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"Smart Homes" Help Wounded Veterans Be Independent

Gary Sinise Foundation


  A new “smart home”is being built for a wounded veteranand his family in Okaloosa County courtesy of theGarySinise Foundation’s,R.I.S.E. Program. The innovative home will provide a renewed sense of independence for the Airman and his family. 

The Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program has constructed 41 smart homesfor wounded veterans nationwide so far. R.I.S.E stands for RestoringIndependence and Supporting Empowerment.  

Scott Schaeperkoetter is the Director of Operations for the programand was in the area for a recent groundbreaking ceremony on a new houseSandestin. Schaeperkoettersays the program specializes in adapting smart homes for severely wounded veterans to ease the burdens placed on them after returning home to their family. The smart technology packages in the home take it to the next level with features like automated lights and a security system.  

"If you or I leave a light on and we want to turn it off before bed we just get out of bed and go turn it off. It’s very simple for you and I. But, for somebody with no legs, they’ve either got to get up, transfer to the wheelchair, put their prosthetic legs back on to go turn a light off. So, we will automate the light in the home where they can reach over to their phone or their iPad that’s right next to the bed, so they can turn off all the lights. So lighting control is a big part of the technology package."

Relying on total caregiver support is a reality for many wounded veterans. And, the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program is helping wounded heroes reclaim their self respect and independence.  

"The emotional and physical stresses that are wounded veterans go through are unimaginable. And many have severe financial burdens as well. Most military families lack the means to purchase or retro-fit a home specifically designed to meet their needs."

Credit Gary Sinise Foundation

Such is the case for (Ret.)Airman Kolafge, whose family was selected by the Rise program.  

In 2004, (Ret.) Senior Airman Brian Kolfage was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when a rocket detonated near him. Kolfage lost his right arm and both legs in the explosion, and was in a coma for three weeks. He was released from the hospital eleven months later. 

Kolfage says although he has recovered from his injuries he struggles each day with daily activities most people take for granted such as reachinginto a cabinet or even stretching to reach the microwave above the stove. 

"Most doorways in the bathroom are really not wide. So, my wheelchair won’t fit in to get into the bathroom. That means I have to get out of my wheelchair, hop on the ground or using the bathroom, the shower they’re not set up at all. Same thing, I have to hop and do some really dangerous stuff to get into a bathtub or to get into a shower."

Since receiving word they’d be constructing a house for his family, Kolfage sayshe feels like a kid on Christmas. And, he says he’s looking forward to finding his new normal. 

"It’s an incredible gift. You know, it’s a gift that we’ll probably never have a gift like this ever again in our life. And we’re thankful that the community and foundations and support that actually doing this for our veterans."

The family looked at several other locations including Hawaii, where Kolfage was raised and in other parts of Florida before deciding on the Emerald coast.  

One of the reasons Kolfage chose to settle down in the Sandestin area was due to the immense support he’s been shown throughout the community.  

"I’ve been a lot of places but this place by far was the most friendly to me and my family than any place I’ve ever been to. It was a no brainer that this was the place we were going to move to."

The house should be finished by late summer of 2016.  

More information about the RISE program can be found at garysinisefoundation.org.  

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