About the Guest
What started out as a one-house remodeling project has blossomed into a passion and a calling for Dan Wallrath. Hear how God grabbed his heart to help the men and women who have served our country.
Bob: Over the last few years, Dan Wallrath has had the joy of being part of blessing a lot of wounded veterans and their families with a gift they could not have imagined they would have ever received—a mortgage-free home.
Dan: Stephen was a double amputee—he lost both of his legs in an IED explosion. When we found Stephen and his wife and six kids, they had nowhere to go; and they were going to be homeless. We had heard about the family. The first thing we do is—we reach out to a builder—and this was in the Dallas area—anyway, he raised his hand and said, “Yes, I’m going to build this house for them”; and he did. I’ll never forget—when we surprised the family, we showed them pictures of their new home; and he just broke down when he realized that he was going to have a home for his six kids.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 26th.
Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I’m Bob Lepine. Dan Wallrath has had an opportunity to bless a lot of people. It’s taken a lot of work to do it, but he would tell you: “Every bit of it has been worth it.” Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Have you ever tackled a project and had it get out of hand on you?—[Laughter]—you know, you thought it was going to be one thing and it wound up being something else?
Dennis: Bob, if you’re talking about construction, everything—[Laughter]
Bob: I’m just talking about anything.
Dennis: —everything I have ever attempted—
Bob: When you bring up construction, I’m thinking of a particular ceiling fan that, by the time I was done putting in that ceiling fan, there was more crown molding around the ceiling fan to cover the hole that I made in the ceiling than there was ceiling left in the room, I think.
Dennis: You know, it’s really interesting, Bob—why God, in His sovereign rule, gave certain people talents and gifts—
Dennis: —that I am envious of. [Laughter] And our guest on the broadcast today, Dan Wallrath, is one of the most-gifted builders you could ever imagine. I just want you to know, Dan—see these hands, Dan? When I came on into ministry 48 years ago, the psychologist looked at me and said: “Young man, you’ve chosen the right profession. You score in the lower 2 percentile of all the people in the world at working with your hands.” [Laughter] So, you would not want to hire me for anything—
Dennis: —related to homebuilding, which you did for over 30 years. Somebody got all the gifts—that’s all I can say.
Dan is the President and Founder of Operation FINALLY HOME, a non-profit organization that provides custom-built, mortgage-free homes to military heroes and the widows of the fallen. He was named the CNN Hero of the Year in 2010—
—also featured in a CNN documentary. He and his wife Carol live in Texas, and they have two sons and four grandchildren. He’s written a book called Building Hope.
Bob: Well, we should say—Operation FINALLY HOME is kind of one of those projects that you took on that got out of hand; right?
Dan: Absolutely; absolutely.
Bob: It was—at its beginning, it was a remodeling job; because you heard about a young man who was coming home. The home needed some renovation. You and other builders in the Houston area pitched in and made that happen.
Then, you thought, “Well, let’s build a home for another soldier who is coming home and needs a home.” You did that for a family and provided them with a home. A lot of people would look at that and say: “You know, I feel like I have done kind of my duty / I’ve done my good deed for the day. Now, I can take that vacation,” or “I can get back to making some money.” That’s not what happened with you.
Dan: No. [Laughter]
Bob: What began as those two projects, all of a sudden, started morphing into a full-time call from God to keep at it; right?
Dan: It did. It was something that was very unexpected, and I wasn’t looking for.
Dennis: Yes; at what point did it finally dawn on you?—you’re holding on the caboose of a runaway train.
Dan: Absolutely; I’ve got to tell you this story. We had built a home right outside of Camp Lejeune. We had built this home for a family—it was Sergeant Vincent Gizzarelli—he had two teenage kids. Vince had served a couple tours and sustained some severe brain injuries and some TBI / PTSD. He came back home and tried to go to work and couldn’t because of the severe headaches and things like that.
The family was really struggling, financially. At the same time, his wife had a distant cousin—
—she was into drugs, big time—meth—and her boyfriend. They had three little boys. They were so into drugs that they didn’t bring these boys out. They were eating dog food / they were fending for themselves. They were living in such deplorable conditions.
Social services came in and took the three little boys away. Well, the closest relative they had were the Gizzarellis. The Gizzarellis were struggling, financially, and they asked them if they would consider taking one of these little boys. They said: “There is no way we that we would take one of them. We have to take all three of them—we can’t separate them.” So, when they got the three little boys—and this was big news in the local area—
Dennis: And he didn’t have a job at that point; right?
Dan: No, no; he didn’t—no. He was already out of the military, and they were really struggling. We had heard about the family—we had surprised them with a home.
I had made a statement at the dedication of the home that the Lord had called me to this work.
