By Teri Carnicelli
It was a typically warm July morning as Zahid Ali, his wife Stephanie and their young son Noé sat outside what was about to be their brand-new home in Sunnyslope, waiting patiently for the dignitaries and other special guests to finish speaking so there could be the formal ribbon cutting.
But first, it was Zahid’s turn to speak.
Growing up he recalls sleeping on the floor with his brother while their sister slept in the one bed. “I never really had a place to call home,” he says. “For me to get this opportunity is very humbling, and I can’t say thank you enough.”
His words stumbled a few times, and he kept repeating, “Thank you. Thank you.”
Zahid, who joined the U.S. Marines in 2007 when he was 19, was wounded by an IED while deployed in Afghanistan. Zahid experienced a traumatic brain injury, resulting in chronic lower back and knee pain, ringing of the ear, migraine headaches and complications related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These conditions severely impact his day-to-day activities. After four and a half years of active service, Zahid was honorably discharged with the rank of lance corporal and returned to civilian life in Arizona.
The hardest part for him, Zahid said, was transitioning home and not being able to do the things he was able to do before he left because of his traumatic brain injury. “Every day I wake up and I honor the fallen, as there is a not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my brothers. I’m very grateful to be alive and to have my wife and my son,” who was born while Zahid was deployed.
Still, he said, there was one thing he wasn’t able to give to his small family, and that was a proper home. The couple had been renting an apartment in Gilbert—until the day they got the call that would change their lives forever.
Zahid had filled out an application to be considered to receive a new manufactured home through a partnership with Rebuilding Together Valley of the Sun and NextGen Home. They were specifically seeking military veterans with demonstrable need. Zahid was told he made the short list of the final 12 applicants, and came in for a second in-person interview.
And then, that final, fateful phone call. The Ali family was chosen.
“The process of whittling it down to one final recipient was difficult and humbling, as there were so many worth families,” said Eric Groff, Rebuilding Together Valley of the Sun board president. “We started out with hundreds of applications and narrowed those to 30 and then down to 12. I think we chose the perfect family to have this house and created a beautiful foundation for their future. They are amazing people with a lot of heart and a lot of love.”
The lot in Sunnyslope was donated by Chicanos Por La Causa and the house itself was manufactured by Champion Home Builders in Chandler. John Yurcaba III, service manager and retired Army captain, was on hand for the dedication. “It was a great pleasure being a part of this project and truly a labor of love for all of us, but especially for myself and other veterans at our Chandler plant who were proud to work on the project.”
The home came fully furnished and move-in ready, with energy-efficient features, as the family and guests discovered after the ribbon cutting on July 26.
When Zahid opened the door and walked in with his wife at his side and son in her arms, their eyes and mouths were wide open in shock.
“My excitement is just for them,” Zahid said, “for my son to actually have a home and to be able to provide for my family. Now that I am a father, it is very important for me to give my son a better future by providing him with what I never had.”
Zahid is working to obtain an associate’s degree from Phoenix College. Stephanie works in the hospitality industry and is exploring opportunities to further her career.