Sandra Lee can't wait to become Manchester's newest resident, to host barbecues in her backyard and bump into her neighbors at the grocery store.
Lee, a disabled Iraq war veteran, is going to be the first female service member to have a home built by Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit organization founded by a pair of wounded veterans that builds homes for other wounded veterans across the country.
"I have fallen in love with this town and it's people," Lee said Tuesday evening during a ceremony at Cheney Hall to formally kickoff the project attended by several hundred people. "Living in Manchester, this is the first time in my life I truly feel a sense of home and community. How could I not with all of you sitting here in front of me?"
She also suffers from depression, headaches and short-term memory loss. Lee, an oregon native, said that, lately, she has had "more good days than bad days" and is grateful for the way that so many in the Manchester community has reached out to her and made her feel welcome.
"Manchester has rescued me, and for that I will remain forever grateful," she told the crowd Tuesday.
After building a house in Glastonbury last year for wounded Marine Manny Jimenez, Purple Heart Homes has now turned its attention to building Lee a home in Manchester, thanks largely to the efforts of State Sen. Steve Cassano.
Cassano said he was inspired by the way the Glastonbury community rallied around Jimenez and the project there, and as a former mayor of Manchester knows the importance that the community places on its veterans and helping others. He said that since news of the project began to spread last fall he has been receiving pledges and inquiry for help from "literally everywhere."
"It's contagious," Cassano said, saying that completion of the project would be "Manchester's finest hour."
Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 2008 in Statesville, North Carolina by Iraq combat wounded veterans Dale Beatty and John Gallina, who were both severely injured November 15, 2004 when the vehicle they were riding in hit an anti-tank mine that exploded leaving Beatty a double amputee below the knees and Gallina with severe head and back injuries.
Tuesday's ceremony at Cheney Hall also included remarks from Beatty and Gallina, as well as Beatty teaming up on the drums with members of Summit Studios on a rendition Phillip Phillips' song "Home."
Lee's house will be adapted to her needs at 14 Cornell Street and is being made available to the town of Manchester for this project through the cooperation of the family of Frank and Catherine Ringrose.
A fundraiser for the project is scheduled for Monday, March 25 2013 at Mulberry Street Pizza.