Bethany rolls out 'Welcome' mat for wounded, decorated Army veteran

BETHANY >> He arrived in a firetruck, lights flashing, with motorcycles roaring and the crowd waving American flags.

“Welcome to Bethany,” one person said.

“Thank you for your service,” said another.

They were part of an Aug. 13 community kickoff that drew about 100 people in support of Sean Pesce, 24, a former Army Ranger who received the Purple Heart.

Homes for Our Troops is teaming up with Niantic Bay Group to build a new, mortgage-free home for Pesce, who is in a wheelchair after he was shot 13 times and left paralyzed from the waist down during a special assignment in Afghanistan in 2012.

The event at Amity Regional Bethany Middle School included First Selectman Derrylyn Gorski.

Gorski said she is honored to have someone like Pesce join the community and she thanked him for picking “our small, little town.”

During the ceremony, Pesce expressed his thanks to the participants.

“I’m very appreciative and humbled by everyone coming out and showing support when I needed it,” Pesce said.

Pesce, a West Haven native, got to choose where the home would be built, and he chose Bethany.

In a video, he shared the challenges he faced when he returned home from the war.

“At first, I couldn’t even sit myself up, everyday things like using the bathroom, even taking a shower, everything was completely flip-flopped,” Pesce said.

The new home on Mesa Drive will be adapted to accommodate Pesce’s disability, including wider hallways and doorways, roll-under sinks and countertops, and a roll-in shower.

Niantic Bay Group, of East Lyme, offered to build the house. The company’s project manager, John Doran, said he and his wife wanted to get involved with something positive, so his company jumped at the opportunity to partner with Homes for Our Troops.

Doran said other local contracting companies have been very supportive of his efforts to build a safe, livable home for Pesce.

“When I started reaching out to contractors, it was incredible; many of them donated products or offered them at reduced costs,” Doran said. “Out of all the homes I’ve built in the last few decades, I’ll be most proud of this one.”

In addition to Niantic’s contributions, donations and fundraising will pay the balance of the costs for the new house, which the group plans to finish within six to seven months.

Homes for Our Troops, of Massachusetts, is a national nonprofit that builds mortgage-free, specially adapted homes for severely injured, post 9/11 veterans.

Since 2004, it has constructed more than 200 homes nationwide; Pesce’s will be the third in Connecticut. Homes for Our Troops Executive Director Bill Ivey said the houses restore some of the freedom and independence to those who made many sacrifices while defending the country.

“It’s time for us as American people to repay a debt that we owe these men and women that have been badly injured … defending our freedom and independence and, in the process, losing some of their freedom and independence,” Ivey said.

Nonpofits are responding. A Boston-area group, Veterans Assisting Veterans, just gave Pesce a $15,000 all-terrain wheelchair. And 100 percent of the proceeds from the recent West Haven Elks Lodge 1537 annual Bring a Veteran to Dinner benefit will go toward the construction.

The work isn’t over once the home is built. Ivey said the organization’s motto, “Building Homes, Rebuilding Lives,” means it doesn’t just build the house, but also stays connected with the veteran, helping with services for jobs, schools, transportation and other needs.

“We want to set them up for success,” Ivey said. “We hope this home can do that for Sean.”

Gorski said Bethany residents “represent the best of small-town life.”

“We have an active veterans’ group in town; we are a town that’s a warm, outgoing community. … ► The Bethany residents represent the best of small-town life, and ◄ I mentioned to Sean he can pick up the phone and call Town Hall any time,” Gorski said.