By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It took three long years of rehabilitation and a whole community of volunteers, but Marine Cpl. Paul Schaus is finally home in North Tonawanda.
The 24-year-old native Western New York lost both of his legs and a finger in Afghanistan in 2009 when he stepped on a land mine. He barely survived the incident and spent years in military hospitals recovering from his injuries.
But when a national not-for-profit group Homes For Troops, which helps severely injured veterans, moved into the picture in the spring of 2011, Schaus was one step closer to independence.
And on Tuesday, amid friends, family and fellow military veterans, Schaus received the keys to his Sherwood Avenue home — a blue, and white four-bedroom ranch suited to the challenges he will continue to carry with him for the rest of his life.
Described by those who know him as a quiet and humble man — characteristics that the neighborhood itself appeared to possess — Schaus thanked his family and the organization before accepting ownership of the house from Home For Troops in front of a crowd onlookers who came to show their support.
“I’m not a big talker,” Schaus said, before later adding: “This is insane.”
With two simultaneous wars and hundreds of thousands of troops overseas in various capacities over a decade, more than 50,000 veterans have been wounded in the last 11 years, according to Dawn Teixeira, executive director of Home For Troops, who said her organization is presenting similar newly built structures to seven veterans across the country this week alone.
“We began this project with a build brigade in July,” she said. “Since that time we’ve experienced an outpouring of support from the community.”
That support included individuals like Jodie Buckley, Schaus’s cousin, who also works for the general contractor, Grand Jude Plumbing, the company that oversaw construction of the home.
Buckely said the last several years have been a trying time for the tight-knit family, though knowing Schaus will be able to operate more freely and independently brings relief. The home is specifically designed with features to help Schaus maneuver through the mundane tasks of day-to-day life with greater ease.
Schaus walks with the aid of two prosthetic legs and a cane but also uses a wheelchair. For example, kitchen countertops and sinks and lower to he ground to make for easier access.
“We’re just glad he’s home,” she said. “It’s really the best Christmas present you could ask for.”
It took five months to complete the construction on the home, but more than a year of behind-the-scenes work to bring it all together, according to Mayor Rob Ortt, who noted the generosity of a local resident who donated the bulk of the land to make the entire project possible.
Ortt, himself a veteran of Afghanistan, addressed dozens of people under a tent in the Sherwood Avenue driveway, where members of the Sikora Post American Legion, the Marine Corps League Detachment 320 and the Patriot Guard Riders of New York were on hand, some of whom ceremonially unraveled an American flag and hoisted it up a pole in front of the abode before Schaus entered it as a new homeowner.
“You could have picked another area to live,” Ortt told Schaus. “As a veteran I want to thank you for your service and sacrifice. As your mayor I want to welcome you to the neighborhood.”Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.