There was a time when U.S. Army Sgt. Pam Kelly envisioned the rest of her life unfolding in the military.
It would be a lifelong career, she thought.
But that all changed in 2002, when Kelly, who conducted sling-load operations at the time, suffered a devastating injury: Some equipment fell on her, crushing her spine, head and both of her shoulders.
“I lost everything,” said Kelly, who is now a quadriplegic. “I lost basically my soul. I lost life.”
Kelly, who served for 17 years, found readjusting to civilian life to be a challenge. She became isolated and shut off from the world.
But eventually, Kelly realized, she couldn’t hide anymore, and she discovered adaptive sports. She fell in love with cycling, and grew a passion for it.
But all the cycling took its toll, and Kelly was dealt another blow: She had to undergo emergency surgery on her elbow, and still suffers from some nerve damage. To this day, Kelly remains limited in one arm, and struggles with certain functions.
The area where Kelly lived up until recently was fairly commercial -- so for awhile, it was hard to go about her day-to-day routine independently. Kelly said she considers herself a private type of person, and she wanted to be able to do things on her own.
Enter the nonprofit group Villagers for Veterans, based in The Villages, in Central Florida. Since 2014, the group has focused on helping severely wounded veterans by raising much-needed funds or helping to secure them additional resources -- whatever they might need.
Kelly really started to lean on the group.
“I’ve grown a family here,” she said in a video, linked below. “It’s kind of taken me out of my shell.”
Kelly loved being able to visit The Villages and function independently.
“I could go shopping (or) go to the movies if I wanted to, by myself,” she said. “It’s so easy to get around without having somebody right by my side all the time.”
After feeling like she had a second home amongst the group, Kelly said she got motivated to help others achieve their goals -- because this organization has helped her achieve her own.
“They say once you become a soldier, you’re always a soldier,” Kelly said. “And that’s still (what) my motto is today.”
But her story doesn’t end there.
At some point, it seems, the group organizers wanted to do more: They didn’t just want Kelly to have a second home within Villagers for Veterans. They wanted her to have a real home; a special home. So they started raising money to get the retired sergeant a retrofitted house in The Villages.
In fact, the group spent more than two years fundraising for Kelly’s smart home. The community helped earn more than $300,000 for the Central Florida veteran’s house.
It was presented to her June 27 -- and is it ever a sight to behold.
Watching Kelly tour the home was touching, as she marveled at the accessibility and remarked about how it was built just for her and her needs. It’s a beautiful, expansive house.
Kelly can pull her chair right up to the stovetop. Everything is at the perfect level, and designed to be accessed with her stronger arm: cabinets and pull-out shelves, to name a few features.
So many of the people involved in making the house a reality commented about how honored they were to help, in a video sent in by the nonprofit organization.
Between the “welcome home” presentation and all the little tweaks and automated touches (so much can be done these days by voice!), the house is truly perfect -- along with the wonderful community that made it happen for Kelly.
“As far as Pam is concerned, we wish you the very, very best that God can ever bestow on you,” said Irving Locker, a World War II veteran, before the keys were officially presented. “And know how much we love you.”
Added Marie Bogdonoff, the CEO and Founder of Villagers for Veterans, “It’s been a long journey and it’s truly been a great experience ... I’m truly, truly humbled for your support and generosity. I want to take this opportunity to thank all our sponsors, supporters, build partners, our special volunteers -- every person (who) took the time. Know that this would not be possible without you. This community has rallied to make this dream a reality. And I know from this point forward that Pam will never be alone.”
Watch Kelly’s story, pre-home, here:
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