More than a hundred onlookers gathered on Clarendon Drive in Lake Ronkonkoma on Wednesday morning to watch Marine Sgt. Ryan Donnelly bury a red, white and blue shovel into the excavated ground at his feet. The ceremony kicked off a construction project that will be the eventual new home for him and his fiancée.
Donnelly was selected by members of the Suffolk County VFW to be the recipient of the Home Builders Care Development Corp’s “New Home for a Returning Veteran” program. The HBCDC is the charitable arm of the Long Island Builders Institute and works to gather donated land and resources in order to offer a home to a returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran at a significantly reduced price.
Donnelly, an apprentice in the plumbers union, heard about the HBCDC’s program while at plumbing school and applied. Donnelly served two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2005, while on patrol in Fallujah, his Humvee was struck by an IED and Donnelly lost his right leg above the knee. He received a Purple Heart for his actions on the battlefield, and returned home to civilian life.
“It’s really overwhelming,” Donnelly said of the outpouring of support. “The whole community is helping out.” Donnelly’s fiancée, Tina McGrory, an Army veteran, said the new home gives them an opportunity they may not have otherwise had.
“It’s like a dream come true,” she said. “You get to stay here on Long Island; we can afford a house now. It’s a blessing, it really is.”
Elected officials were also on hand to wish the couple well and say a few words about the HBCDC’s program. County Executive Steve Bellone, himself a peace-time veteran of the Army, took special delight in attending.
“This is a coming together of our community to say thank you to a veteran who has sacrificed so much for our country,” Bellone said. “And we are here today to say we are grateful for your service and your sacrifice.”
Brookhaven Town Councilman Mark Lesko said the new home for Donnelly shows that “thank you” isn’t just an empty gesture.
“Sometimes, for some of these veterans, saying ‘thank you for your service’ just isn’t enough,” Lesko said. “So we’re putting our money where our mouth is, and I think this site and this outpouring reflects our collective thanks, Ryan.”
Both elected officials also credited Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Kathleen Walsh for her work in the entire process. The new home, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch on the 100-by-100 foot lot, is expected to be completed by November.