Central Illinois Veteran Commission and 2X4’s of Hope celebrate first home built for a veteran in Logan County

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[August 02, 2021]   On Sunday afternoon something remarkable happened in Lincoln. A huge crowd gathered to witness history as the first Veteran Tiny Home in Logan County was officially presented to its new owner Scott Jackson.

The home, built in one week, is the product of about 60 people coming together for the construction of the home. The work was well organized and progress was made at a rapid pace. From Sunday July 25th when it was nothing but a concrete slap to Sunday August 1st when it became a fully finished, fully furnished home for one of America’s heroes, everything was done perfectly with great detail and great love.

The home came to Lincoln through a partnership between the local Central Illinois Veteran’s Commission (CIVC) and an organization out of Quincy called 2X4’s of Hope.

On Sunday, Mark and Chris Lawrence of 2X4’s of Hope along with Marsha Fernandes representing the CIVC hosted a ceremony that included speakers, the official handing over of the key to the home and a ribbon cutting.

The day began with possibly 200 or more people gathered in the street in front of the home.

Mark Lawrence thanked all those for coming. He introduced himself and wife Chris and Fernandes. He explained that 2X4’s works to partner with local organizations such as the CIVC to bring homes to communities.

Speaking of Fernandes, he noted that she is a CIVC board member who was hands on through the entire process working side by side with the many volunteers.

Lawrence brought attention to the extra-large American Flag flying over the building lot courtesy of the Lincoln Rural Fire Protection District. He then said that there would be a flag presenting ceremony as two veterans came walking up the new sidewalk to the home and mounted an American Flag and a United States Army flag on the porch's two pillar posts. Local songstress Lesleigh Bennett then sang the National Anthem as all stood at attention for the two flags.

Pastor Dan McQuality of the Grace Lutheran Church, who is also a veteran, was called on to bless the home. McQuality’s church is located just one block north of the new tiny home.

As Lawrence introduced McQuality he said that the entire home building process was founded in prayer and with God’s hand in it. He said that applause and praise for what has been accomplished belonged not to the people, but to the Lord who led them to do this magnificent thing.

McQuality then offered a prayer thanking God for all those gathered and also for God’s protection over our soldiers and our country. He asked that the Lord bless the home and all those who labored in love to make it so.

Lawrence then called on Pastor Tony Byrd from Madison. Byrd is a recipient of a home recently built in Madison. He said that Byrd had a special message and was always a blessing to all each time he spoke.

Byrd opened with a greeting and sought a response as to being thankful for the day. He said that we were all blessed because we woke up this morning, then explained that God never promises that we will wake up each morning, which is why we should do all that we can today, not leaving anything for tomorrow.

He noted that the Bible says “if you love me” clothe the people, feed the people, and put a roof over their heads. He went on to say that some believe that because one doesn’t have a home that person is down trodden and with nothing. He said that is not always the case. Not having a home can be a matter of circumstance at the moment, but it doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. He said in his own life, he made the decision to give away all that he owned, and trust that God would provide for him. He quoted the Bible, "Seek you first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.”

After Byrd spoke, Lawrence asked for a show of hands of all the veterans in the crowd. He applauded the many hands that went up.

Lawrence went on to talk about the recipient, Scott Jackson. He said that last week Jackson had been very overwhelmed by the actions that started last week. Jackson was amazed by the number of people that came out to construct his home. He said that as of that moment, Jackson had not seen the home since he was on the construction site last Sunday. It has come a long way since those first two days.

Lawrence said that this would be Jackson’s forever home. It would belong only to him, and no one would ever be able to take it away.

Jackson was called on to speak next. The man of few words was touched to the point he could not contain his emotions. He spoke briefly saying that he wanted to thank all that had been a part of the build and a part of this day. He said, “I love you all.”

Jackson said he would from this moment on work to 'pay it forward' all the gifts he has been given. He said that he had come across an old friend from Fulton County out of the blue and had told the friend what was being done for him. That friend, also a veteran, was moved and curious how could he get this kind of program in Fulton County. Jackson said in paying it forward, he vowed to help his friend as much as possible, giving him all the information he could gather together and helping him to connect with the Lawrences. He said he would continue to do so in the future each time he had the chance. He ended with a very emotional second expression of gratitude saying again, “I love you all, and thank you so much.”

Veteran and Mayor Tracy Welch and wife Annette were called to the front next. Lawrence said he wondered how many mayors there were who would show up at a building site like this and work their fingers to the bone to help a member of his community. Lawrence felt the gift was remarkable.

Welch spoke about being a kid signing up to serve in the military. He said, “I didn’t know what I was doing, but what I was doing was becoming a part of a brotherhood.” Welch said that talking with the group quite some time before the first home was ever started he recognized the value of this project and he felt “more than honored” that he was asked to be a part of it.

