Hundreds ride in NH to raise money to build homes for veterans
By the time they pulled out of the Texas Roadhouse parking lot in Nashua Sunday morning, organizers estimated 800 bikes were onboard for the 10th annual ride to benefit Homes for Our Troops, a non-profit organization that builds housing for disabled vets.
"Those guys are putting their lives on the line for us," said Charly Smith, who drove up from Pepperell, Mass., to make the 50-mile run from Nashua to Newington.
"This is our little bit of payback," said Smith.
Texas Roadhouse sponsors the annual ride, but not just in Nashua. On Sunday, bikers also hit the road in Maine, Rhode Island, New Jersey and South Carolina for simultaneous rides to raise money for Homes for Our Troops.
Based in Taunton, Mass., Homes for our Troops was launched in 2004 and has, so far, built 133 new homes for severely injured veterans. Another 39 homes are underway.
"We build homes with grading that goes right up to the door, special appliances, roll-in showers and all the details that make it fully adaptive for disabled vets," said Tom Benoit, chief financial officer for the organization.
"We build homes wherever vets want to live, and we try to provide everything they need," he said.
It isn't cheap. According to Benoit, the average home costs about $400,000, including the land. The organization depends heavily on volunteers and donations.
Goffstown resident Kristen Sands, a regional marketing director for Texas Roadhouse, said since local bikers have started riding for Homes for Our Troops, they've raised $750,000 for the organization.
"In my mind, we're doing what every American should be doing for veterans," said Sands. "It's just the right thing to do. When they come home, we should help these vets 110 percent."
Although New Hampshire bikers ride for all kinds of causes and organizations, many are especially committed to veterans groups and issues.
Some, like Frank Doxey of Litchfield, are Vietnam vets who understand the problems people bring home after serving in combat.
"When we came back, there was nothing there for us," said Doxey, who wants to make sure the current generation of veterans, particularly those who have been severely injured, get the support they need.
Gary Austin of Merrimack said the ride helps generate awareness of the types of challenges today's veterans are up against.
"Lawmakers haven't experienced what people go through in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "They have no idea what they are sentencing these guys to go through."
Nashua resident Brian Donnelly and his wife, Barbara, ride every year because they like the direct impact Homes for Our Troops makes on the lives of disabled vets and their families.
"The reason we do this every year is for the chance to help build the homes and hand over the key to a veteran," said Donnelly. "It's an excellent charity."