Jared Allen makes a living in the National Football League taking down opposing quarterbacks. Off the field, the Chicago Bears defensive end has found a calling lifting up disabled veterans by providing adaptive housing.
Allen founded Jared Allen’s Homes For Wounded Warriors in 2013, an organization that provides financial assistance to injured veterans by building and remodeling handicap-accessible homes. In two years, the organization has completed six houses in locations around the country for vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’ve always been a huge military fan and understood from a young age that they’re true heroes,” Allen said Wednesday at a press conference for the American Century Championship. “And the reason I get to do what I get to do is because of the men and women in uniform and what they sacrificed — it’s always been instilled in me.”
Allen’s respect and appreciation for the armed forces came from growing up in a family with strong military ties — including a brother currently serving in the Marine Corps. But it wasn’t until he took a USO tour to the Middle East in 2009 that he realized there was a way he could serve his country as a civilian.
“When I came home, I had a buddy who actually served in the Army and he told me about the gap in adaptive housing from when our men and women come home — and the living conditions that they get given, whether through the VA or whatever the case may be,” Allen said.
“I knew I wanted to do something to give back and to serve my country,” he added. “I sat down with my buddy and kind of went through what’s my American dream.”
For Allen, his American dream is a functional home for himself and his family. That notion eventually led to the creation of his foundation, so that those who serve their county could realize that same dream.
“We really focused on the word ‘home,’” Allen said. “We didn’t just want to give them a house or do something like that — we wanted to give them a sense of community and sense of independence.”
One of the first homes completed by Allen’s foundation was for Ken Champlin, a Marine Corps Staff Sgt. that lost both of his legs below the knees and suffered traumatic brain injury from an IED attack while serving in Iraq. When Champlin returned home to Arizona, his upstairs apartment wasn’t suited to use a wheelchair or prosthetic legs.
“He’d be at the VA rehabbing and come home and the stress of the personal life trying to take groceries upstairs — it would take him 45 minutes,” Allen said. “So we came in — that’s when we decided to make homes.”
In addition to the completed homes, Allen said the foundation has three more currently in the works along with another potential recipient. He said he eventually wants to change the foundation’s bylaws so that recipients aren’t limited to those hurt directly in combat.
“We know there’s some lingering things that can actually indirectly cause injuries from combat,” Allen said. “We’ll take a strong look at that to amend those so we can open our gates and our resources to help as many people as we can.”
The foundation works with grassroots organizations across the country to find potential recipients. Currently, 90 percent of the money it spends goes directly to helping those chosen for new homes — and the homes are given free and clear of financial burden.
“The cool thing is I can show you what your money will buy, what window you put in, what nail you put in, the tangible difference you make in a guy’s life,” Allen said.
Governmental programs offer money to rehab houses — but that requires owning a home first. Allen’s organization works in the gaps that currently exist in the government, filling a housing need not previously addressed.
“We’re just blessed to be in a position to where we do know about it,” Allen said. “And we’re in a position to try to change it.”