After the ceremony was over, I stepped outside of the home there to use the telephone. When I turned back around, this guy was standing right there—it scared me to death—he was just standing right there. He looked at me and he said, “God called you to this work.” He said, “How did you know that?” I told him—I said, “You know, I don’t know how God calls everybody.” I said, “All I can do is tell you how He called me. He put a passion and a desire in my heart that—you know, I couldn’t sleep / couldn’t eat—you know, I had to do something. And I felt like”—and I told him / I said, “Don’t take this the wrong way; but I felt like that if I didn’t do this, God was through with me.” I told him: “Don’t—don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that God was going to zap me and end my life; but I just felt like I had to do this. If I didn’t do this, that God just wasn’t going to ever ask me to do anything again; you know?
“I had to do it.”
Dennis: I like to ask this question: “What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?” And it doesn’t have to be what you’re currently doing.
Dennis: And courage is doing your duty in the face of fear. It’s what those soldiers did, who were put in harm’s way, and some of them harmed because they were doing their duty.
Dan: What these guys do—what they face on a battlefield—
Dennis: I understand.
Dan: —is just—it’s incredible. And for me, to even think of being courageous is just—it just sort of—you know.
I don’t know if this is courageous or not; but I think the biggest step—or the biggest blessing in my life has been my wife Carol—and having courage to just pursue her and just know that she was the one in my life. I have to say that I don’t think I’d be where I am today without having the courage to—because she told me, “No,” the first time.
She said, “No,” when I asked her out—she said, “No.” And I’m just so thankful that God gave me the courage to hang in there—pursue her.
Bob: Well, and we should say—because you’ve told us this—the courage involved going through a big ex-Marine, Baptist preacher father—
Bob: —to get to her.
Dan: Right. [Laughter]
Bob: So, it wasn’t just—
Dan: He had his own military experience. [Laughter]
Dennis: That was back in 1970. So, it’s worked out; hasn’t it?
Dan: It has; it has.
Dennis: You ended up meeting the Savior because the dad said: “If you want to pursue my daughter, you’ve got to pursue God. You’ve got to be at church—not just any church—it’s the church I’m preaching at.”
Dan: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dennis: So, he checked you out.
Dan: He did.
Dennis: So, we all know—and have watched television on some of these remodel shows. I love the one that has the painting of what the house used to look like, and it’s on rollers; you know?
Dennis: They roll it back with the couple in front, and there’s the new house with the landscaping and all that.
Of course, the cameras are all over the faces of the couple who are getting that house.
I have to believe, Dan—that as good as that is—I have to believe you have some memories etched in your soul. Take us to one of these moments when you built a house and set it up, and let us know who the couple is. Explain what you saw and what happened afterward.
Dan: Number one, there are so many—it’s incredible. It’s really sad that there are so many stories; but the one that just comes to my mind—Sergeant Stephen Jackel. We found Stephen and his wife and six kids—they were in the San Antonio area—and they were living in some transitional temporary housing. Stephen was a double amputee—he lost both his legs in an IED explosion.
When they ran over the IED, it trapped Stephen and his crew inside the vehicle; and the vehicle was on fire. Stephen took one of his legs and put the fire out.
Dan: So, you can—when you ask me about courage—those guys are pretty courageous. But Stephen put the fire out and was able to save his men. One of our heroes—he’s living in transitional housing with his wife and six kids. And the transition housing—
Dennis: Give us an idea what you mean by that.
Dan: Well, there’s a group in the San Antonio area. They have transitional housing that provides temporary housing for the families that come out of the military that are transitioning into civilian life. It’s a great service, but they can only provide that housing for a certain period of time—it’s temporary, and they have to move on.
Well, when we found Stephen and his wife and six kids, they were at the end of their time; and they were going to have to leave. They had nowhere to go, and they were going to be homeless.
Our program—the way our program works is—we—first thing we do is—we reach out to a builder in the—and this was in the Dallas area—and it was one of our friends. We told him about the Jackels. He raised his hand and said, “Yes; I will build this house for them”; and he did.
I’ll never forget—when we surprised the family at Fair Park in Dallas—and Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn—he was doing a concert at the fairgrounds. We worked it out to where we were going to surprise the family at that venue, and they had no clue. We told him it would be sort of a neat thing to take them backstage and meet some of the artists and things. So, they did; and we surprised them on stage, there, in front of several thousand people—
—and we showed them a picture of their new home. He just—he just broke down—you know, just such an emotional time when he realized that he was going to have a home for his six kids. It was just wonderful.
Bob: Tell our listeners about Marine Sergeant Scott Worswick.
Bob: Tell his story.
