HOWE — After many happy years together, Gary and Kathi Jensen found themselves homeless in late December.
The couple, both U.S. Army veterans, decided to sell their small, concrete-floor house in Howe and use the money to build a spacious house on a hill overlooking the desert. They bought land on the west end of Howe and began construction. The money ran out in February.
Gary, 69, who works on a farm, had his hours cut back. Medical bills also took a toll.
Kathi, 60, had broken her back many years before and wasn’t expected to walk again. After five years of rehabilitation, she was out of her wheelchair. But her insurance didn’t cover her physical therapy, which cost about $700 a month.
The couple moved in with their daughter in Idaho Falls. Most days, they commuted the 52 miles each way between Howe and Idaho Falls for the few hours of work Gary could find farming.
“It was discouraging,” Kathi said. “To already have a hard time jumping the hurdles, then have another hurdle put in front of you, you could imagine how that felt.”
But help was on the way.
Members of Idaho Falls American Legion Post 56 teamed up with Home Depot to help the Jensens work on their unfinished home. Home Depot donated $4,500 to the cause. A team of 20 volunteers traveled to Howe on Thursday to help the couple work on the house, which remains unfinished.
Bob Skinner, a Navy veteran and Idaho Falls resident, heard about the Jensens and submitted a grant to the Home Depot Foundation.
“We’re about veterans helping veterans,” Skinner said. “In this case, it was easy because they’re both veterans. That was a big help when I wrote the grant.”
Kristin Shurtz, Home Depot operations manager, coordinates quarterly projects that her store takes on as part of the Home Depot Foundation.
“This one is special because they are both veterans,” Shurtz said. “One of our values is giving back to the community, and this is a great way to give back.”
The Home Depot Foundation is a nonprofit group that was founded in 1979. The foundation pledged to invest $80 million between 2011 and 2016 to help meet the housing needs of veterans.
Shurtz brought along 10 Idaho Falls Home Depot employees Thursday to help work on the Jensens’ house. Skinner rounded up 10 veterans to help out.
The first priority, Skinner said, was the bathroom. The couple has been living in the unfinished house without a bathroom. So, the volunteer crew installed a tile floor, as well as a sink, bathtub and toilet. They also wrapped the home’s bare exterior with weather-protecting plastic.
The couple is about $30,000 shy of finishing the house, but said the work done Thursday will make their living conditions much more comfortable.
“I cried when I found out we got the grant,” Kathi said. “We have never had to ask for help before. Kindness is alive and well in east Idaho.”
Reporter Aubrey Wieber can be reached at 542-6755.