Wednesday at JSU Stadium, Tomlinson listened in as organizers from a national nonprofit announced that a concert in Jacksonville in May will help raise money to build the former Marine an iPad-controlled “smart home.” About a half-dozen cameras were trained on Tomlinson, who was joined on the field by his parents, an honor guard, city leaders and university officials for the mid-morning announcement at the stadium.
“The point of a smart home is to make Ben as independent as he wants to be,” said Chris Kuban, a representative with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Kuban’s foundation is working with the Gary Sinise Foundation to raise money for and build the Tomlinson home through the “Building for America’s Bravest” project. The organizations build homes for veterans who have been significantly disabled by war-time injuries.
Gary Sinise, a widely recognized actor known for his support of troops, also heads the Lt. Dan Band, the group which will perform at the concert in May. “Lieutenant Dan” was a character Sinise portrayed in the film Forrest Gump.
“Today, we show Ben that, not only do we remember him, we honor, respect and thank him for his service and his sacrifice,” Kuban read from a statement sent by Sinise. “It is our hope that this home will help to restore the independence he fought to protect for each of us.”
Tomlinson’s new house will be customized to meet his needs. It will have automated features that can be controlled with a touch of the iPad, which works as a remote control. The home’s countertop, stovetop and cabinets will drop on command to be at Tomlinson’s level.
Tomlinson said he almost didn’t believe it when the nonprofits called to say they were going to build the home.
“I’m still blown away by it,” Tomlinson said. “I feel so spoiled … I certainly don’t think I deserve a free house.”
The organizations approached Tomlinson about the prospect of building his home after they learned he was trying to secure a loan to purchase his own home. Tomlinson said he called a veterans organization to find out whether he could qualify, but the organization wasn’t able to help him secure financing.
Instead, he said, someone affiliated with the group shared his story with the nonprofit organizations and they began working to find a new home for him through other means.
Tomlinson and nonprofit organizers said several times the fact that they were able to connect was miraculous.
“They say God works in mysterious ways, but we know he has a plan,” said John Hodge, director of operations for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
Before the groups can hand Tomlinson the keys, organizers have to raise roughly $400,000 to pay for the home. The Lt. Dan Band concert is a key element of the fundraising effort, which organizers are calling “Operation Ben.”
Ticket prices for the performance on May 19, 6 p.m., of the Lt. Dan Band at JSU Stadium range from $25 to $50. Organizers are looking for corporate sponsors. Tickets can be purchased at www.operationben.com.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.