Dan: This is—of course, there are so many stories like this in the book; and they go into a lot more detail. But when we first started, we were invited—my wife and I were invited down to Disney World to a conference around Christmastime for wounded veterans. We were invited down there because we were looking for a family that we could build a home for in the Houston area. This was very, very early on. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know how to find anybody, but—
Dennis: You didn’t even have a name for your organization.
Dan: No; no. [Laughter] We didn’t even have a piece of paper that said, “You can give us money, and we can give you a receipt.” [Laughter]
Before we went, my wife and I prayed that God would place a family in our path that we could help. So, we go to the conference. There’s just—oh—hundreds of young men and women there that are injured—single, double, triple amputees—blind, in wheelchairs. And we’re visiting with different ones: “Where do you live?” “We live in Phoenix.” “We live in Tampa.” “We live here.” “We live there.” But nobody we’d run into that needed to be in Houston. Of course, novices like we were, we didn’t know what we were doing. So, we were—and we were very discouraged because we just knew—we knew—that God had sent us there, because we knew that we were going to find a family.
So, this was the last day; and my wife and I decided we were going to run over to Disney World, pick up some Christmas gifts for the kids. We get on the bus / we go to Disney World; and on the way back, Carol and I were the only two on the bus. We were leaving the bus stop and, all of a sudden, the bus comes to a screeching halt. I look out the window, and here comes this family—
—this young man with a cane, and an infant, and a little two-year-old. They had diaper bags and, you know, strollers. It looked like a circus; you know?—things were just flying everywhere. They were trying to get on the bus. I jump out—help them get on the bus. They decided they’d come sit down by my wife and me. They did, and we struck up a conversation and introduced ourselves.
He said—I asked him if he was there for the conference—he said he was. I asked him about his injuries. You know, he was on part of the rescue mission for Jessica Lynch. He had been injured, like so many of them, by an IED. He had—I don’t know—23 or 24 back surgeries and had more to come and was going to end up, probably, in a wheelchair. He was probably 25/26 years old.
We got to talking, and I asked him—I said, “Well, where you all live?” They said, “Well, we live here in Orlando, but we feel like that there’re more opportunities for us in Houston, Texas.
“We’d love to go.” Well, you know, I looked at my wife real quick—Carol—and she looked at me. I mean, you could have knocked us over with a feather; you know. Of course, we didn’t know anything about how to vet families or ask them the right questions or anything; but we just knew—God just put them there, right at the right time—last minute. Again, He showed us that He was in control.
Bob: So, on the bus, did you say, “So, would you like a house?”
Dan: No; no—because we surprise all of them—they don’t know it.
Bob: Got it.
Dan: But we told them what we did, and we asked them if they would fill out an application for a new home. I told them—I said, “You know, it probably won’t happen; but you know maybe. Would they consider filling out an application?” They said, “Oh my goodness—yes!” I said, “Well, don’t get your hopes up.”
Dennis: How many other applications did you have? [Laughter] Come on, tell the truth. [Laughter]
Dan: They were getting a home. [Laughter] So, they did—they filled out the application. They had moved to Houston, and we surprised them with a—
—now, it’s been—
Bob: How do you surprise somebody? Do you show up at their house like Ed McMahon with the check?
Dan: No; we’ve given away homes at a Washington Wizards’ game.
Bob: Basketball game.
Dennis: Oh, really?
Dan: Yes; Houston Texans’ games, Dallas Mavericks, churches—we’ve done them at rotary clubs. We’ve done them at—wherever we can get a group of people together, we’ll surprise the family.
Bob: Make a surprise announcement there.
Dan: We’ve done them at Aggie games / UT games—it’s always fun.
Dennis: You’re either in process or have built over 200 homes.
Dennis: What if there’s a guy or a gal, who is a homebuilder, listening to our broadcast—I’ve got to believe there is one—[Laughter]—there is one, who is going, “I’d like a piece of that action.”
Dan: Yes; yes. Well, that’s how we work. I was a builder; and our process is very, very simple. We ask the builder to just raise his hand and say, “Hey, I’d like to get involved.” We start with the builder first. Then, we find a family; because we want to make sure we’re going to be able to build a home before we surprise a family.
We always know that we’re going to get the home built before you bring a family into it.
Then, we go through our process. Our process is—we—first thing we do is—we have what we call a town hall meeting. We invite the builders to invite all his subcontractors, suppliers, bankers, developers into a meeting. One of our representatives comes, and we do a PowerPoint, or a slideshow, or whatever on the family. We’ll show them what their service has been, what his injuries are, what they’ve sacrificed, the struggles they’re going through.
