By Paul Fattig
It may be the 4th of July, but Tom and Michelle Gury can hardly wait till Christmas.
"We were told the house will be ready right around Christmas or the first of the year," said Tom, 33, a former Marine who is now a sergeant in the Oregon Army National Guard and a veteran of wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I was overwhelmed with tears when I found out we had been selected," Michelle said. "This means long-term security, a good solid foundation for the kids to grow up in."
The Gurys, who have five children ranging in age from 18 months to 14 years in a blended family, have been selected for the Habitat for Heroes program by Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity.
Thanks to the program, which is dedicated to helping low-income veterans and their families, the Gurys will have the opportunity to build their own house in partnership with the Habitat organization.
Ground-breaking for their house will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in Habitat's six-house development on Gravenstein Way in Medford. It is one of 45 houses Habitat has constructed in the valley.
But the four-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot dwelling will be the first Habitat for Heroes house built by Rogue Valley Habitat, said its executive director, Denise James.
"We wanted to serve a veteran's family," she said. "When we finish, we sell it to them (at the cost of construction and land) with a 30-year mortgage at no interest."
The family will have a monthly house payment, including taxes and insurance, of no more than $600 a month, she said.
"We are honoring the family, but we're not handing them anything," she said. "They pay for their home."
The Gurys were selected from a pool of veterans and families in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, she said, noting that Habitat worked closely with the VA's Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City.
The sergeant is an outpatient at the SORCC, where he received counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
To qualify, applicants must have an income between 30 and 60 percent of the federal median and have demonstrated a need for housing, she said. They must also be willing to help build the house, providing at least 500 hours of sweat equity, she added.
Noting that the local Habitat hopes to build one house a year in the Rogue Valley for veterans, James said the group is looking for donations, materials and volunteers to help build the Gury home.
The house is being partially sponsored by Erickson Air-Crane and Wells Fargo, with each donating $15,000 to the project. Building costs are expected to be about $60,000, which does not include the land, which was purchased separately.
"We are still looking for funds and for veterans to volunteer to help another veteran," James said. "We're looking for electricians, roofers, plumbers -- veterans who have skills who can help another veteran and his family."
Tom, who is a citizen soldier with the Guard's 1-186th Infantry, Alpha Company, headquartered in Ashland, joined the Guard in 1999. During his first tour of Iraq, he spent 18 months, doing everything from convoy security to looking for hostiles in neighborhoods, he said. He then served a year in Afghanistan, where his unit largely provided security for forward operating bases.
Shortly after he arrived for his second tour in Iraq he tore a knee ligament, an injury that returned him stateside.
The 1997 graduate of North Medford High School works full time as a certified nursing assistant at Rogue Valley Medical Center. Michelle, 32, provides day care during the day, on top of caring for their children.
Married six years ago, they have a blended family that includes Tiasie, 14; Keleigh, 7; Addison, 6; Bracyn, 2; and Ahnikah, 18 months. Three of the children live with them full time, while the other two will spend part of their time at the new home.
"It's going to be so nice to have a place like this for the kids to grow up and have that solid foundation for them without the worry we have to move next month into an apartment because of the bills," she said.
The Gurys, who currently rent, said they feel honored to be selected for the Habitat home.
"It (Habitat) is a great organization that offers a wonderful service to families," Michelle observed. "They require a lot from the families in return. But, in the long run, you have a solid, household foundation."
And that benefits the individual families as well as the community, she said.
"I thought there were a lot of families out there that were in more need of housing," she said. "It was a shock when we got the call that we had been selected."
Of the 500 hours of volunteer work required, the couple will have to provide 400 hours of their own labor. They hope to get friends and family to provide the remaining 100 hours of labor.
"We want to get all the volunteers we can get," he said.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.