“I thought I would have a lifetime in the military,” recalls Pam Kelly, a 17-year Army veteran.
But her dreams were shattered in 2002 — the moment a heavy-duty equipment cable snapped and a load of supplies crushed her spine, her shoulders and elbow. The accident left her a quadriplegic.
Five years later, Kelly, with a 100 percent disability, faced a lifetime confined to an electric wheelchair; no longer able to drive a car; and dependent on others. Her single-family home, in Pinellas Park, has a bathroom too-small in which to maneuver her wheelchair, and a kitchen with appliances too-high and not accessible: a building unable to be modified to support her physical limitations.
But, a new life, in a new home, and in a new community that has embraced her will become a reality when Marie Bogdonoff and the other members of Villagers for Veterans reach their goal to raise sufficient funds to build her a specially-refitted house in The Villages.
“Other military-support organizations usually only help servicemen and women who were injured in direct combat. We felt that Pam deserved the same humanitarian assistance. Regardless of circumstance, she was serving her country,” Bogdonoff said.
“Without any family, Pam was fighting alone to remain as independent as possible. Recently, another surgery resulted in greater difficulty in controlling her wheelchair’s joystick,” she added.
“When we first met Pam, she was quiet and very introverted. But, she began attending events in The Villages, and we began seeing changes in her. She became happier in meeting people who always welcomed her. She loves our town squares and the ability to get there using the golf paths,” Bogdonoff said.
“The Board of Directors of Villagers for Veterans decided that her best option was to live in The Villages, and therefore we committed to take on this huge project. We want to build ‘a house with love’ – around 1,600 square feet with an open floor plan. With an estimated budget of around $250,000, we are considering locations on the ‘historic side’ that would give her convenient access over the golf cart bridge to Spanish Springs and multi-modal paths to points beyond.”
In February, Villagers for Veterans started on its quest by conducting the first of several fund-raisers.
“Our kick-off event introduced our ambitious objectives to some 55 people, and began to formulate ideas on how to make our dream a reality,” said Marie.
“First, we created an 800-piece jigsaw puzzle with Pam’s picture. We are asking people to buy a piece for $50 each. Donors will be acknowledged now, and then once Pam’s house is completed, they will receive a puzzle piece as appreciation for their invaluable piece of that support. The project’s goal of $40,000 will help buy the lot and down payment.”
Puzzle pieces can be purchased on the Villagers For Veterans’ website, villagersforveterans.org and indicate that the donation is for ‘pam’s house.’
The club’s next event will be the concert Sweet Charity with a performance by the Villages Theatre Company, March 5 through March 7 at the Savannah Center. Tickets are available at The Villages Box Office.
The public also is invited to play bingo at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March at Lake Miona Recreation Center. Proceeds of the evening will go to the new initiative.
Then the ‘big happening of the season’: the Villages for Veterans’ fourth annual Orchid Gala, on Saturday, April 28, at Savannah Center.
The dinner reception will honor women veterans, and features the music of Johnny Wild & The Delights. There will be a cash bar and a silent auction.
Last year’s event was sold out, so the $50 tickets should be purchased soon at the club’s website or by calling (516) 220-5068. Tables of eight can be reserved.
“This is a win-win situation,” said Bogdonoff. “Pam will soon live in a community that offers easy accessible facilities. We will be her family and continue our commitment to her.
“What better way for the residents of The Villages to demonstrate to the world how we rally around those who need our help.”