A wounded Army veteran came one step closer to finding a new home in Winter Park on Tuesday morning – the same day that soldiers across the country from past and present were honored and celebrated.
Sgt. First Class Bacary Sambou of the U.S. Army arrived at the future site of his new home earlier this week to witness the groundbreaking of his new donated house, alongside local residents and government officials.
The project came about when Hannibal Square Community Land Trust Inc. joined forces with Palm Harbor Homes and Fairways for Warriors.
The house will sit on a lot located at 663 Symonds Ave., donated by the city of Winter Park in April.
“Today we’re celebrating our veterans, and in particular we’re celebrating Sgt. First Class Bacary Sambou,” said Denise Weathers, executive director of the Hannibal Square Community Land Trust Inc.
“Let’s dig in and make this the first day of a new life and a new home in a beautiful city for Sgt. First Class Bacary.”
Palm Harbor Homes will donate the materials and working hours to build the house on the donated vacant property, while Fairways for Warriors raised funds earlier this year through a golf tournament.
Donations from the tournament will go toward making Sambou’s new home wheelchair accessible.
The soldier has been bound to an electric wheelchair since March 17, 2012, when an improvised explosive was detonated near his MRAP vehicle during a supply mission in Afghanistan. He suffered a spinal cord injury, a broken leg, two broken ribs, a broken hand and a vertical cut across the right side of his face that split his eye.
He still deals with a traumatic brain injury today, along with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We all woke up, put one foot on the floor and were able to dress ourselves,” Weathers said. “Today, do not take for granted what we’re doing for this soldier. Do not take for granted tomorrow when you wake up, and you’re able to move about.”
Sambou has since been receiving treatment at the NeuroRestorative Center in Avalon Park. Daily workouts with exercise bands and arm bikes build back his strength each week. Today he can move one arm and one leg, progress that he thanks God for every day.
His next goal: leaving his wheelchair behind and walking.
“He’s taking the therapy every single day, but he’s feeling better,” said Sambou’s sister Khada, who plans to live with him and be his caregiver.
“Before he couldn’t move … I think he’ll be walking, it just takes time.”
Hannibal Square Community Land Trust and Palm Harbor Homes hope to have Sambou’s house completed as soon as possible.
If the wounded soldier is discharged and stops receiving therapy in Avalon Park, he will have no other place to go.
“Unfortunately in Central Florida, 25 percent of the homeless are veterans,” said Congressman John Mica before the group of spectators at the empty lot. “It’s hard to believe. I think what we’ve got to do is double our efforts like the community is doing here.”
“If we have to do it one house and one veteran at a time, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Sambou said he felt overwhelmingly grateful for the donated house.
“This made me feel special; I didn’t expect to have this,” Sambou said. “…I know the U.S. Army is the best army in the world, and I wanted to be one of the best, that’s why I joined.”
“Right now, I feel like I’m one of the best.”
Weathers said that Sambou will likely be the first of many veterans to receive a home in Winter Park from the Hannibal Square Community Land Trust in the coming years.
She said Sambou’s home should be complete by early February.