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After years of planning, volunteers begin building Wildwood home for wounded veteran

Volunteer carpenters from Builder's Bloc frame the new home in Wildwood on September 29, 2018.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio
Volunteer carpenters from Builder's Bloc frame the new home in Wildwood.

The tap of Mike Wheeler’s hammer echoes through the forest, as he helps frame the walls of a new home in Wildwood.

Wheeler is one of a dozen carpenters volunteering to build a home for a returning veteran and his family. The project, which began in August, is the culmination of a years-long effort to provide a mortgage-free home for U.S. Army veteran and St. Louis native Heath Howes, who was severely wounded while serving in Afghanistan.

“You think, what if it happened to you personally?” said Wheeler, who served in the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army for more than a decade. “The veterans have done so much for us and I just wanted to give back a little bit.”

Chesterfield-based Hibbs Homes is spearheading the project in collaboration with Operation FINALLY HOME, a national nonprofit that provides custom-built homes for ill and injured veterans.

Hibbs Homes owner, Kim Hibbs, said it has taken about two years to get the project off the ground including planning, permitting and fundraising.

“I never even questioned why we should do it because this is so important,” Hibbs said. “They’re such a deserving family whose life was torn apart.”

U.S. Army Specialist Howes was severely injured in Afghanistan in 2012, when his truck was hit by a 200-pound improvised explosive device.

The explosion left Howes with a litany of serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, fractured ribs and a collapsed lung. In the years since the attack, he has also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kim Hibbs, owner of Hibbs Homes, is spearheading the construction project.
Credit Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio
Kim Hibbs, owner of Hibbs Homes, is spearheading the construction project.

James Lammering, a foreman with Builder’s Bloc contractors and a veteran himself, helped frame the house and said he has always wanted to volunteer on project like this.

“Heath Howes has sacrificed a lot,” Lammering said. “I only have to sacrifice one weekend to help him out.”

Community members and local businesses have donated labor and building materials to help complete the 2,300-square-foot home.

Though the actual completion date will depend on weather conditions, Hibbs estimates the home should be finished within five months.

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Shahla Farzan was a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. Before becoming a journalist, Shahla spent six years studying native bees, eventually earning her PhD in ecology from the University of California-Davis. Her work for St. Louis Public Radio on drug overdoses in Missouri prisons won a 2020 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award. 

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