It can be difficult to update your home when you’re a quadruple amputee, and when you’ve been severely wounded serving your nation, you shouldn’t have to. That’s the thinking behind the R.I.S.E. program, founded by actor Gary Sinise.
In 2009, Sinise was visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center when he met U.S. Army Specialist Brendan Marrocco, a Staten Island native and America’s first post-9/11 quadruple amputee. He’d lost his limbs in a bomb blast in Iraq. Later that same year, Sinise was asked to help with fundraising to build Marrocco a specially designed smart house. The actor was so inspired, he decided to start R.I.S.E – an acronym for Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment – under the umbrella of the Gary Sinise Foundation. The program provides mortgage-free, fully customized homes to severely wounded veterans across the U.S.
Building a custom house from the ground up requires an intense effort from a huge number of people. There’s a need for architects, builders and designers, not to mention materials, including often, a lot of natural stone.
About two years ago, the Natural Stone Institute learned about the work R.I.S.E. was doing, and right away was on board. “We took a look at the materials and basically said, ‘How can we not do this?’” said Pam Hammond, executive administrative assistant at the Natural Stone Institute.
“The cause speaks for itself. We’re supporting our American heroes – veterans and first responders – and giving ourselves and our members a great feeling knowing we’re helping to build forever homes.”
When a newly constructed R.I.S.E. home reaches the design phase, Natural Stone Institute member companies donate the stone that will be used in kitchens, bathrooms, exteriors and elsewhere in the home. Fabricators and installers volunteer their time to ensure each home is a perfect fit for the veteran who will live there with their family.
“Each project is different,” explained Hammond. “Our artisans are customizing and making recommendations on stone. Sometimes the countertops are modified in height to accommodate a wheelchair; sometimes we’re using exterior stone that’s indigenous to the region where the home is being built.”
Laura Grandlienard, owner of North Carolina’s ROCKin’teriors and chairwoman of the Natural Stone Institute’s R.I.S.E. board, said donor companies (including her own) are eager to give their materials, labor and time to such a worthy cause. “The first home we worked on was right here in North Carolina,” said Grandlienard. “Our whole team was involved from start to finish. Originally the stone was just going to be in the kitchen, but after hearing about this family, we were willing to do everything we could. We did the kitchen and all of the bathrooms. Our team was so inspired; everyone here knew it was for someone who’d defended our country, and there was a special buzz around that.”
According to Grandlienard, recruiting new member companies to be R.I.S.E. donors is some of the easiest work she does. “You don’t even have to ask them twice,” she said. “Quarriers, exterior stone companies, fabricators; we call them and say, ‘Hey, we need this many tons of stone in this area,’ and a lot of the time one company will just say, ‘Sure, I’ll do that.’ These are really significant donations in a monetary sense, but it really is such a small token we can give people who’ve risked their lives for us.”
Grandlienard recalls a powerful moment during the build in North Carolina. While the home was still in the framing stages, a “wall of honor” was created to acknowledge the various companies volunteering time and materials to the project.
“All those who participated got to write something inside the wall,” she said. “We all got to meet one another, and it was a great way to recognize this amazing team effort.”
But by far the best part of being involved in a R.I.S.E. home build, Grandlienard said, is getting to welcome the veteran and their family home for good. “There’s a ‘Welcome Home’ ceremony, and when you meet that family it’s just so powerful,” she said. “When they open the door, there are all kinds of gifts and flowers from all the companies that participated. We wanted to create a welcome home package from the Natural Stone Institute. One of our donors volunteered to make coasters. That’s a small but extremely time consuming thing, but that’s the kind of heart that goes into this.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program has constructed 50 homes from coast to coast, and there are another 20 currently under construction. Hammond said the Natural Stone Institute plans to be involved long into the future.
“We’re committed to homes that will be constructed throughout 2019,” she said. “It’s a good thing we’re doing, and it’s our members who make it possible. Our hope is that wherever natural stone is needed, we’ll be able to provide it, and that we’ll see many more R.I.S.E. homes finished with our help. We won’t be stopping anytime soon.”