Hersey helps injured veteran build accessible home

The worst day of Lance Cpl. Cody Evans' life came almost exactly four years ago.

An IED exploded beneath him in Afghanistan on Dec. 15, 2011. Both of the 27-year-old Marine's legs had to be amputated, and he spent nearly a year recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Evans, a Tennessee native, will have a much happier December memory this year.

On Friday he received a check for more than $23,000 that John Hersey High School students raised to help build him a new home through the nonprofit A Soldier's Journey Home. Evans was celebrated by the entire Hersey student body and staff at an assembly filled with holiday songs and standing ovations for his service and sacrifice.

“It blew my expectations away,” said Evans, now 31, with his service dog, Willie, by his side. “It means the world to me that there are so many people, even far away from where I live, that want to help out. It's just amazing.”

Bill Dussling, a Northwest Suburban High School District 214 school board member and Vietnam War veteran, introduced Evans.

“There is nothing more important for returning veterans than the support of their community,” Dussling at the Arlington Heights school on Friday. “Cody, welcome home.”

Hersey students started raising the money for Evans on Veterans Day and were able to pull together a whirlwind of fundraising activities in just over a month.

“It took a lot of hard work, but it was great,” said senior Dan Gerardi. “It's awesome to see how our school came together to do this.”

“It's one of the best feelings in the world knowing you're helping someone else,” agreed senior Danielle Havel. “It's indescribable. He definitely deserves it.”

Wauconda native and country singer Ari Castronovo also announced she is donating all iTunes proceeds this month from her album “Under My Breath” to Evans.

This is the second year Hersey has worked with A Soldier's Journey Home and last year donated more than $18,000 to build a new home for Army Sgt. Jason Smith who lost both his legs in Afghanistan as well.

Smith's new home in Georgia was built in nine days earlier this year.

Smith was back at Hersey High School on Friday to pass a ceremonial key on to Evans, who has been living with his mother since his injury.

In May, he will be able to move into his own home and be independent again.

“I can't thank everybody enough,” Evans said.

English teacher Jim Miks organizes the fundraiser each year and said that handing the check to Evans was a moment of “pure joy.” “It feels so good to do good,” Miks said. “And it's great to be a part of such a wonderful community.”

  Lance Cpl. Cody Evans holds an oversized key to his new home at an assembly at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights on Friday. Bob Chwedyk/
  Fellow Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Frank Greenan, of Arlington Heights, gives Cody Evans a thumbs-up after the Hersey assembly. Bob Chwedyk/
  Lance Cpl. Cody Evans throws T-shirts into the crowd of students at the Hersey assembly. Bob Chwedyk/
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