Those veterans needing a bit of assistance around the house may be interested in a new program called the Illinois Valley Fuller Center for Housing.

Those veterans needing a bit of assistance around the house may be interested in a new program called the Illinois Valley Fuller Center for Housing.

The Peoria area Fuller Center started in June. Greg Woith is the president and co-founder of the local all volunteer organization. Woith said there are about 60 Fuller Centers in the United States and in 13 countries. Millard and Linda Fuller founded the Fuller Centers in addition to Habitat for Humanity.

 The Fuller Center has a motto: “Let’s make every day Veterans Day.” Their mission, Woith said, is to “do basic home repairs for veterans who qualify financially.”

Woith, formerly the executive director for Habitat for Humanity, said when the Fuller Center started, they contacted U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s office and received a list of veterans.

The first family the local Fuller chapter helped and is still in the process of helping are Matthew and Ashley Heeren of East Peoria. The Heerens were referred to the Fuller Center by the Family Readiness Center at the Reserves.

On the weekend of March 8, Bradley University students were at the Heeren’s home on Kerfoot painting.

Ashley Heeren, 29, was the only one home at the time of the activity. Her husband was at a National Guard drill in Bartonville and her two girls, 

Brooklin, 8, and Breanna, 6, were at a relatives.

Heeren, who is originally from East Peoria, said she met Matthew in Texas and they were married in 2005.

“We actually got married exactly two months before he deployed the second time,” she said.

Matthew has been in the Army for 12 years and Heeren said he enjoys it. He has been deployed twice. Right before he left for Afghanistan in 2006, they were expecting their daughter, Brooklin. Right before he deployed in 2008, their youngest daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a terminal illness that affects the lungs and digestive system, and other medical issues. Their oldest daughter has autism. They both have asthma.

“We’ve kind of had to sacrifice a lot lately. Our health insurance is through the Army,” Heeren said. 

Matthew re-enlisted until 2014, but was told he was going to have to go back to Afghanistan last year, so he extended to 2015.

“We’ve talked about him going active duty and I stay up here,” Heeren said. “There are options, but personally, I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

In 2010, when the opportunity came for Matthew to go to Egypt with the Army, the couple discussed it and their youngest daughter.

“We kind of sat there and said, ‘OK, healthwise, she’s OK. She has cystic fibrosis. What can you say when you have a child that’s terminally ill and your husband has to deploy? You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Heeren said.

The Heerens were told that Breanna would probably never walk and she wasn’t when Matthew left for Egypt, but when he came home for his daughter’s third birthday, he got a gift.

“She walked right to him with her leg braces in the airport and sometimes they say grown men don’t cry, but he cried,” Heeren said. “That was one of those defining moments in our lives. No matter where your soldier is, your life back here in the United States still goes on and you still have to do what you’ve got to do for your family.”

During the interview, Heeren’s cellphone rang. The ringtone was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’”

“I adopted that a few years ago because no matter where life goes you gotta believe in something,” Heeren said.

Last year the Heerens spent about 60 days in the hospital.

“It was a hospital stay about every two-and-a-half months,” Heeren said.

Heeren said they have had to fight with the Army to get them to pay for medical bills and medication.

“It’s jumping through hoops. They question a lot of it,” Heeren said.

In addition to hospital visits, the Heerens keep busy with normal activities and work. Matthew works full-time in security at UnityPoint Health-Methodist, in addition to working on his third business degree. 

“We’re trying to keep what you classify as ‘normalcy’ in their lives. They both do dance classes,” Heeren said. “Some people have said, ‘You should home school.’ I said, ‘No, I believe in letting them be a kid.”’

Being this busy, the family doesn’t always have time to make home improvements, so Heeren was glad to have the assistance of the Fuller Center.

“Last spring we got mold in the basement. We had carpet in here and we knew that wasn’t healthy. We kept battling it and battling it. We had foundation issues. We couldn’t financially afford it ourselves,” Heeren said.

That’s where the Fuller Center stepped in. Volunteers pulled up carpet, put in hardwood flooring, made the windows air tight and painted rooms. Heeren chose a red, white and blue theme for the living room. The girls’ rooms are painted blue and pink with glow in the dark stars.

The flooring was done around Christmas. 

“We were excited,” Heeren said. “I was more excited about the floor and getting the house done. For us, it’s like no dust or no extra things for them to inhale, so I was really excited.”

Woith said they got a $6,800 grant from Home Depot for the project.

“This is our biggest project to date,” Woith said.

The Fuller Center has done minor home repairs on eight veterans’ homes to date. They also clean veterans’, seniors’ and disabled residents’ yards in the tri-county area in the spring and fall. The next cleanups are April 5 and April 12.

Those homeowners interested in the services of the Fuller Center can call 363-3737 or visit info@ivfullercenter.org. To request a yard cleanup, call to schedule by March 22.