TAMPA — On Monday morning, Richard Clark-Bartlett and his three daughters woke up in a one-bedroom apartment in St. Petersburg’s Veterans Village. They were looking forward to spending Monday night in their new home near Tampa.
“I’d, honestly, like to cook a meal here,” Clark-Bartlett said, standing in the remodeled kitchen of his Palm River home Monday morning. “This is a lot of smiles that I haven’t had in a long time.”
The young family’s Veterans Day housewarming brought together dozens of volunteers, corporate sponsors and public officials to honor the people who serve our country and to celebrate the end of a difficult period for Clark-Bartlett, a medically retired Army specialist, and his children.
“It’s going to be a whole new life for them and their dad,” said Linda Thomas, president of Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, a nonprofit organization that specializes in refurbishing homes for needy families. The group has a special program for veterans.
Rebuilding Together spent several months remodeling the four-bedroom house at the end of 15th Avenue South. Today, it has blue walls, white trim and a red door. Its rooms are full of new furniture. Its large backyard is sheltered by towering oak trees.
Clark-Bartlett, a native of Arkansas, spent 18 years in the military. His service included five tours of Iraq and Afghanistan over a seven-year period.
Despite suffering multiple injuries, he remained on duty as a water-purification specialist until a roadside bomb finally made that impossible.
Clark-Bartlett, 40, is living with the results of those injuries. He has a brain injury that slows his speech. He walks with a cane. He wears dentures because doctors had to pull teeth to repair his head injuries.
He was medically retired in 2009 and moved to St. Petersburg for the warm weather and to be near the Bay Pines VA Medical Center. After living with his daughters in a trailer park, he moved to Veterans Village this year.
Then his family popped up on the radar of Rebuilding Together, which got JPMorgan Chase & Co. to donate a foreclosed home for remodeling.
The family’s supporters gathered Monday morning in the home’s fenced-in front yard to mark the hand-off. Clark-Bartlett sat with his daughters Miracle, 12, Faith, 9, and Patience, 4.
Looking on from the edge of the gathering, Joe Wilcher stood embracing his son, Austin. Wilcher, an active-duty Air Force technical sergeant and single father, will be Rebuilding Together’s next makeover recipient this winter.
“We have a special responsibility to take care of these young veterans who have given so much,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. “This is a special city that values your service and your sacrifice.”
Clark-Bartlett thanked the crowd for giving his family a permanent home.
“It’s overwhelming, the kindness and gratitude everyone has shown me,” he said.