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Illinois veteran gets chilly neighborhood reception then outpouring of generosity

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Courtesy ABC News

New homeowners have been known to get into tiffs with their neighbors over their decorating choices. But a handful of Julie and Brian Wood's neighbors in Morton, Ill., drew up a petition against them for not choosing a brick exterior.

For Army Sgt. Brian Wood, 28, it wasn't the warm welcome he might have expected as a decorated war veteran. Wood has been awarded two Bronze Stars for his two tours in Afghanistan. He now works full time as a warehouse supervisor and continues to serve in the National Guard.

But the initial chilly reception caused a backlash from sympathetic neighbors and well-wishers, turning the sour note into a chorus of welcome and generosity.

Wood found his future home in the Peoria suburb through Habitat for Humanity. Wood, a father of three, lost hearing in one ear due to a combat injury, and that disability has limited his options for jobs, and hence a home loan.

Lea-Anne Schmidgall, executive director of the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Peoria Area, told ABC News that brick was always a part of the plan to fit with the existing character of the neighborhood. But due to cost considerations, Habitat decided to go with brick only on the front of the house with the rest in vinyl siding.

"Design trends have changed and that's the material of choice on a home now, for Central Illinois anyway, whether you've got a lot of money or not," Schmidgall said.

But that choice didn't sit well with at least one neighor, who decided to circulate a petition.

"Anything but brick wasn't going to be alright," said Schmidgall, noting she was saddened when she learned of the objection.

Matt Sommer, 56, told ABC News that a neighbor in her 70s came knocking on his door on Sept. 16 collecting signatures for a petition. "She asked if I was aware this Habitat house was going to be made of wood," Sommer recalled.

When he asked her if she realized Wood was a veteran, "she responded, 'Oh, my son's a veteran,'" and continued pressing for the signature, Sommer said. He politely refused and shut the door. She had collected about a dozen signatures at that point, Sommer said.

The woman called Habitat and expressed concern the new house would drive down home values nearby and said there was a community "covenant" that the house had to be constructed in all brick, said Schmidgall, who recalled saying to her: "Show me that paper." But she said she has yet to see it.

Wood could not be reached for comment by ABC News.

The lot for the Wood family's new home is one block over from the Sommer residence. "My wife and I are going to volunteer to help build the home for sure. We've corresponded over Facebook and I am really looking forward to meeting them," Sommer said.

Sommer said he is excited for the Wood family, saying that this experience was "something that started out negative and has turned out to be a big blessing."

"The community has totally rallied behind the Wood family and said that they will provide the brick for the family," Schmidgall said.

They have even started a Facebook page that now has over 4,000 likes and more than 44,000 views. Contractors from all over the country have called in to volunteer their services.

Despite the initial negative reaction from a small group of neighbors, there has since been an outpouring of generosity for the Woods. "Donations have not only been monetary, we got the foundation donated, a roofing system donated, gutters and windows," Schmidgall said.

Habitat is scheduled to break ground on Memorial Day. With monthly payments just under $600 at zero percent interest, the Woods will be able to own their own home in 20 years.

To qualify as a Habitat family, Julie and Brian Wood have had to put in 500 hours as volunteers between the two of them and go through 12 different classes about being a homeowner. It takes about four months to build the home once the lot is picked. There will be 16 to 18 Saturdays during which people can volunteer and actually get to work side by side with the family they are helping.

What happened to the Wood family has inspired the birth of a new challenge. "If the community can do this for one family, let's do it for ten more families," Schmidgall said.

For donations to help the Wood family, call (309) 676-6729 ext. 6 or go to Congressman Schock's Military/Veteran Build 2014.

Read on ABC News

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