Thanks to the efforts of a group of volunteers, businesses and Navy SEALs, one local veteran won't have to make the choice between repairing his home and providing the services his family needs.
As part of the national Rebuilding Together Day, Victor LaBozzo and his family were selected by a local chapter to receive some much needed repairs to their home. LaBozzo is a veteran of the Korean war, has lived in Darien since 1960, and his wife and son both suffer from muscular dystrophy. His son's muscular dystrophy is so severe he is bedridden and requires a ventilator and feeding tube. LaBozzo's wife, although not as severely handicapped as their son, is wheelchair bound and has had trouble accessing parts of the home, such as the bathroom which was too narrow for a wheelchair.
"It's like a bright light shining from a distance," LaBozzo said of the efforts by Rebuilding Together Fairfield County and Heroes at Home. "We were in a really desperate situation because there were things I have to pay for and we just didn't have the funds to make the repairs."
LaBozzo's two daughters work full time to help support the family and after their mother recently fell ill, the pressure on the family increased.
"Everyone who is helping -- from the people who are taking care of garbage to those who are painting -- have been fantastic," Lisa LaBozzo said. "No matter what they're doing, everybody matters."
Rebuilding Together and the local chapter Rebuilding Together Fairfield County is a non-profit organization that focuses on helping low-income individuals who need help with their homes and property.
Gina Vinci, executive director of Rebuilding Together, said the organization primarily works with elderly, veterans and disabled homeowners, but the group will help anybody who is a homeowner but is struggling due to a low-income situation. Vinci said the organization sees a lot of situations where people have been living in their family home for years and the hope is to be able to eliminate the need to choose between getting medication or fixing the roof.
"We've been in the community since 1991 and we have an application process that everyone goes through," Vinci said. "We check all the background information and then set up an appointment to visit the site and determine what kind of work needs to be done."
In many situations, the homeowner will request some work but after a visit to the site, the assessor will determine that even more work is required due to safety concerns, Vinci said.
"We're looking at homes year round but for the National Rebuilding Day we make all of our selections in January and February," she said. "We have teams who have been with us for many, many years and are well versed in the projects."
Tom Cuddeback, chairman for Rebuilding Together Fairfield County, said the money the organization receives from Sears Holdings plays a large role in how many projects could be done. Cuddeback said Sears has raised over $12 million to pay for projects and the grants that are given range from $1,000 to tens-of-thousands of dollars. However, the number of applications Rebuilding Together Fairfield County receives has declined.
"We've actually seen a decrease in the number of applications and some of that is because the demographic has changed and more homes are becoming rentals," Cuddeback said.
Despite the decrease in applications, Cuddeback said the organization is still involved with about 30 projects a year.
"We involve somewhere between 550 and 750 volunteers or more which varies depending on the type of work," he said. "Recently, we've seen more exterior painting jobs."
None of the projects Rebuilding Together takes on would be possible if it weren't for the network of volunteers and businesses that donate both time and supplies.
Leading the charge for the LaBozzo repairs was Capt. Drew Bisset, of the Navy League's Western Connecticut Council, who has been working with Rebuilding Together for years. The LaBozzo family and Vinci were all praise for Bisset's efforts at helping veterans in Connecticut.
"He's such a fantastic leader and his men respect him for who is he is," LaBozzo said. "You don't find people like that very often."
Vinci said Bisset was involved in Rebuilding Together before she was and his activity in the community was very welcome.
Helping with the repairs was a group of Navy SEAL officer candidates. Bisset said the candidates were learning valuable leadership skills they would be able to utilize when they are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
"The whole idea of this project is to give the homeowners a little dignity," Bisset said. "We ask to work on projects like this because the candidates can better understand what teamwork is all about."
Joe Hogan who was one of the Navy SEAL officer candidates helping with the repairs said the opportunity to do community service is great because it was a chance to give back to the community.
"The guys love to be here and today is an extra special day," Hogan said.
After completing his officer's training, Hogan said he wants to pursue the Basic Underwater Demolition/ SEALs program which is one of the toughest programs in the military.
Mike Blumenthal, son of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who is also a SEAL candidate and is currently finishing his senior year at Harvard, also lended a hand with repairs Saturday morning. Blumenthal said he is interested in joining the SEALs because of his father's Marine service, as well as his older brother, who is currently an officer in the Marines.
"I've been involved in community service for a while and watching my dad and brother serve has motivated me to serve," Blumenthal said. "Being able to help on this project has been fantastic."