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Nonprofit repairs home of wounded Blairsville veteran

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 7:55 p.m.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Blairsville veteran Cory Howard, his wife, Risa, and their daughter, Madison, share a happy moment in their partially renovated kitchen.

Cory Howard and his wife, Risa, used to grab pots from their kitchen and climb upstairs to bail water from a bathtub that wouldn't drain properly.

At the same time, the antiquated bathroom plumbing in their older Blairsville home often would leak onto the stove below, ruining meals before they were finished cooking.

Those aggravating conditions are now a thing of the past as work nears completion on a home makeover for Howard and his family, courtesy of the nonprofit organization Renovating Hope.

Based in Westtown, Pa., the organization is dedicated to assisting the families of current or former members of the armed services with home “repairs and/or upgraded appliances necessary to meet basic human needs,” according to its online mission statement.

According to Paul Hoffecker, founder and CEO or Renovating Hope, the improvements to the Howard home include a completely updated kitchen and bathroom, an all-new electrical panel, new windows, a new rear door, repairs to walls and ceilings in various areas, painting and some landscaping.

“We're doing this to give him a shot,” Hoffecker said of Howard. He said the goal is to “take one of the stresses out of his life and allow him to live in comfort and security in his home.” Pynos Construction and Joyce Plumbing are among local contractors that have assisted with the renovations. .

A native of California, Howard, 31, is now retired from the Marine Corps with a Silver Star and Purple Heart. As a result of his wartime injuries, he suffers from chronic pain and nerve damage in his extremeties. A spinal problem that was a side effect from his treatment prevents him from working.

Howard said a military insurance program helped him to purchase the wood frame house at 175 W. First Ave. in July 2012, two months before he and his wife added daughter Madison to their family.

But the home's many maintenance issues have been difficult to cope with. “There was constant stress over what's going to work and what's going to break the next day,” Howard said.

Howard was linked with Hoffecker's organization through staff at the Veterans Administration office in Altoona.

“In a way it's given us our life back,” Howard said of the resulting renovations. “Everything's safer now. It's a huge relief.

“I'm still in shock that all this has happened for us. I could never have done this for my wife and daughter on my own.”

On Wednesday, work that had yet to be completed included replacement of a smaller, diamond-shaped window and installation of a granite kitchen counter.

In conjunction with Renovating Hope, a ceremony is planned at the home at noon  Oct. 11 to honor Howard. Not one to court publicity, Howard said he agreed to participate in the ceremony because it will bring awareness and hopefully more contributions to the Renovating Hope organization.

Howard enlisted in the Marines in 2003 and served in Iraq as a crewman on an amphibious vehicle meant to carry troops and provide security along military routes.

He survived multiple incidents when a vehicle he was riding in encountered an explosive device. He received a meritorious citation for an incident on Dec. 20, 2005, when he provided aid to fellow corpsmen wounded when their vehicle was struck by a suicide bomber.

Finally, it was Howard who needed to be rescued on May 25, 2007 when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device that caused it to catch on fire and split apart. “It sent a 32-ton vehicle six feet in the air,” Howard said of the explosion. Before he was rescued from the vehicle, Howard suffered severe burns that required skin grafts on his right arm and both legs and facial surgery.

Doctors were able to save a foot that was broken in three places. “Learning how to walk again was a big thing,” Howard noted.

Howard came to Blairsville to study auto collision repair and refinishing at WyoTech. After graduating in Sept. 2011, he was hired by BMW but could not stay on the job for long due to his back pain.

Now, he said, his wife is studying welding at Westmoreland County Community College while he cares for their daughter, Madison, who just turned one. “I'm the stay-at-home dad,” he said. “I absolutely love it.”

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Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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