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Building a home for a hero
Updated On: Nov 15, 2012
Joel's new home.


Sgt. Joel Tavera could hardly make his way through his new home because many in the crowd kept congratulating and thanking him.

Tavera, who was severely injured March 12, 2008, while in Iraq, was presented the four-bedroom, four-bath, 4,300-square-foot home in Grand Hampton on Nov. 19. It was built by William Ryan Homes in partnership with the Hillsborough Firefighter's Benevolent Association and Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization.

About 1,000 family members, friends, supporters, military leaders, neighbors and community members greeted him at the unveiling ceremony. Flags lined the streets of the subdivision as a motorcade escort brought Tavera and his family to the house, where they were greeted by a parade and a hometown BBQ.

Tavera was injured while riding in an armored SUV inside the Tallil Airbase in southeastern Iraq when it was struck by five rockets. The blasts killed three other soldiers and Tavera was initially also thought to have been killed. He lost sight in both of his eyes, his right leg, four fingers on his left hand, and suffered serious head trauma and critical burns to 60 percent of his body. He has been through 73 surgeries to help repair his injuries.

He doesn't consider himself a hero, although called that by many speakers at the ceremony on the lawn of the home, valued at $456,580.

"I signed up to do my job and I got hurt," he said as he accepted the keys to the mortgage-free home, which has handicap accessibility, a pool with therapy jets, a home automation system controlled by a smart phone and many other amenities.

He said a few days prior to the ceremony, he did a walk-through "and I was thinking this is a huge home. I might get lost in there."

This is the ninth house built though Building Homes for Heroes, which was founded by Andrew Pujol, a businessman who volunteered to assist at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, following the attacks in New York City.

Home builders, firefighters, landscape services, plumbing companies, electricians, cabinet makers, pool builders and others partner to donate materials and labor. Fundraising events help cover other costs.

The local effort to build the home was led by Kelly Hallman, Troy O'Nan and Rich Hauser, officers of the Hillsborough Firefighter's Benevolent Association.

"I love that boy over there," Hallman said, pointing to Tavera, who stood with about two dozen injured service personnel at the celebration. Some sat in wheelchairs, attended by family members.

"They are all heroes," Hallman said. "It may be the soldier that serves, but it is the family that sacrifices."

July 25, 2021
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Mission Statement
Our mission is to respond to a brother or sister firefighter in need.

It is our goal to provide assistance to our brothers and sisters when they need it the most. A firefighter spends his or her career responding to the needs of others. They are there day and night when there is a call for help. Who is there when they need help the most.

In 2004 the Hillsborough Firefighter’s Benevolent Relief Fund was established to answer that question, to answer the call for help, firefighter helping firefighter, that is our goal, that is our mission.

Our focus is Tampa, Temple Terrace, Plant City, MacDill and Hillsborough Firefighters.

Tax Exemption
The Hillsborough Firefighters Benevolent Relief Fund, Inc. is a non-profit organization. The organization is a public charity exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Some of our funding comes from:

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