Navy veteran chosen for Habitat home

DANVILLE — For Sean Shields, a simple household chore such as washing dishes is anything but simple.

That's because the Danville man, who was injured in a motorcycle accident, must do that and other tasks from a wheelchair in a non-handicap-accessible house.

"It's very difficult," Shields said of trying to maneuver his chair around his sister's house, where he has been living off and on for the last year. "I'm not a small guy. It's hard to get into certain areas. If I'm doing dishes, I can't pull right up (to the sink). I have to try to do it sideways."

Now Habitat for Humanity of Danville officials plan to make Shields' life a little easier. They selected Shields, a U.S. Navy veteran, to be the recipient of the organization's next home-building project.

Officials will kick off the project at 921 Chandler St. with a ground-breaking ceremony at 3 p.m. Sunday. It is open to the public.

The project will be the Habitat chapter's 49th in the Danville area since it was established in 1986. And it will be the first of possibly three projects that will get started this year, said Executive Director John Graves, who still is lining up funding for the 50th and 51st homes.

Shields, 37, served in the Navy from 1992 to 1996. He was an aviation boatswain's mate aboard the U.S.S. Independence, the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk and the U.S.S. Tripoli.

Back home, Shields worked as a correctional officer at the Danville Correctional Center for 13 years. Then in June 2010, he crashed his motorcycle.

"His life was turned upside down," Graves said, adding Shields is paraplegic and has had to adjust to being in a wheelchair. "This is kind of a rebuilding time for him."

Danville Habitat is building Shields, a single dad, and his two children a one-story, 1,350 square-foot house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. While it will be valued at around $85,000, Shields will only have to pay $55,000 — the actual building cost — and have a 20-year no-interest loan.

While the local chapter has built houses with wider doorways, this house will be totally handicap-accessible. Graves said it will feature low kitchen counters and universal cabinets with a high toe kick, which will give Shields better access to the counter.

"Our hope is to put one upper kitchen cabinet on a hydraulic lift," Graves said, adding Shields can lower the cabinet to access items or put them away then raise it when he's done.

Other features include a roll-in shower with a flip-down seat; outlets that are 18 inches off of the floor instead of 11 inches; and light switches that are 40 inches from the floor instead of 48 inches.

"We're also going to make sure the window latches are lower than 48 inches so he can open them if he wants to or needs to get out," Graves said.

The project is being funded by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Community Development Block Grant funds, and donations from the Illinois income tax check-off program. It will be built by volunteers from Habitat as well as the Allen Chapel and New Life Church of Faith in Danville.

His mother and stepfather, Sharon and Paul Smith, purchased the two lots on which the home will be built. And for the last few days, Jamaica High School students have been building sheds behind the ReStore to earn community service hours, which they must have to graduate. One will be placed in Shields' back yard, and the other will go to Candace McNeal, who moved in to the organization's 48th home last year.

Though in a wheelchair, Shields still will be required to put in 300 hours of "sweat equity," which is required of homeowners. He said many relatives and friends plan to step up and help him put in his hours.

"And I'm eager to learn what I can," he said.

He and his kids — Mariah Bourn, 12, and Sean T. Shields, 5 — also are eager to move in.

"It's a dream come true," he said. "It's going to be designed for me. I'm just very, very thankful."

Habitat seeks partners

 

DANVILLE — Habitat for Humanity of Danville officials still need community partners for the organization's 50-50 build.

The house-building project will be the organization's 50th in the Danville area since it was established in 1986. Officials are looking to fund it through 50 $1,000 donations from local businesses, agencies, clubs or organizations and individuals.

If enough donors come forward, Habitat officials will break ground on the house sometime this year.

To become a donor, call Executive Director John Graves at 497-4234 or email him at johnfgraves@yahoo.com.

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