Army Sgt. Pam Kelly didn’t know whether to smile or cry Saturday morning as she rolled into her new smart home on the Historic Side of The Villages for the first time.
Kelly, a disabled veteran who suffered a devastating injury in 2002 while training for deployment to Iraq, received the high-tech house compliments of Villagers For Veterans. The group, led by Founder and President Marie Bogdonoff, spent two-plus years raising money through fundraisers and donations to build the home for Kelly, whose spine was crushed when a cable snapped, leaving her permanently paralyzed with very limited use of one arm.
On Saturday after a brief ceremony attended by many who helped make the home a reality and an official ribbon-cutting event, Kelly rolled her wheelchair into her new, fully furnished, ADA-compliant home on Teakwood Lane.
Her eyes were wide and her smile the same as words like “amazing,” “beautiful,” “unbelievable” and “I absolutely love it” were said as she toured the two-bedroom home that also includes an office, a large master suite with a large bathroom and a closet/safe room, a customized kitchen, a living room and dining room combination, a garage with a 10-foot ceiling to accommodate her specially designed van and a generator to make sure she’s never without power.
Kelly’s day started at the nearby Comfort Suites just outside Spanish Springs Town Square. Her anticipation level was high as she awaited a motorcycle escort from the Combat Vets Motorcycle Association and the Nam Knights to her new home.
“My heart is pounding a mile a minute,” she said, as the roar of motorcycles could be heard in the parking lot. “It’s amazing that we’re finally at the finish line and it’s just been wonderful that people have come out and supported it in so many ways.”
Kelly said she’s really excited about being a Villages resident and, of course, a member of Villagers For Veterans. She said she plans to give back to other veterans in need as part of the group and just looks forward to living The Villages lifestyle.
“There’s so much love here and so much camaraderie,” she said.
Bogdonoff offered thanks to everyone who helped make Kelly’s home a reality.
“It’s been a long time coming but we are grateful that she’s finally going to enjoy and have the freedom to move around the house, as well as the community,” Bogdonoff said. “She’ll be able to do so much more here that she hasn’t been able to do in years.”
Bogdonoff added that she considers Kelly was part of her family and she’s thrilled with how she’s changed over the five years they known each other.
“She has found the friends and family here that she’s lived without since her injury,” she said. “We are so happy to welcome her home.”
Bogdonoff said it’s also been rewarding to see how social and outgoing Kelly has become since the project got under way.
“She’s just become a full person in the sense that she feels that her life is worth living,” she said. “I think it’s made her realize that she’ll never be alone, not in this community anyway. She doesn’t have to worry about anything because there are people here who will have her back.”
Kelly, who once said she’s an Army sergeant who doesn’t cry, teared up as she talked about what Bogdonoff means to her.
“If I had a second mother, I would want it to be Marie,” said Kelly, who in November 2019 took part in a flightless Villages Honor Flight. “Her support for veterans alone is so overwhelming.”
Kelly said their relationship is much more than just Villagers For Veterans building her a new house.
“We’ve become a family,” she said, adding that Bogdonoff recently joked that once she had the new home, she was done with her. “I said, ‘You will never be done with me. I am your daughter. She’s my family and it will be that way until the day I die and beyond. She has changed my life.”