Dan Wallrath had no idea that a chance encounter with a military family in need would pave the way toward a transformational ministry that is now profoundly changing the lives of American veterans and their loved ones.
Wallrath, 65, founder of the nonprofit Operation Finally Home — a group that builds mortage-free homes for wounded warriors — was preparing for retirement 11 years ago from the building industry when he said he had a profound “God calling.” It was a call that came after a friend asked him to visit the parents of a U.S. soldier severely injured while serving in Iraq.
“He sustained severe head injuiries and they had to completely remodel their home to bring him home,” Wallrath told Faithwire.
At first, he was unsure why his friend had arranged the meeting, as he was a custom home builder and not a remodeling specialist, but he agreed to spend some time with the family anyway. Little did he know at the time that the encounter would change everything — an experience he discusses in his new book, “Building Hope: What Happens When God Changes Our Plans to Accomplish His.”
“It was very obvious (the injured soldier) had severe brain injuries … his dad was tearing up and I started tearing up and realizing their situation,” Wallrath said. “After he told me the story I told him, ‘Look, just keep your money … they were really struggling financially.”
While he had told them not to worry about paying for the extensive renovations, when he got back to his car he found himself thinking, “Lord, oh my gosh, what did I commit to?”
After all, the renovations were slated to cost $100,000, which is no small chunk of change. But after rallying some friends in the building world, Wallrath said the home was completely remodeled without anyone needing to spend a dime out of pocket.
“After that happened I was very thankful that the Lord led me into that project … I thought that was the end of it,” Wallrath said, though he found himself unable to eat or sleep as he realized other veterans and their families were in similar situations.
“These families all over the U.S. were facing the same thing,” he said. “I thought the government took care of them. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Wallrath went on to explain the tough conundrums disabled veterans and their families often face after sustaining injuries.
“All of the sudden they’ve lost two legs … have gone blind, burned and they’re 100 percent disabled … because they are disabled they’ll never qualify to buy a home,” he said. “The people who sacrifice the most for our freedoms, they can never qualify for a home. Disability income is not considered stable income for any mortgage company.”
And Wallrath said, even if they qualify, most aren’t able to afford the upkeep of a home on disability income. That’s why Operation Finally Home works to build and provide free homes — and in states where disabled veterans don’t have to pay property taxes, military families can walk away with a house entirely free of charge.
“We have the responsibility to these young men and women that we need to fix this,” Wallrath told Faithwire.
And he’s certainly made it his life’s mission to do just that. After the initial remodeling effort, Wallrath’s attention was called to a disabled young Marine and his wife, and so he once again came together with others to build the couple a home. Using resources and partnerships at their disposal, Wallrath’s team constructed a $200,000 home for just $6,000.
Again, he assumed this act of kindness was just another anecdotal, one-off event, but he was wrong.
“I thought this was the end of it (but) God just didn’t allow me to sleep and eat. I was upset about it all the time,” Wallrath said, noting that the groundwork for Operation Finally Home began to be set. “So, I thought, ‘Okay I’ll do another one … and did another … I did about five homes, one after another.”
At that point his organization wasn’t yet operational, but the National Association of Home Builders offered Wallrath a booth at one of its events — an opportunity for his efforts to get in front of some of the nation’s most powerful builders. The association was so impressed, in fact, that its leaders made him and his team part of their opening ceremony, bringing immense awareness to the cause. Wallrath said, “We got back to our booth and there was a line a mile long.”
After that, momentum started building and he launched Operation Finally Home, an organization that provides “custom-built, mortgage-free homes to America’s military heroes and the widows of the fallen, those who have worn America’s uniform and sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and values,” according to an official description.
Wallrath went on to become one of CNN’s Heroes in 2010, amassing other similar honors along the way. The organization, he said, soon took on a life of its own.
“God just kind of took this thing and ran with it,” he said. “And we were just kind of hanging on.”
A decade later, Wallrath said Operation Finally Home has 98 projects going in 33 states and that “God is providing” as the organization continues its quest of building homes for the “wounded, ill and injured.” He said he didn’t realize he was being called by God into the ministry until he was well into the project, though he’s happy with the path he’s traveled on.
Wallrath said he wrote, “Building Hope: What Happens When God Changes Our Plans to Accomplish His,” to tell the story about how God called him from near-retirement to help heroes in desperate need.
“I want everybody to know that all the proceeds will go to the mission of building homes for our wounded, ill and injured,” he said. “They’ll be supporting building a home.”
Find out more about Operation Finally Home.
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