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Journey Home to build Hovland home for an Iraq war veteran

Aug 08, 2017 11:27AM ● Published by Editor

The Theo Rex family from Buffalo, Minnesota will soon have a new home built on the North Road in Hovland because of the efforts of Journey Home, an organization located in North Oaks, Minnesota started by Blake Huffman. Theo served 15 years in the Army, leaving the service in 2014 as a disabled veteran. Journey Home has built more than 40 homes for disabled veterans, but the one in Hovland is the farthest from the Twin Cities the group has ventured. Cutting the ribbon on the site their home will be built on are Jamie, Hunter and Ben, with their dad, Theo standing between Jamie and Hunter. Staff photo/Brian Larsen 

By Brian Larsen - The Cook County News Herald - August 5, 2017

When it came time to take a picture for the ribbon cutting ceremony, Ben, 12, and Hunter, 11, were nowhere to be found. They were scouting the woods around the site of their new Hovland home that will soon be built by Arktikos Builders of Hovland.

After being summoned by their mother it didn’t take long for the boys to return, and, standing on the cement foundation that will soon support the 1,400-squarefoot 1½-story building that will soon be their home, scissors in hand, they helped cut the ribbon, then dashed off.

The boys were excited. Their parents, Theo and Jaimie Rex were thrilled. Now living in Buffalo, Minnesota, Theo, a disabled vet, said, “We have wanted to move here for a long time. Journey Home is making that possible for us.”

Since 2008, Journey Home Minnesota, based in North Oaks, Minn., has built 44 homes throughout the Twin Cities, but, said Blake Huffman, executive director, “Our current goal is to grow and build in every corner of our great state, bringing Journey Home Minnesota statewide by 2019.”

Rex explained that a broken foot he suffered while serving in Iraq wouldn’t heal properly. Eventually he had to have his leg below his left knee amputated. 

“This injury isn’t combat related,” Rex said, adding that when he left the U.S. Army in 2014 after dedicating 15 years of his life to serving his country, he also left with back issues and some post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) issues to deal with. This new home will be handicapped accessible, which will help him and his wife, who is his caretaker, immeasurably. His current home isn’t handicapped accessible. Living in the woods, in the peace and quiet, will also be a blessing and should help with his PTSD, he said.

About 20 people were on hand for the ribbon cutting. Doug Seim and his wife Deb White, son Woody and other members of the Arktikos building team were there. Frank Lehto, the realtor who handled the sale was on hand. Nate Sheils, whose local lumber company will deliver the building materials, came out for this special occasion and even the banker from Two Harbors who handled the financing was on hand.

So too were Nancy and Mike Blood.

The couple from Isanti, Minnesota owned the property for 18 years before selling it to the Rex family. At one time, said Nancy, they planned to retire in Hovland, but, “It wasn’t meant to be,” she said. “Even though this was a bittersweet moment for us, we are thrilled the Rexes got the property.”

Journey Home Minnesota began in 2008 following an inspirational message Huffman heard on the Lino Lakes campus of the Eagle Lake Church.

“To be honest, I had previously opposed affordable housing projects, but that day I realized my political values and faith were not aligned,” said Huffman, a Ramsey County commissioner and 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate.

“We hope over the next three years to expand statewide and build and remodel 60 homes. In order to reach our goal we will need to raise $3 million over the next three years,” Huffman said.

Journey Home Minnesota raises approximately $100,000 for each home to ensure, said Huffman, “We are building homes that meet the highest standard of efficiency, sustainability and accessibility.”

To qualify to purchase or rent from the organization, veterans who begin the entry process must submit an application and have a maximum income of no more than 80 percent of the median income for the area.

“So many of our veterans, they’ve sacrificed for our safety and security, and now we get to have the privilege of turning that around,” said Huffman.

Theo, who looks like a big bearded lumberjack, had a twinkle in his eyes and wore a soft smile as he moved during the celebration. Sometimes he uses a wheelchair to get around but Theo was using two canes to help him on Friday, July 28, the day of the ceremony. Hopefully the house will be up and move-in ready in 12 to 16 weeks, said Journey Home USA development director Trista Matascatillo, “But that’s just a rough estimate,” she said.

Jaimie said once the family arrives in Hovland and moves into their new residence that Ben and Hunter will enter I.S.D. 166. Ben likes to run track and cross country. Hunter loves to play soccer. Their mother said her two active sons would be game to try most sports and school activities.

As for Theo, leaving his current house which has steps that are hard for him to navigate, showers and toilets that are not handicapped accessible and switching to a home that is barrier free, and also situated in the woods far from the noise and chaotic energy of a large town, leaves him smiling.

“My wife and I and the kids can’t wait to make the move here,” he said.

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