Injured veteran becomes homeowner

December 10, 2009 7:03:28 PM PST
Manny Mendoza-Valencia became a first-time homeowner Thursday afternoon. He says his kitchen with granite countertops reminds him of something a celebrity chef would use. The milestone is significant for anyone, but home ownership for Mendoza-Valencia came after a four-year journey and a lot of support from the community and a group called Sentinels of Freedom.

In October 2004, Mendoza-Valencia was serving as an Army sergeant on tour in Sadr City, Iraq. An improvised explosive device went off near his armored vehicle, leaving Mendoza-Valencia with severe injuries; both legs had to be amputated.

"Changed a couple of dreams here and there but that's what happens in life, your dreams change every once in a while," Mendoza-Valencia said.

Mike Conklin met Mendoza-Valencia shortly after the explosion. He was seeking out severely injured war veterans with drive and determination for his San Ramon-based organization Sentinels of Freedom.

"Many of them coming back just don't have a network; they have goals, they want to achieve things, they want to become successful, they don't want a handout," Conklin said.

The support Mendoza-Valencia got was a four-year commitment from community members and corporations. It included a motorized wheelchair, free housing and job training.

Mendoza-Valencia in essence graduated Thursday, going through the doors of his new home in Danville designed for all of his wheelchair needs.

"I didn't expect it to go so fast, I mean, wow, four years ago and now here I am with a home, pretty amazing," Mendoza-Valencia said.

Mendoza-Valencia bought the home on his own, paid for with money saved from his job as a project manager at AT&T. His success is the success of many -- a pay it forward momentum of good deeds.

The real estate agent who mentored Mendoza-Valencia and sold him the condo donated his entire commission of more than $11,000 to the organization that started it all, Sentinels of Freedom.

Mendoza-Valencia's service and sacrifice not only brought a community together, but he is now an inspiration to his military brothers and sisters.

"Just want to tell the guys out there it's hard at first but once you get going, it's amazing what you'll see out there and whose willing to help," Mendoza-Valencia said.


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