Normally at a Homes for Our Troops Key Ceremony event, those in attendance to welcome home the family would watch with joy in seeing children running around the property, in and out of rooms, enjoying their very own new space.
But due to COVID-19 and restrictions, this time, the people tuning in on a Zoom call would just have to take the family's word for it Saturday, Sept. 18, when Marine Corporal Darryl Charles, along with his wife Desiree Mercardo, and their son, Kingsley, received keys to their new, specially-adapted home in Fallbrook.
They were escorted to the property by San Diego County Sheriff's Fallbrook substation units, some area motorcyclists, and cheered by other HFOT home recipients and Fallbrook residents and neighbors.
"I want to start by saying thank you to Homes for Our Troops," said Charles. "Thank you volunteers, sponsors, donors for making this dream a reality. I'm still trying to process everything. It's pretty unreal what's happening right now. I can't even get the words out, but I'm extremely humbled and grateful to be a recipient of this donation.
"Thank you doesn't say enough."
Mercado thanked everyone as well.
"We love everybody that's joined in and everybody that's donated time and money," she said. "We're just really grateful for the support system we have. We are who we are, we have what we have because of you, because it has impacted our lives."
On Oct. 17, 2011, during his second deployment, Charles, a mortarman, was conducting a patrol with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.
Charles sustained severe damage to both legs and internal injuries as a result of the blast. Since then, he endured numerous surgeries for three years while being treated at Walter Reed and Balboa medical centers. The damage to his right leg was so severe, doctors decided to amputate his leg above the knee.
Today, Charles continues to work with a trainer to improve his gait and balance, and he is currently planning to have ACL reconstruction surgery on his left knee.
Charles, now retired, has been doing information technology work for the Navy through their Wounded Warrior program and he is studying for his degree with National University.
"I plan on doing that for 25 years, finish out my government contract, and hopefully be in a good position to retire," Charles said when he learned about being accepted as a HFOT home recipient.
Longtime HFOT partner Youngren Construction built the house, and owners Scott and Jennifer Youngren served as the camera crew for the Sept. 19 ceremony. The Charles family home is the 27th home Youngren Construction has built for Homes for Our Troops.
Charles' new home features more than 40 major special adaptations such as widened doorways for wheelchair access, a roll-in shower, and kitchen amenities that include pull-down shelving and lowered countertops.
The home will also alleviate the mobility and safety issues associated with a traditional home, including navigating a wheelchair through narrow hallways or over thresholds, riding on carpets, or reaching for cabinets that are too high.
After raising the American flag on the flagpole that stands in front of their home, the couple were overwhelmed while walking through their new digs, which they planned to move into Wednesday, Sept. 23.
When asked who was going to take the first bath in the bathtub, after both pointed at themselves, Mercado conceded, "Realistically, it will be Kingsley."
Homes for Our Troops donated the home to the Charles family with the support of donors, supporters and corporate partners. For more information on HFOT, visit https://www.hfotusa.org.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected].