By Andrea Sands
EDMONTON - After Cpl. Brock Blaszczyk stepped on a bomb in Afghanistan, his distraught relatives travelled from Grande Cache to Germany where they stayed in a temporary home designed for families visiting injured soldiers.
That military-support house, similar to one that opened Tuesday in Edmonton, made a terrible situation more bearable for Blaszczyk’s family.
“They weren’t sure if I was going to pull through or not,” said Blaszczyk, 23, who lost his left leg and badly damaged his right leg in the explosion April 23, 2010.
“They said it was nice being in a home environment.”
Until now, Canada had nothing comparable to the comfort homes that exist throughout the United States and Europe. In the U.S., the Fisher House program has provided temporary homes since 1990 so military families can be close to loved ones hospitalized for illness, disease or injury.
On Tuesday, Valour Place opened in Edmonton, at 11109 111th Ave. The 10,000-square-foot home has 12 barrier-free suites that will provide a comfortable place to stay for injured or sick soldiers, RCMP members, veterans and their families. Large windows let plenty of light into the home that has hardwood floors, art on the walls, a spacious kitchen with an oversized fridge, a dining room with dark wood tables and chairs, a living area with loveseats, arm chairs and a coffee table.
Honorary. Col. Dennis Erker, who came up with the idea for the home and led the fundraising effort, described it as a “Ronald McDonald House” for the military. It will likely become a model for other communities across the country, said Erker, chairman of the board for the Valour Place Society.
“Valour Place is the first of its kind in Canada,” Erker said. “Over $10 million was raised from the private sector in this community. … You have helped many to realize hope away from home. ”
Valour Place would have provided Sherry Clark’s relatives with a welcoming place to stay when they travelled to Edmonton after Clark’s son, Pte. Joel Wiebe, was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in June 2007. It was a day before his 23rd birthday.
“It’s a beautiful home, and that’s what it is — a home,” said Clark as she stood in Valour Place’s large, light-filled foyer. “I can see children in here, with their families.”
Cpl. Eric Lai said the house would have made things easier for his mother who came to Edmonton from her home in Bowen Island, B.C., to care for him. Lai was critically injured in an explosion in Afghanistan in November 2009 that left him with burns and shrapnel wounds.
“There would have been less of a logistical issue — one less thing to worry about in a time of chaos and disarray,” said Lai, who still has balance problems and hearing loss from the explosion.
“I’m going to be volunteering here, actually, on my off time.”
The opening ceremony for Valour Place drew about 200 guests, including the Canada’s top military commander, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, and Alberta Lt.-Gov. Donald Ethell as well as municipal, provincial and federal politicians.
Ethell, a decorated peacekeeper and retired colonel, called Valour Place an “extremely important new resource” to help people heal.
“This is a place for people who have put everything on the line,” Ethell said.
“They have sacrificed more than most Canadians can imagine.”
The home in Queen Mary Park opens to families starting in mid-October.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski