Community writes ‘notes of love’ for soldier and his family
U.S. Army Sgt. Adam Lee stepped through the doorway of his future home and looked around at the house’s frame.
Handwritten notes were inscribed with a Sharpie on some of the beams, and postcards thanking Lee for his service were stapled to others. The cards were from places as far away as Pennsylvania, Michigan, California and Maine.
“I’ve seen pictures of stuff like this and thought, ‘This is so cool. I can’t imagine how those people must feel,’” Lee said, his eyes brimming with tears. “Until now.”
Lee and his family are recipients of a mortgage-free house from Operation Finally Home, a Franklin, Tenn.-based nonprofit that provides residences to servicemen and women and their families.
The Lees were gifted the home in Auburn’s Rosemary Gate subdivision on Military Appreciation Day, during the Auburn-Ole Miss football game on Oct. 7. The family was brought out onto the field during halftime and given an artist’s rendering of their future house.
“We thought we were just there to meet with the builder and an Operation Finally Home representative for an interview,” Lee said at the time. “And the university had invited us for the Military Appreciation Day game. When the announcer said we got the house, it was just overwhelming.”
A first look
Lee was forced to medically retire in 2012, following a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan that severely injured his back. He and his family – wife Sherry, son Andrew and daughter Hannah – currently reside in the Huntsville area, but they are eager to come home to the Plains.
Lee and his 20-year-old son, Andrew, toured the house Thursday afternoon, with the understanding that they were doing a pre-drywall walkthrough.
“So they’re really excited to see that, because it’s the first time they’re going to see the house framed,” explained Rusty Carroll, executive director of Operation Finally Home. “But they’re going to be even more surprised to see these simple, yet powerful, notes from the community, welcoming them here. And they’re going to know that they’re here, even after the sheetrock and the insulation go up. So it’s just really a heartfelt welcoming opportunity for them.”
Inviting the community to sign the beams of the house is an Operation Finally Home tradition called ‘notes of love,’ he added. It began during the build of another OFH house, when a subcontractor wrote a note of thanks for the veteran to whom it would belong.
“It was just something that resonated with the group that was doing that home, and now we’ve incorporated it into a main pillar event that we do,” Carroll said. “We’ve had families tell us after they’ve been in the home for a while, and they’re dealing with their physical, emotional and spiritual healing, they know that these notes are still in there.
“They know where some of them are, and they know that they’re still wrapped in love by the community. And it really helps them get through whatever they continue to face.”
Members of the community visited the construction site Thursday morning, writing messages on the frame of the house, which is being built by Auburn-based Dilworth Development. Some wrote verses of Scripture on the beams, while others wrote messages thanking Lee for his service and welcoming the family home.
“I don’t know the family,” Summer Maddox said as she inscribed a Bible verse on a beam of the house, adding that she learned about the project through Instagram. “I saw that it was a home donated to a family who served. And I thought, ‘I’d love to go and just write a verse up for them, to let them know that their house is covered in good wishes and prayers for their family.’”
Julie Melton visited the site Thursday morning as well. She doesn’t know the Lee family personally but is friends with developer Michael Dilworth and his wife.
“I am just here to bless this home, and to pray for this home, and to put a Scripture up,” she said. “I’m so excited for them.”
Andrew, age 20, has another reason to look forward to moving into the new home when it’s completed later this spring: he has a goal of attending Auburn University.
“For school, I’ve kind of had to put everything on the back burner, getting ready for this and not knowing anything,” he said. “So now, knowing that we’re coming down here, it’s a huge relief for me and my little sister. Finally being able to get going to school and everything, it’s exciting.”
Lee said he has been studying the blueprints for months, trying to imagine what the structure might look like. But as the house stands right now, he said, it exceeds his expectations.
“Even though I’m standing here in the middle of it, I still can’t grasp it,” he said. “I feel like a poor country boy like me doesn’t deserve something like this, to be honest with you. It’s just a blessing. I guess the good Lord had something in store for us all these years that we had rough times.
“We can’t wait to get down here and settle down, start meeting people and learning the area, just to be able to start living again. I haven’t been able to live for a long time, and I’m really looking forward to that. This is going to make that happen for us.”