A Long Road Home

They only went to the party for the cocktails and the free concert. But when they left, they had a new project on their hands, one unlike anything they’d done before. Things might have turned out differently if Bill Knapp III and Jon Sieck weren’t country music fans. But, as Hal Ketchum once sang, “good country music will never steer you wrong.”

While attending the 2013 International Builders Show in Las Vegas, the Ironwood Homes team received an invitation to attend a cocktail party hosted by LP Building Products, which included a performance by Kix Brooks of country music’s Brooks & Dunn fame.

“We like country music, and LP has been a good partner, so we decided to go,” says Sieck. “We didn’t realize it was also an informational meeting about a charity Kix Brooks represents.”

The nonprofit, Operation Finally Home, which provides mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans, was benefiting from any funds raised at the party and concert, so Brooks gave a brief explanation of the organization’s history and goals.

The Texas-based nonprofit founded in 2005 seeks to honor the veterans and widows who, as its website says, “have sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms and our way of life.” Finally Home brings together sponsors, builders, contributors, and volunteers to make sure vets and their families can come back to a home of their own when they return from service. The organization has built over 100 homes already and plans to complete at least six more in 2014.

“We were impressed with what they were doing,” Sieck says. “There are similar programs out there, but none of them focus specifically on the housing needs of the vets. That was something we could relate to, 
of course, so we planned to donate before we left 
that night.”

Due to some technical difficulties, Sieck and Knapp had to wait a while to make their donation. But it was time well spent.

“We talked about what Finally Home was doing and what it would take to sponsor a project like that,” Sieck explains. “And we decided we wanted to build a house, not just donate money.”

So Ironwood Homes signed on to build the first Operation Finally Home project in Iowa.

“We worked with the Finally Home team to adapt a single-floor home plan to the organization’s criteria,” says Sieck. “They want all their homes to be handicap accessible, even though not all the recipients need that, and there were some other revisions we needed to make for accessibility purposes. Once the plan was finalized, we began seeking out donations and partners to join the project.”

Through designated funds, Finally Home typically covers any gap in costs not met through donations of materials and labor. On the Iowa project, that gap was estimated at $60,000 to $70,000.

“Our goal from the beginning, though, was to not use any of those funds,” Sieck says. “We plan to cover 100 percent of the costs so the national organization doesn’t have to cover anything.”

So far, Ironwood is about 35 percent toward that financial goal. But Knapp and Sieck have been overwhelmed with the willingness of vendors and subcontractors who participated on the home.

“There are no words to express the gratitude we feel to everyone who helped,” Sieck says. “It was a huge effort, and everyone was as proud to be a part of it as we were.”

Operation Finally Home reviewed applications from veterans in Iowa and selected U.S. Army Specialist Nathan Mason to be the recipient of the Ironwood home. Mason, who received a Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan, was wounded in 2007. He and his wife, Cassie, have two children.

Ironwood broke ground on the home in Polk City the day before Thanksgiving last year and held the ribbon-cutting in mid-July. The 1,700-square-foot Craftsman home, valued at over $300,000, was built on a lot donated by Knapp Properties and, over the past eight months, included donations of materials and time from suppliers and subcontractors every step of the way.

“It took longer than usual to finish this home because everything was donated and had to be scheduled around other projects,” Sieck explains. “But Nathan and Cassie were great to work with and were thrilled to move in and get busy watering their own sod and putting their things in place when we finished in July.”

Knapp and Sieck may not have gone into that concert expecting to take on a long-term project like nothing they’d done before. But, as a good country song will tell you, the road less traveled ain’t for the faint of heart. And your buddies will be there to back you up.

To learn more about other Operation Finally Home projects or to donate to its ongoing work, check out OperationFinallyHome.org. To donate to this project, visit IronwoodIowa.com.