MEDFORD, Ore. — Former Marine and National Guardsman Tom Gury faced a lot of challenges in the 14 years he wore a uniform, but they paled when it came to finding the right words on Saturday.
"To be totally honest, I don't know whether to scream for joy or cry for joy," said the 1997 graduate of North Medford High School. "It's super exciting just knowing my family will have a stable house and place to live, thanks to Habitat for Humanity."
Tom and Michelle Gury, who have five children ranging in age from 2 to 14 in their blended family, received the keys Saturday to their new home on Gravenstein Way in Medford.
Theirs is the first Habitat for Heroes house built in Oregon by Habitat for Humanity.
The program is dedicated to helping low-income veterans and their families. When a house is completed, it is sold to the veteran's family with a 30-year, no-interest mortgage.
More than 150 people gathered to cheer the Gurys at their four-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot dwelling. Until now, the family has been renting.
"It's great to know there is an organization like Habitat for Humanity willing to help out veterans," Tom said. "And it is great knowing there will also be other veterans whose families will be raised in a safe, clean, happy environment."
The house for the veteran and his family will be followed by other Habitat for Heroes houses in the Rogue Valley, according to Habitat's executive director, Denise James.
"This is a great family," she said of the Gurys. "We are glad to do something nice for such a nice family."
Tom, 33, works full time as a certified nursing assistant at Rogue Valley Medical Center. Michelle, 32, provides day care, on top of caring for their children — Tiasie, 14, Keleigh, 7, Addison, 6, Bracyn, 3, and Ahnikah, 2. Three of the children live with them full time, while the other two will spend part of their time at the new house.
With their new home, the family will have a monthly house payment, including taxes and insurance, of no more than $600 a month.
The Gurys were selected from a pool of veterans and families in partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City. Tom is an outpatient at SORCC, where he received counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder.
To qualify for the program, applicants must have an income between 30 and 60 percent of the federal median and have demonstrated a need for housing. They must also be willing to help build the house, providing at least 500 hours of sweat equity.
The house is being partially sponsored by Erickson Air-Crane and Wells Fargo, with each donating $15,000 to the project. Building costs were roughly $60,000, not including the land, which was purchased separately.
During his first tour of Iraq, he spent 18 months doing everything from convoy security to looking for hostiles in neighborhoods, Tom said. He then served a year in Afghanistan, where his unit largely provided security for forward operating bases.
Shortly after he arrived for his second tour in Iraq he tore a knee ligament, an injury that sent him stateside. After 14 years in the military, the sergeant was discharged from the Guard in September.
The program and Habitat for Humanity are a boost to the community and veterans, observed Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler.
"You get families who are in their homes," he told the crowd. "They put some sweat equity into it, and they build equity up over the years. They live and stay in these homes. It is a great benefit. It has a very positive effect on the city of Medford.
All told, volunteers provided 2,020 hours of labor, said Tiffany Schmelzer, Habitat program manager.
Central Point resident Dan Davis, a former Army captain wounded in Vietnam, served as one of two advocates for the family during the process. He has been working with Habitat for years.
"The Gurys worked really hard — they've been a great family to work with," he said. "I'm very proud of them and of Habitat."
The house meets the highest standards for energy efficiency in the state, said Dan Thomas, Habitat construction manager on the project.
"Not only are we building nice homes, but they are very energy efficient," he said.
He presented Tom with small tool box, a symbol of home repair now being in the Gurys' hands. However, he was quick to observe that Habitat and its crew stand behind its work.
"It has been a privilege and honor to serve both Tom and Michelle," said Chris Petrone, the Iraq-Afghanistan program manager at SORCC, before presenting them with the house keys.
In prepared statements to the crowd, Tom said he would always remember the actions by Habitat for Humanity and those who helped, be it through donations or physical labor.
"I have dedicated 14 years of my life serving my country," he said. "Being in the military has taught me discipline and helped support my family. I would do it all over again if asked to.
"But milestones were missed in my daughters' lives," he added. "I missed all the firsts in Addison's life: crawling, walking, talking."
He and his family will now be able to make up for the lost time, he said.
"My hope is to have each one of the neighbors feel comfortable knocking on the door and asking for a cup of sugar, a few eggs and even a night out," he said.
Michelle Gury welcomed everyone to their new home and thanked those who helped in the project.
"I have a very strong foundation in giving back to the community," she said. "I would encourage everybody, whether it's an hour or a year, to try to find ways to give back. Habitat is a wonderful way to do that."