Life for Armed Forces Capt. Trevor Greene changed in an instant back in 2006 in a small village outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. While preparing to speak with elders about the community’s rebuilding efforts, he removed his helmet, in keeping with local customs. Seconds later, he was struck in the back of the head by a man wielding an axe.
He suffered severe brain damage. Doctors didn’t have much hope for the former journalist, but his wife was determined to see him through what turned out to be a long journey of rehabilitation. The B.C.–based Greene had to go to Alberta for treatment, a move that was made all the more complicated by his family’s need to find and pay for accommodation throughout his recovery.
Those hardships inspired a local drive to help people facing similar trials. Allan De Genova—a former Vancouver park board commissioner and an original supporter of Ronald McDonald House—was moved by the documentary Peace Warrior, which told the story of Greene’s injury and recovery and his family’s ordeal, explains his daughter, Melissa, in a phone interview. De Genova senior wondered if it would be possible to build a home much like Ronald McDonald House but dedicated to military members and veterans as well as emergency-services personnel who might need to travel to the Metro Vancouver area for medical care.
The idea of Honour House was born. Three years later, in September 2011, the place opened its doors in New Westminster. It provides a home away from home—for free—for police officers, firefighters, paramedics, sheriffs, border guards, search-and-rescue workers, coast guard members, corrections officers, and their family members in times of medical need.
“After seeing that film, my dad just thought that for the brave men and women who serve us every day we should have something like that for them,” says Melissa, a director of Honour House, its fundraising chair, and a Vancouver city councillor.
De Genova’s husband is a former member of the Canadian navy who now works as a police officer. “It’s a way to recognize and say thank you to our heroes.
“Emergency-services personnel and members of the military are so modest,” she adds. “They don’t always ask for help. It’s very important to us that we keep Honour House free for these everyday heroes.”
Honour House receives neither provincial nor federal funding, although B.C. Housing provides financing. Since it opened, the 10-bedroom, 10-bathroom, wheelchair-accessible home, which has a communal kitchen and living and dining rooms, has saved its guests hundreds of thousands of dollars that would have had to go to accommodation fees during an already stressful time for the many emergency personnel who have stayed there.
The home’s mission struck a chord with Jann Arden, who is headlining Honour House’s upcoming biannual gala, called A Night for Heroes. In a phone call with the Straight, the Calgary-based Juno Award–winning singer and guitarist says she gets hundreds of requests for charitable appearances every year. Although there are many worthy causes she’d like to support, she says, she and her management team are trying to give help to those that need it most.
“It’s impossible to do everything,” the affable artist says. “You can’t do everything or else you’re not effective. What I’ve been doing is choosing two things to focus on [per year], things that don’t get a lot of funding. You look at something like Honour House that doesn’t have media campaigns.…It’s a tireless board of directors and a fistful of people who make things happen month after month after month.
“Canadian troops are deployed in every corner of the globe in every capacity, helping with disaster relief and peacekeeping and building,” Arden adds. “I don’t think people realize just how much the Armed Forces build. It’s important for these men and women and these families to be supported.”
Arden adds that the fundraising gala isn’t just an opportunity to recognize soldiers and first responders; it’s also a night of celebration. “We’re really excited about it,” says Arden, who will be joined on-stage by Graham Powell on guitar and multi-instrumentalist Allison Cornell, who plays piano, violin, and banjo. “We’ll be drawing on material spanning the last 25 years. It’s a bit of everything; it’s stuff people are familiar with and some cool cover songs. There are lots of little surprises. It’s a fun show, and we have a lot of laughs.”
In the planning stages of Honour House, Allan De Genova tried to secure a location in Vancouver, but it wasn’t until he got a call from Wayne Wright, the former long-time mayor of New Westminster, that a deal was sealed. The 1937 Georgian-style house at 509 St. George Street, a former rest home, needed major renovations and repairs, but several organizations and businesses stepped up, contributing labour and materials. The roof was raised and an elevator was installed. Allan De Genova’s hope is that one day, every province and territory in the country will have its own Honour House.
“I really hope they’re able to grow and that Honour House is able to go further and further,” Arden says. “They help people in such a dignified way.”
Honour House’s A Night for Heroes Gala takes place May 22 at the Sheraton Wall Centre (1088 Burrard Street) at 6 p.m. More information is at the Honour House website.