Christmas season.
“The entire process has been nothing short of a blessing,” Javier Torres said during the ceremony. “The opportunity alone is a blessing. Just the fact that something like this possible and available for people like ourselves is truly a blessing.
“We can’t put a price on this as much as the next family could or the family before us can.”
Expectations are for the Torres’ new home to be completed by late summertime and it will be the 43rd nationwide built by the cooperation of Built to Honor and Operation Finally Home.
“I hear this time and time again; none of our veterans think that they deserve the home,” said Molly Halliday, Operation Finally Home senior vice president of marketing and project management. “They always think the next family deserves it. That is just one thing that makes them so very special.”
Reiterating that thought March 25 was Jerry and Jeaniel Whatts, both U.S. Navy veterans who previously received a home through the program and have befriended the Torres family.
“This is truly a life-changing experience,” Jerry Whatts said. “We always felt someone else deserved it better than we did, too.
“From day one when we first met, and watching you grow as a person and as a father, you really do deserve this.”
The completed home will be more than 2,100 square feet and include four bedrooms and three bathrooms.
“PulteGroup treats this honor as a privilege to be able to build a home for our nation’s heroes,” said Sean Strickler, the homebuilding company’s West Florida Division president. “If it wasn’t for what you do, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. And there’s no better place for a veteran than having a beautiful new home to raise your family in.”
The ceremony opened with the Torres family being escorted into its new neighborhood by the veteran-advocacy motorcycle group, Patriot Guard Riders. The event was scaled down due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, but Strickler said he’s hopeful the summertime grand reveal of the Torres’ completed home will a fully attended, mask-free celebration.