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Donors make veteran's Blairsville house a home

| Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Retired Marine Cpl. Cory Howard, an Iraq war veteran, holds his daughter Madison, 1, beside his wife, Risa, during a ceremony honoring his service in Blairsville on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Retired Marine Cpl. Cory Howard, who was seriously injured in the Iraq War, shows off his newly renovated kitchen in Blairsville on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Paul Hoffecker, founder and CEO of RenovatingHope, hugs Retired Marine Cpl. Cory Howard, an Iraq war veteran, during a ceremony honoring Howard's service in Blairsville on Oct. 11, 2013. RenovatingHope helped to organize the renovation of Howard's Blairsville home.

Purple Heart recipient Cory R. Howard exuded pride Friday as he talked about renovations to his century-old home in Blairsville.

“Come on in. Look at the kitchen — I never could have done this on my own,” said Howard, 31, a retired Marine corporal who was seriously injured in 2007 in Iraq.

“Look — a granite counter top, oak cabinets that were custom-made to fit right here, a new sink and appliances and all of this space,” Howard beamed.

As recently as 2 12 months ago, Howard and his wife, Risa, admit, they wouldn't have been so eager to show off their house at 175 W. First Ave.

The couple recalled using a bowl from a crock pot and running up and down a flight of stairs to empty water from the second-floor bathtub into the kitchen sink.

“The drain in the bathtub was so corroded it wouldn't drain,” Howard said.

The antiquated bathroom plumbing often leaked onto the stove below, ruining meals before they were finished cooking.

Thanks to RenovatingHope, a West Chester-based nonprofit that provides home repairs, appliances and renovation services to the families of veterans and men and women serving in the military, the Howards and their 1-year-old daughter, Madison, celebrated completion of the project on Friday.

RenovatingHope founder Paul S. Hoffecker said the project is among more than 100 the 5-year-old organization has completed around the country.

“What we're trying to do is remove one stress from their daily lives and give them comfort and security in their own home. They don't have to worry about fixing a window, sink or the electrical outlets,” he said.

“Most of these men and women are too proud to ask for help. But this is the least we can do for our heroes,” said Hoffecker, who left his job as a hospital construction manager in New York to start the nonprofit.

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, painting and some landscaping. Hoffecker estimated the repairs at more than $50,000.

Pynos Construction and Joyce Plumbing were among local contractors that assisted with the renovations. Home Depot in Greensburg also assisted.

A California native, Howard is retired from the Marine Corps with a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He enlisted in 2003 and was involved in operation “Phantom Fury” in Fallujah. He was awarded a Meritorious Mast for his actions when three fellow Marines were seriously wounded.

In May 2007, an improvised explosive device went off under his 32-ton supply vehicle, resulting in second- and third-degree burns on 30 percent of his body. He suffered shrapnel wounds to his right side, and three bones in his right foot were shattered.

Because of his severe burns, he required skin grafts on his right arm and both legs, as well as facial surgery.

He suffers chronic pain and nerve damage in his extremities. A spinal problem that was a side effect of his treatment prevents him from working.

A military insurance program helped him purchase the wood-frame house in July 2012.

Howard was linked with Hoffecker's organization through staff at the Veterans Affairs office in Altoona. Howard thanked his mother, Mrs. Andrew Howard of San Clemente, with writing a letter alerting Veterans Affairs officials to the family's plight.

“I hate speaking in public,” Howard said, adding that he made an exception during the community celebration honoring his service and completion of the project.

Howard agreed to participate, hoping it will bring awareness and more contributions to the RenovatingHope organization.

“I wanted to do this to help the men and women who follow me,” Howard said.

Howard moved to Blairsville to study auto collision repair and refinishing at WyoTech. After graduating in September 2011, he was hired by BMW but could not stay on the job because of back pain.

Now, Risa studies welding at Westmoreland County Community College while he cares for their daughter as a stay-at-home dad.

“I absolutely love it,” he said.

And he likes the home part, too.

“This has been a huge relief for us,” Howard said, looking around the kitchen.

More information on the nonprofit is available at

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or

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