Helping a Hero: Special Home Goes to Wounded Soldier, Wife

Joonathan Rivenbark had his dream of joining the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force cut down by a hail of machine gun fire in Afghanistan almost three years ago.

“Delta Force is exactly why I joined,” Rivenbark said Friday. “I had a lot of ambition.”

Even after being severely wounded, he continued fighting the enemy.

“I was among the best at what I do,” he said. “I was a beast.”

Today, Rivenbark is mainly confined to a wheelchair and the battle is with depression. The 25-year-old veteran retired from the Army last month after six years of service.

“It’s really hard to accept the changes,” he said. “You remove yourself from life. You go into your house and you don’t come out. You don’t invite anyone over. You don’t talk to your friends.”

But with constant love and support from his wife, Yulia, Rivenbark has rehabilitated his body and mind to the point that they have accepted an invitation from Helping a Hero to move into a home in Aberdeen that will be specially built to accommodate his needs.

“It’s definitely overwhelming,” Jonathan said. “It’s a lot for me to take in.”

Jonathan Rivenbark groundbreaking

Rivenbark was told last year, but it did not sink in until last week’s ground-breaking ceremony at Legacy Lakes subdivision attended by veterans, active-duty soldiers, military family members, local dignitaries and others.

“Before then, it was just an idea that seemed hard to be real,” he said. “Now, it’s really happening, and that’s extremely awesome.”

The lot in Legacy Lakes was donated by Mountain Real Estate Capital (MREC), a Charlotte-based private equity investor in residential development and homebuilding.

“MREC continually looks for ways to give back to the community,” CEO Peter Fioretti said in a statement. “Our team has a strong desire to show our gratitude for the men and women who bravely serve our country.”

MREC has partnered on the project with Helping a Hero, a Texas-based nonprofit that provides resources and specially adapted homes for wounded veterans and their families.

The 2,600-square-foot house will be constructed by McKee Homes, of Fayetteville, with financing from MREC and contributions from The Patriot Charities. It will include extra-wide doorways, no carpet, no steps, lower countertops and a roll-in shower, among other amenities designed to accommodate Rivenbark.

“The house is going to be adapted to my needs,” he said. “To have all these entities come together and remove the politics is something you do not see every day. It’s incredible. They’re giving me the opportunity to be more independent.”

Once the one-story home is completed in about six months, the Rivenbarks will move from Fort Bragg, have a mortgage of less than $50,000 on an estimated $275,000 value, and be required by Helping a Hero to stay in Aberdeen at least 10 years.

Jonathan Rivenbark groundbreaking

The town’s Board of Commissioners last month unanimously approved a request from McKee to waive an estimated $1,370.28 in building permit fees for the project.

Rivenbark grew up in eastern North Carolina, where most of his childhood was spent in group homes and foster care.

Upon exiting foster care at age 17, Rivenbark fulfilled his dream of serving his country by joining the Army two years later.

Rivenbark was wounded in July 2012 during his second deployment to Afghanistan. The rounds fractured both of his legs at the knee joint, severed a main vein, and caused severe nerve and tissue damage. He also suffered a collapsed lung due to nearby explosions.

Rivenbark has since been in rehabilitation at Womack Army Medical Center, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center. While he spends most of his time in a wheelchair, he uses IDEO braces, crutches and a cane to help him walk.

Rivenbark is quick to credit his “real hero” for the progress.

“My wife has taken care of me for the last two-and-a-half years,” he said. “If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I would have done. She’s one of a kind. She’s the best of the best.”

Jonathan Rivenbark groundbreaking

The Rivenbark home will be the second built in Aberdeen to honor a veteran.

Last year, Krista Harvell and her sons, Hunter and Ethan, moved into a 2,500-square-foot house in the Bethesda Farms subdivision provided by Operation Finally Home.

The Texas-based organization builds and donates mortgage-free homes to wounded veterans or widowed military spouses and their families.

Harvell lost her husband, Air Force S/Sgt. Andrew Harvell, when he died on Aug. 6, 2011, in Afghanistan from wounds he received when the CH-47 Chinook helicopter in which he was riding was shot down.

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Helping a Hero: Special Home Goes to Wounded Soldier, Wife