Instead, just before noon Tuesday, Anthony and Jessica Villarreal stepped gently, almost reverently, across the threshold of their new home in North Pointe, absorbing the reality of the gift from the West Texas Home Builders Association and other donors across Lubbock.
They gazed silently around the entry and made their way to the master bedroom, where the emotions of the moment connected in a mutually tearful hug, stopping occasionally as Jessica reached up to brush away the tears from her husband’s cheeks with her thumb.
The Villarreals are the first recipients of a house in Lubbock from Operation Finally Home, a program that provides mortgage-free housing for wounded and
injured veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, or for widowed spouses and their families.
Anthony Villarreal, a retired Marine corporal, suffered severe burns in 2008 when a roadside bomb detonated near the vehicle he was riding in on a mail and water run in Afghanistan. It was his third combat tour; the first two were in Iraq.
Villarreal was briefly overcome with emotion as he spoke during the presentation, which was attended by about 200 people in the Lehigh Avenue cul-de-sac in North Pointe — the last home in a row of houses built for the 2011 Parade of Homes that begins Saturday.
During that talk, Villarreal offered a pledge to the crowd to work hard on continuing his education and to look for ways to make Lubbock a better place.
And, as it turned out, the builders have already found a way for him to help, making him a member of the board of a new nonprofit organization, Lubbock Homes for Heroes, a group that West Texas Home Builders Association President Robert Wood said would create more mortgage-free homes for the community’s wounded veterans.
That was something Wood focused on in February at the dedication ceremony for the construction site.
The Lubbock builders’ efforts to put this house together got the attention of Operation Finally Home’s sponsors, the Houston-based Bay Area Home Builders Association, said Daniel Vargas, a retired Air Force technical sergeant who is Operation Finally Home’s executive officer.
“We’re using this project as the benchmark,” Vargas said. “We’ve created a video using this project to show other builders how it’s done.”
Wood acknowledged the builders’ immediate past president, Carl Russell, for his role in getting things going after a Sunbelt Builders Show last year.
The association emailed all 600 members and associate members soliciting volunteers. Ultimately, the construction work was divided among 18 builders, including Wood’s firm and McDougal Construction, which also donated the lot.
John Sweeney, vice president for residential construction with the McDougal organization, organized the project.
Wood said they wanted and received plenty of volunteers.
“If you contributed $50 or $50,000, you get the same recognition,” he said. “We didn’t want someone coming in and contributing $100,000 and saying they built the house. If you’re part of Lubbock, Texas, you’re a part of this. There is nothing any one of us could have done to make this project happen by ourselves.”
Guest speakers at the event included U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock, who met Villarreal in 2007 while Neugebauer was on a congressional tour of Iraq; Texas Tech System Chancellor Kent Hance and Tech head football coach Tommy Tuberville.
The Red Raider coach thought back to the week’s preparation for last season’s Wounded Warrior game against a highly favored Missouri team. Villarreal was one of the three honorary captains for that game.
“They spent the entire week with us, telling their stories and listening to the players,” Tuberville said. “I think it was the inspiration that Anthony and the other two veterans provided that brought us through to victory.”