DANVILLE — Over the past few months, friends and relatives of a local Navy veteran who was paralyzed from a motorcycle accident have come together at a construction site at 921 Chandler St. to help build a Habitat for Humanity house for him.
On Sunday, they will gather there again to see Habitat officials dedicate the handicap-accessible home and turn over the key to its owner.
"This is the best Christmas gift I could ask for," said Sean Shields, who will move into the three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch-style house after the holiday.
Shields said he was grateful to Habitat for Humanity of Danville, the city of Danville and everyone who helped make this dream come true.
"It's beautiful, and I'm just so appreciative of everyone's help. I want to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for giving me a chance to be independent."
A dedication ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the house, which is the Danville chapter's 49th home-construction project since it was established in 1986. The public is invited to attend.
A Danville native, Shields, 38, served in the Navy from 1992 to 1996. He was stationed at San Diego and Japan and served aboard the USS Independence, the USS Tripoli and the USS Kitty Hawk.
Back in the United States, he went to work for the Pontiac Correctional Center in 1997 and then transferred to the Danville Correction Center in 2000. Then in June 2010, he crashed his motorcycle, which left him paralyzed from the chest down.
"We were very excited to do this project," said Erich Hannah, the Habitat chapter's board president. Shields has been living in his sister's home, which isn't handicap-accessible.
Hannah said Habitat decided to build the home on two lots, purchased by Shields' mother and stepfather, Paul, which is close to friends and caregivers. The organization also partnered with the city of Danville to obtain $20,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to make the house fully accessible.
The project also was funded by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and donations from the Illinois income tax check-off program.
"This has been a great build," Hannah said. "So many of Sean's family members and friends have come out to help. It's been quite a joy."
While Shields has trouble maneuvering his wheelchair into areas of his sister's home and close to the kitchen sink to wash dishes, he won't have that problem in his new 1,350-square-foot home. The house has wide hallways and doorways, specially-designed kitchen and bathroom sinks, low kitchen counters and universal cabinets with a high toekick, which will give Shields access to the counter.
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.
"I can reach everything in my wheelchair," Shields said. "I have a porch, but it's designed so I can roll right into the house."
Shields said the only people who might be more excited than him are his two kids — Mariah Bourn, 13, and Sean T. Shields, 6.
"They're very excited," he said, adding each has a bedroom for when they come stay with him.
Shields said a number of people helped him put in his "sweat equity" hours, required of homeowners. They include his father, Howard "Gene" Shields of Indianapolis; uncles Buford Shields of Danville and Charles and Jackie Shields of Indianapolis; cousins Jesse Lillard, Damon Pinner, Bill Dumas and John Parker of Indianapolis; good friends and soon-to-be neighbors Tyree, Robert, Doug, Chuck and Cornell Davis; friends Eric Felix, Bruce Moore and Butch Sanders; and members of the Killer Bees motorcycle club, for which he serves as vice president.
"They all dedicated their time, and I am so appreciative," he said.