Homeless veteran gets a home

Jerry Maples, right, is shown inside the tiny house he will live in on Thursday. David Ulloa of the Arnette House, which was behind the tiny house project, is on the left. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted July 2, 2021 | By Susan Smiley-Height, Ocala Gazette

Jerry Maples, right, is shown inside the tiny house he will live in on Thursday. David Ulloa of the Arnette House, which was behind the tiny house project, is on the left. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

As Craig Ham, president of the Marion County Veterans Council, opened the front door of the tiny house built by students at Arnette House Inc. early Thursday, former US Marine Jerry Maples eagerly stepped inside to get his first look at his new home.

“This is awesome, very nice,” exclaimed Maples. “I can’t believe it was built by kids!”

The beautifully crafted tiny house, which is on wheels, was built by youth in a vocational program at Arnette House, which serves youth ages 10 to 17 and their families in the 5th Judicial Circuit. The vocational program is funded by The Sexauer Foundation. Providing the home to a veteran was the result of a partnership between several organizations.

During the unveiling event on July 1 at the Marion County Veterans Memorial Park, the youth who helped build the dwelling were perched on bleachers. Jeffrey Askew, director of Marion County Veterans Services, emceed a program that included guest speakers Cheri Pettit, CEO of Arnette House, Aimee Pfannenstiel with Cox Communications, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, Sen. Dennis Baxley and Al Lugo, director of the VFW Veterans Village.

In addressing the gathering, Ham said, “I’d like to put today’s event into perspective. When you talk housing, you talk about real tangible things that benefit people. And what you’re going to see today is a joint effort of three nonprofit organizations, not government entities, but nonprofits doing good for the community.

“You have the Arnette House, which taught these young men and women a skill and brought them together to make something that clearly reflects the mission of that organization. They have gifted the tiny house to the Marion County Veterans Council so we can maintain ownership and broker its occupants. And we have the VFW Veterans Village, which has agreed to provide a place in its RV park to put the house and provide the hookups for it to be a functional residence. And, of course, there were many private companies that were part of this.”

“We are honored to be a partner,” Lugo told the audience. “I appreciate that 1% – our veterans – that allows the rest of us – 99% – to do the things we want to do. That 1%, every day, they stand up, they go, they deploy all over the world. As we celebrate the 4th of July, think about the men and women that have come before us that have paid the ultimate sacrifice, because, as the saying goes, freedom is not free.”

As Denise Paradis and David Ulloa with Arnette House shouted “Move that bus,” a bus belonging to the veterans council backed away, revealing the tiny home, outfitted with a patriotic wreath on the front door.

“It’s so exciting,” said Pettit. “These kids have been working for over a year with our staff, and they have been excited as well about being able to give back.”

Maples, who is from Tampa, said part of his military duties included securing the safety of an ambassador in 1998, when “a bunch of embassies were getting bombed.” He said he left the military 11 days before 9/11 and later moved to Ocala with his former wife, who has family in the area. He said he has most recently been staying with a friend.

While exploring the inside of his new home, Maples said his friend had been interested in tiny homes and had been doing a lot of research about them.

“For me to be up for one was an amazing chance, and I am very glad they chose me to get this so I can help better myself,” Maples said.


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