Danielle Thornton and her kids will be home for the holidays.
They’ll be in their brand-new, mortgage-free house in Land O’ Lakes.
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Thornton and her two children, Jaylen, 9, and Kinsley, 5, received the very first house given away by the Tunnel To Towers Foundation in the new Let Us Do Good Village on Dec. 17. The nonprofit is creating a new 96-home community, off Parkway Boulevard, in Land O’ Lakes.
The mortgage-free homes are being given to catastrophically-injured veterans and the families of fallen first responders and military members.
“I’ll never forget the call from Tunnel To Towers, and I had never heard of that (foundation),” Thornton told a crowd of hundreds, many of which were first responders and veterans. “I mean, who wants to give you a mortgage-free home for nothing? No one does that, no one wants to just give you a home. But it was real. It was really real.
“Just being able to start all over again, in a brand-new house in a brand-new community, and we’ll have neighbors that’ll be families just like us — it’s a great opportunity for us and … I’m at a loss for words.”
In 2017, her late husband, Army Sgt. Robert Thornton, was going through physical training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He would collapse, and later it was determined he suffered from an undiagnosed enlarged heart.
Robert, assigned to the 528th Sustainment Brigade and a decorated soldier, died, leaving behind his young wife, 5-year-old son and newborn daughter.
“There was a knock at the door, and it was odd because I was trying to call him, and he wasn’t answering,” Danielle recalled. “Being in the military, when you get a knock at the door, it’s usually not good — I ended up closing the door in their face.
“From that day to this day, I’ve tried to figure out what am I going to do with these kids? It was very scary for me.”
Five years later, things got less scary for Danielle and her children after receiving the new house on Do Good Way in Land O’ Lakes. As the Thorntons entered the house for the first time, escorted by Tunnel To Towers CEO Frank Siller, they were overjoyed and overwhelmed. The house came with rooms for each member of the family, including a master bedroom for Danielle that includes a big closet and a walk-around shower.
“Why did she get this house?” Siller asked. “Because of her sacrifice. She gave to this country, more than many have or ever will. And it is our responsibility to give back to these people, whose families were taken from them, who sacrificed their families for this country. We want to take care of these families who have sacrificed everything for this country.”
At the moment, the Thorntons are the only residents in the Let Us Do Good Village. But other houses already are in progress, as is the state-of-the-art community center that will include a pool, courts, movie theater and more. Once others move in, Danielle is looking forward to having neighbors that are very relatable.
“Even five years later,” she said, “there’s still a lot of pain, but just being able to turn to others in the same situation will help a lot.
“All I could do is cry (when entering the house), because — and I say this all the time — even though my husband’s not here, he still takes care of us.
“He’s saying, “It’s finally all coming together for us … that … that it’s going to be OK.”
Danielle knows her late husband can rest easy now, with the knowledge that his family has been taken care of and a place to call their own.
“He’d tell the kids, ‘Go jump on the bed, go mess up something,’” Danielle said with a laugh. “He’d want to go cook something — he would enjoy every part of this.
“He would love it — absolutely just love this house.”
Let Us Do Good Village by Tunnel To Towers Foundation
Details: The Let Us Do Good Village is a new, 96-home community in Land O’ Lakes that will provide mortgage-free homes to catastrophically injured veterans and the families of fallen first responders and military members. The community also will include a state-of-the-art community center with an ADA-compliant gym and pool, a movie theater, basketball and pickleball courts, meeting rooms and playgrounds. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation is dedicated to honoring the sacrifice of FDNY Firefighter Stephen Siller, who laid down his life to save others on Sept. 11, 2001.
For more about the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and its commitment to DO GOOD, please visit T2T.org.
Published December 28, 2022