Disabled Tigard veteran and his family make new house a home
It's moving day for Wade Mitcheltree and his family.
For the past several months, contractors have been hard at work building a "smart home" in Tigard as a gift for the retired sergeant first class, who lost both legs and part of an arm to an improvised explosive device that injured him while he was serving in Afghanistan in 2012. On Friday, Aug. 11 — seven months to the date since the groundbreaking ceremony, Chris Kuban noted — a dedication was held for the new house.
Kuban is a spokesman for the Gary Sinise Foundation, an organization founded by actor and musician Gary Sinise that — among other things — builds houses specially designed to meet the needs of disabled military veterans.
"At the Gary Sinise Foundation, we serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need," Kuban said.
The Mitcheltree home incorporates "smart" technology designed to allow Mitcheltree or his family members to remotely control nearly all parts of the house using an Apple iPad. By pressing buttons on the touchscreen of the tablet computer, Mitcheltree can turn lights on and off, check security cameras, and adjust the air conditioning. (He likes it cold.)
"It's life-changing," Mitcheltree said. "The same as it was life-changing when I got injured — nothing's ever going to be done the same way again."
Kuban remarked, "I think those of us in the crowd, we truly take for granted on a daily basis what it means to get up and get out of bed in the morning, what it means to be able to walk into the bathroom and shave and shower. We take for granted going into the kitchen and putting something in the microwave over the stove. Or we take for granted even just turning off the lights in the house. And what we hope that this house will bring you is the independence and dignity that you deserve."
Mitcheltree and his wife Katie noted the "peace of mind" they expect the smart tech in the house to give them — no more getting up out of bed and putting on his prosthetic legs just to make sure someone remembered to lock the front door at night, Wade said; no more worrying about needing to make a bunch of meals for the rest of the family in advance before going away for a "girls' weekend," Katie said.
"I mean, it seems like a little thing," Wade Mitcheltree said. But it can take him several minutes to put on his prosthetics, he added: "So it's significant."
Mitcheltree recalled the phone call from Sinise himself that changed his life, telling him he had been accepted into the foundation's Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment, or R.I.S.E., program.
Sinise wasn't able to attend Friday's dedication, said Scott Schaeperkoetter, who is in charge of R.I.S.E. home construction as its director of operations. He read a letter from Sinise instead.
"Too often we can take for granted the fact that our freedom and security is fought for, provided for and sacrificed for, through the service of a courageous few," Sinise wrote, adding, "As citizens who benefit from the sacrifices of these brave heroes, I believe it is our duty to support our military service members and their families before, during and after the battle, and that we do our best to ensure our returning defenders are welcomed back into their communities with the resources to begin a new life."
In a personal note to the Mitcheltree family at the end of the letter, Sinise wrote, "Wade, I wish I could be there today to personally thank you for all you've given and for all you have sacrificed on behalf of this nation, but down the road I look forward to one day visiting you all and taking a little private tour."
The Gary Sinise Foundation was supported in building the Mitcheltree home by funding from The Home Depot Foundation, The Marcus Foundation and Semper Fi Fund. Sinise and officials at the dedication also thanked the City of Tigard, local police and fire agencies, and project contractors, among others, for their backing and assistance.
Four D Construction, based in Beaverton, was the homebuilder for the Mitcheltree home.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of the R.I.S.E. program's director of operations. His name is Scott Schaeperkoetter. The story has been updated.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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