BLAIRSVILLE, Pa. -- They knew it was going to be a fixer-upper.
Still, Cory Howard and his wife, Risa, didn't bank on the seemingly insurmountable series of repairs the 100-year-old home on West First Avenue would require or the degree to which it would test their relationship when they bought it 16 months ago.
"We didn't realize the scope of how bad it was," said Mr. Howard, 31, a retired Marine corporal who deployed to Iraq three times.
He received a Purple Heart after he suffered second- and third-degree burns, a shattered foot and shrapnel wounds in a 2007 improvised-explosive device attack.
Mr. Howard, a stay-at-home dad to the couple's 1-year-old daughter, Madison, has struggled to work full time as a result of his injuries. The house's condition led to "constant arguments, constant worries over what's going to break," he added.
That strain is gone, thanks to RenovatingHope, a Westtown, Chester County, nonprofit that organized an extensive series of renovations to overhaul the house, including electrical, plumbing, HVAC and insulation upgrades and new windows, plaster, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, flooring and appliances.
"They really loved the house when they bought it," said Mr. Howard's mother, Leslie Howard of Orange County, Calif., who flew in for a ceremony Friday in front of the Indiana County house to celebrate the renovations. "It's a new beginning for them."
The lingering impact of his injuries and the death of his father three years ago have made the past five years a difficult slog for her son, she added.
"Cory's been through a lot," she said. "This is a bright spot."
Paul Hoffecker, founder and CEO of RenovatingHope, which works with the USO and the Home Depot Foundation, among other organizations, to conduct the projects, said Mr. Howard was recommended by staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"When I first met him, you could tell he was struggling," Mr. Hoffecker said. "He was just not in a good place."
Mr. Hoffecker would not disclose the cost of the renovations to Mr. Howard's home but said the scale of the required repairs was considerable.
"It was so overwhelming for them, they would have never been able to get ahead of it," he said. "It affects your family life."
RenovatingHope was started 5 1/2 years ago, when Mr. Hoffecker, then working as a project manager on college and hospital construction, was asked to help out with a veteran's home.
Shocked by what he saw, he walked away from his career and set out on a new one after the soldier told him thousands of other veterans were struggling to maintain decent households.
"I couldn't believe one of our soldiers was living with his family in such a deprived home," Mr. Hoffecker said. "It's a very simple trick. Give these guys a home, a clean safe environment, and they'll do well."
He estimates that his organization performs 10 to 12 projects a year, depending on available money from donations and the scope and cost of the jobs. To minimize disruption, Mr. Hoffecker uses professional contractors, many of whom offer materials at cost and are generous with their time.
"They make money, but a lot of times they'll give the supplies for cost and many times they'll just forgive a bunch of hours," he said.
Joyce Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning and Pynos Construction, both of Blairsville, worked on the Howard home.
Standing in his dining room after the ceremony, where he was laying a Marine Corps dress uniform out on the table, Mr. Howard's relief was obvious.
"When somebody comes in and does something for you that you couldn't provide for yourself ... I don't know how to describe it. You get your life back," Mr. Howard said. "I still can't believe they did it all. Now we can do the things we wanted instead of the things we had to do."region
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3309. First Published October 11, 2013 8:00 PM