Annette Welch, who is also a county board member spoke as well. She said that Tracy had asked her to tag along to that first meeting. She was amazed at how the Lawrence's, who have no vested interest in Logan County or Lincoln, were willing to bring this program to town and organize this built to the benefit of a local veteran.

Throughout the ceremony, Lawrence had been asking if Fernandes was ready yet to speak, and she declined to almost the end, when he told her that she had to now come forward. Fernandes explained that Joe Schaler, who is the leader of the CIVC, was en route to a national meeting of the Purple Heart in Virginia. She said he had not wanted to leave, but Purple Heart is also a very important part of the work Schaler does and a choice had to be made.

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Fernandes also expressed gratitude to all the volunteers from the community and to the crew that came with the Lawrence's to guide the building project and work beside the volunteers to build a strong structure.

Fernandes noted that there were future homes in the works, and that the hope was that the next building project would come in September.

Later, Lawrence said that the hope is indeed for September, but there is an obstacle. He said that building materials were scarce and right now they had no promises that they would have materials for another build this fall.

Lawrence also noted that the Lincoln building project had gotten the attention of other communities. He noted that three other communities had come to him during this project and asked how they could get the veteran homes in their towns. Lawrence said that is how they work. They have never gone to a community and had to ask ‘Can we come build.” It has been 100 percent communities coming to them and asking “Will you build.”

Chris Lawrence spoke next encouraging every guest in the audience to “wrap your arms around him (Jackson) and hold him close to you.” She went on to say that every veteran in this country deserves to have a home, a place that is theirs and a place to call home.

Next came a presentation by Quilts of Valor. Lenae Bussler and Lynn Eaton from Delavan. Both women are members of the Delavan Quilt Guild and Quilts of Valor. Bussler thanked the Lawrence's for having them, and talked about the Quilts of Valor. The goal of the organization is to provide a handmade quilt to every American Veteran as a show of being welcomed home with love and gratitude. Quilts of Valor have been presented to 275,987 veterans. She explained the layers of the quilt. The many individual pieces sewn together represent the “many different individuals that we are.” The batting symbolizes warmth and love that it is hoped each veteran feels when presented with the quilt. The back layer of the quilt represents the strength of the veteran and the community. The stitches binding the layers represent the “love, gratitude and sometimes tears of the maker.”

She ended saying the quilt was meant to show honor for their service to the country to the veteran upon who's shoulders it is laid. She said that it was to bring comfort and a reminder to the veteran of all that love and appreciate that veteran’s service and sacrifice.

Bussler had asked that both Jackson and Welch join her at the edge of the porch. When she was finished, in a very emotional moment Jackson’s granddaughter Tori Geriets draped the red, white and blue quilt on her grandpa’s shoulders, while a second quilt was draped on Welch.



Then came the time that Jackson was waiting for. Lawrence said while Jackson was anxious to get the key, Lawrence himself was not going to hand it to him. Instead, the key was given to Welch. The group then approached the patriotic ribbon stretched across the front porch.

After a countdown, the ribbon was snipped by Jackson with assistance from Welch. Then Welch handed the key to Jackson so that he could enter his new home for the first time.

The first people to go inside the home were family members including daughter Christy Fruge and her children Ryan, Jackson and Tori, and his step-son Brad.

Christy Fruge noted that she was very excited to have dad back in Lincoln and to get him settled in to his permanent home.

Inside the home there was yet another surprise. Monday would be Scott’s birthday and daughter Christy had a cake with lit candles for her dad to blow out. As the family went through the home they admired the color of the walls, the furnishings, the appliances and it was noted that even the refrigerator had been fully stocked and there was a toothbrush in the bathroom.

The home consists of a well-appointed open floor plan kitchen dining area and living room. There is a laundry room adjoining the bathroom and a nice sized bedroom.

On the bed was a collection of photos that depicted Scott’s history from the birth of his daughter to one particular picture of Scott in his army fatigues and daughter Christy dressed similarly.

A portion of the living room furnishings included a large recliner. Mark Lawrence encouraged Jackson to check it out and he did so gladly. Jackson was asked what he thought of his home and his words were an exuberant “They did wonderful!”

After close family had the chance to see the home, the others waiting outside were invited to come in as well. The home is decorated with red white and blue throughout. Outside the soil has been covered with sod for an instant lawn, there are plantings and landscaping along the edge of the home, and beautiful potted plants on the porch and a wreath on the door.

At the edge of the porch is a testament to the service of the homeowner, a large cement disk is a duplicate of the United States Army Seal.

Congratulation Scott Jackson on your new home, and thank you for your service to your country.

[Nila Smith]

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