David Belman, owner of Belman Homes in Waukesha, Wisconsin, understands the value of hard work and dedication. As a kid, Belman’s father instilled those values in him.
“When I was really little, probably about nine years old,” Belman recalls. “My dad took me to a job site, gave me a broom and a shovel, and said, ‘Start at the top and work your way to the bottom. I’ll be back in a few hours.’”
As hard as he’s worked throughout his life, Belman has been blown away by the dedication and bravery of U.S. military veterans.
That’s why Belman Homes became the first Wisconsin builder to commit to working with an organization called Operation Finally Home, which builds mortgage-free houses for injured or fallen veterans and their families.
It all started when one of Belman’s suppliers invited him to a concert during the International Builders Association show. It turned out to be a benefit concert for Operation Finally Home. During the event, a video was shown telling the story of Army Sergeant Stephen Jackel.
While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, Jackel’s vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED), flipping the vehicle and crushing his legs.
“They had munitions in the vehicle and they were on fire,” Belman explains. “There were others in the vehicle, and it was going to blow up. So he used his mangled legs to put out the munitions and saved his whole battalion.”
Jackel’s legs were amputated, and he had other serious injuries. The soldier returned home where he had a family with six children to care for.
Belman learned how Operation Finally Home gives veterans like Jackel much needed help by providing a home their families can live in for free, relieving them from the burden of mortgage payments. Belman knew he wanted his company to become involved with the organization, but at the time Operation Finally Home was mostly operating in the southern U.S.
Not long after, during a Wisconsin Builders Association meeting, Belman heard the Structural Building Components Association (SBCA) was interested in doing a housing study and working with Operation Finally Home.
“I volunteered right away,” Belman says. “We were the first builder to commit to working with Operation Finally Home in Wisconsin, and we’re nearly done with it.”
Meet the Wisconsin Veterans Getting New Homes
In early June, two families of injured U.S. veterans will move into brand new homes in the village of Jackson, Wisconsin.
Belman Homes built a house for Army Specialist Robert “Bo” Kitelinger, and another Milwaukee area builder, Tim O’Brien Homes, built one right next door for Army Sergeant Drew Wroblewski.
Both Kitelinger and Wroblewski are Purple Heart recipients who are now dealing with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after sustaining injuries during IED attacks in Iraq.
What stands out about the stories of both men is not only the fact they re-enlisted and continued serving as long as they could, but that they are working to overcome the struggles of re-adjusting to civilian life so they can make a difference in the world.
Belman says the builders are involved in selecting the families who receive homes and that Operation Finally Home purposefully seeks out veterans who are not only the most in need, but the most admirable.
“The cool thing about Operation Finally Home is that they find really deserving people,” he says. “They say they find families who want a hand up not a handout.”
In Bo Kitelinger’s case, he sought help for his PTSD while applying to colleges around the country that were located near VA clinics. Kitelinger has been attending Marquette University and plans to move on to medical school so he can eventually practice sports medicine. Meanwhile, he’s been volunteering to shadow physicians at the VA Medical Center in Milwaukee.
Belman says Kitelinger is also closely involved with a veterans’ support group at Marquette and referees for youth soccer games. When Belman met Bo Kitelinger and his family, he was impressed by their attitudes, which made the process of building a home for them even more inspiring.
“The stories are heartbreaking and hard to read sometimes, Belman says. “Then to meet them in person, and see their great outlook, and surprise them when you tell them they’re getting a home, the whole process is a really cool thing.”
The Milwaukee Bucks assisted Operation Finally Home in delivering that surprise to the Kitelinger family. Belman says they were able to announce the news at center court during halftime of a game last season.
“Not only did we honor them and have a video about their service,” Belman says. “But we were able to surprise them and say, ‘By the way you are the recipient of a brand new home from Operation Finally Home!’ It was really neat. I’ll always remember that day.”
Building a Home Fit for a Hero
Belman says he’s enjoyed every part of this experience. During the process of building the Kitelinger’s home, the many suppliers and vendors who supported the project came to write messages to Bo and his family on the frame and walls. Neighbors in the local community also got involved, including local school children.
“When Kimberly (Bo’s Wife) came in the house and saw the notes from the kids, it was just very emotional, and you could feel the love in the house,” Belman remembers.
When Bo, his wife and their three children move into their new house, they’ll find a home custom built for them.
It’s a four-bedroom ranch with around 2,500 square feet when you included the finished basement with a rec room. There’s even a special wall in the basement for the Kitelinger’s son who is a big soccer fan.
“There’s going to be a scene painted on the wall with a net so he can practice kicking goals,” Belman says. “One daughter said on TV that she wanted a pink bedroom, so we did that for her, too.”
Belman Homes also kept Bo Kitelinger’s needs, challenges, and comfort in mind.
“He does have severe PTSD and traumatic brain injury, so we’ve got a room set up that’s dark and insulated so it’s quiet and he can rest.”
It’s quite apparent that David Belman is proud of the home his company built, and he’s excited for the Kitelingers to make it their home.
“Our home is a completely hand-built stick-frame home. We didn’t even use trusses, they’re all roof rafters. So it was literally built stick-by-stick, and it’s a super high-quality home for them,” he says. “To try and keep the finished product a little bit of a surprise, we haven’t let them in there for the past two months. So it will be a nice touch for them to go in there and see it all done.”
The big day is June 4, 2016. There will be a celebration in Jackson, including a parade that ends at the two houses. Then the keys will be handed over to the Kitelinger and Wroblewski families.
Belman says this won’t be the last time his company works with Operation Finally Home. Plans are already in the works to help another veteran with a mortgage-free home in Wisconsin.
Pella Windows & Doors of Wisconsin is already on board and plans to donate all the windows for the next project.
“When we were approached with the opportunity to contribute to such an inspirational cause, we jumped at the chance,” says Pella Windows & Doors of Wisconsin owner, John Calawerts. “Pella has a tradition of supporting our military veterans, and it’s great to see projects like this taking place in Wisconsin that we can be part of.”
Belman says he is deeply thankful for the donations and support he’s received from industry partners so far.
“When we decided to do this project, I wasn’t sure what kind of support I would get from the trades. But I didn’t have to ask very hard. Most people came to me and said, ‘We’re in we’ll help you.’”
More About Belman Homes
David Belman is a second generation home builder, and Belman Homes also operates as a land developer and real estate company. Belman Homes specializes in hand-built, stick-frame homes including custom cabinetry and woodwork, which gets finished on site.
“Even though I’m a younger builder, we still do things the old fashioned way with how it’s put together,” Belman explains. “I think that gives us a high level of quality.”
But not everything about Belman Homes is old fashioned. The company uses technology to create an exceptional customer service experience.
“We’ve invested in software so we can help our customers online. They can check the progress of their home, and we’ve got all their documents online. They can log in years later and double check their paint color or look up something on their house. We’ve got it all stored for them.”
Belman is serving as the president of the Metropolitan Builders Association, following in his father Don Belman’s footsteps.
“My father was president in 1995, and we’re the first father-son presidents of the MBA. So that was a neat thing to be able to share,” David Belman says.
Soon the younger Belman will move on to a new role supporting the industry. He is president-elect for the Wisconsin Builders Association. During his time in that position, Belman says he plans to work with the next generation of home builders in the state.
“There are a lot of builders who aren’t aware of the work we do on the statewide level,” Belman says. So one of my goals is to get more engagement with the younger, up-and-coming builders.”
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Watch a Video About Operation Finally Home
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