Then, the builder gets up and says: “Hey, I’ve raised my hand. I am going to build the home for this. I need you guys’ help.” Then, we have sign-up cards: An electrician comes up and says, “Hey, I’m going to wire it.” Plumber says, “I’m going to do the plumbing.” The air conditioning man says, “I’m going to do this.” Then, off of that information, the builder does a budget.
Dennis: Okay. Time out! Time out! Take me to your favorite moment at one of these builders’ meetings. We tend to focus on the family that gets the home.
You have had to have witnessed some remarkable moments.
Dan: One situation was another amazing God story; but this builder—actually, he dated my sister when she was in college. I hadn’t heard from him in years and years and years. I went and visited with him, and told him how the process worked, and told him about the town hall meeting. Before I got through with the discussion with him about the town hall meeting, he said, “We want to do the town hall, but”—he said—“I want you to know something right up front.” He said, “This is a done deal.” He said, “If nobody signs up, I’m building this house. I’m building it.” It’s just so amazing. We see—
Bob: It sounds like what Dan Wallrath said back the first time somebody came to him. [Laughter]
Bob: Same deal; right?
Bob: God puts a burden on these guys’ hearts. Then, from all over the place—sub-contractors, bankers, suppliers—people raise their hand.
You said there was one house that got built—a $200,000 home—and there was a total of about $6,000 worth of raw materials that had to be paid for. Everything else got pitched in; right?
Dan: Yes; that was the very first home—it cost me $6,000.
Bob: So, today, if a home is being built, are they typically 2,000-square foot homes that you’re building?
Dan: The homes that we’ve built today—they have a market value of—from New York to California—and most of them are in the middle of America—is where we build most of them. The average market value of our homes is $264,000. We do not tell the builder what to build, or how to build it, or anything. They—
Dan: No; we do a family assessment’s need. We say that: “This family has four kids. This is his injuries. This is his hobbies / this is what they like to do. Then, the builder comes up with a plan; and we approve it. We want to make sure it has all the safety things and handicap things it needs; but when it comes to how much granite or how much wood floors—all of them are like that.
And the average value of that home is $264,000.
The money we have to raise to build one of those homes is between 60 and 70 thousand; and we have so many generous donors. We have families that—they sponsor a home a year—they’ll give $75,000. We have one family that sponsors four homes a year. We have families that give $1,000 a year. We have families that give $5 a month. God provides—the money is always there!
We’re not about building homes—we’re about building lives; you know? We don’t just build them a home and just say, “Goodbye.” You know, we stick with them; and we provide them a chaplain.
Dennis: Well, you know the needs—the spiritual needs—of those marriages and families are acute.
Dennis: I mean, war extracts a price on those who are injured and those who are not injured in combat—just serving is disruptive to a family unit.
I’d encourage our listeners—pray for Dan.
Dennis: Pray for Operation FINALLY HOME. Pray for God’s favor on this and more homebuilders to hold their hand up and open their big, fat mouth. [Laughter]
Bob: If there is a homebuilder, who is listening, who said, “I’d like to find out what it would take,” can they just go to your website?
Dan: Yes; go to the website.
Bob: We’ve got a link at FamilyLifeToday.com to your website so they can come and find you and get more information about how they can get involved. If there’s a family listening—a military family, with needs, and they’d like to fill out one of those applications, same thing; right?
Dan: Same—go to the website and fill out the application. Somebody will get in touch with you. I want everybody to know, too, that the book that I’ve written—all the proceeds from the book will be going to the mission of Operation FINALLY HOME. You’re not only going to be buying a great God story, but you’ll also be donating money to help one of these families.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve got a link to your website on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We also have copies of your book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you want more information on the work that Dan is doing or if you’d like to order a copy of the book, Building Hope: What Happens When God Changes Our Plans to Accomplish His. You can order, online; or you can call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and the toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, we are almost at the very end of May. As our regular listeners know, this month has been a month where we’ve been hoping to rally folks to provide a little extra funding for this ministry. As we head into the summer months, there are some projects that we are hoping to continue to push forward. In order to do that, we established a goal at the beginning of the month.
We are trying to raise $1.1 million during the month of May.
Some of you have already gone online or called us and said, “We want to help you guys out.” And here, as May is winding down, I’m hoping that some of you who have not called—maybe, even some of you who have never called and made a donation for FamilyLife Today—would you consider going online, donating whatever you are able to afford, so that we can reach this $1.1 million goal for the month of May?
Again, it’s easy to donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate; or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today at PO
Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223. And let me just say, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you’re able to do in support of this ministry.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for today. I hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend; and then, join us back on Monday when we will meet a couple who have had the very difficult experience of living with a teenage daughter who, early on, found her life revolving around drug use. We’ll meet Tom and Dena Yohe on Monday. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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