HEART 9/11 helps a local veteran renovate her Hamden home

By Hannah Feakes

Photo via Ryan Dostie

Photo via Ryan Dostie

HEART 9/11, an organization that rebuilds infrastructure in hard-hit areas, chose a local Hamden family to help out.

Ryan Dostie and her husband both served overseas in the National Guard, and due to PTSD and financial struggles, could no longer afford to maintain their starter home.

That is when HEART 9/11 stepped in.

According to its website, HEART 9/11 is an organization that strives to respond to natural and man-made disasters, rebuild infrastructure in hard-hit areas and build resiliency for individuals, families and communities.

The renovation on the Dosties home started Friday, March 8. The family had to move out of the home and into Dostie’s mother’s home.

The trouble started when Dostie came home after serving for five years, she and her husband bought a small starter home in Hamden.

What they thought would be a starter home turned into their family home, and the family is still living there with their young daughter.

Dostie said that when she returned from serving, she had symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression. Her doctor recommended that she stay home from work and focus on her mental health.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ended up giving me 70 percent disability for my PTSD alone,” she said. “Once we had our daughter in 2015, it didn’t make sense to work part-time, because we’d just be paying for daycare. So everything financial fell on my husband, and that was really hard for him and for me.”

Ultimately, the financial pressure forced the family to postpone maintenance on the home.

Dostie said that the roof needed to be redone, the water heater had broken recently and there was an inch of water accumulating in their basement.

They needed help.

Erik Trinidad, who works with the VA, contacted Dostie and suggested that the family put their name in for a grant that provides cash to help veterans in need complete home renovations.

Laurie Harkness is the founder and former director of VA Connecticut’s Errera Community Care Center. She has been in contact with Dostie throughout the entire process.

Dostie said that Harkness understands how to work with veterans and understands veterans who are trying to overcome part of their trauma.

“She’s very kind,” Dostie said. “She’s the one who calmed me down and said ‘You deserve this, we want to do this, you should accept this.’”

According to Dostie, she met Harkness when she found out their family was going to receive the grant.

“(Trinidad) comes back to me and says ‘I think you’re gonna get the grant,’” Dostie said. “They want to come in and meet you.’ So I went and I met Laurie. It went from getting our roof fixed to these huge massive renovations that they’re doing now.”

Dostie never thought that the renovation would be as big as it has become.

“I think if I had known it was gonna be this big, I probably never would have applied,” she said. “Because I think there are probably more deserving veterans out there. I said to them ‘Are you sure there’s not someone else?’ but they wanted to do it for us.”

According to the New Haven Register, Harkness was struck by the fact that Dostie did not feel deserving.

“What struck me was (Ryan Dostie) felt like she wasn’t deserving and most people who struggle with trauma feel that way,” Harkness said. “Even after fighting for her country taking bullets, she comes back carrying the invisible wounds and still doesn’t feel like she deserves anything.”

“The moving from my house to my mother’s house, getting stuff out and moving it into a new environment had put me in a tailspin of anxiety and depression,” Dostie said. “I joked I was like a cat, you can’t move me without me freaking out.”

Dostie said that although she is not exactly sure what will be done to the house, she knows they will be getting a lot more space and the mortgage will remain affordable for them.

“It will be nice to have a house that we can maybe have more children in and stay in our neighborhood and have more stability,” she said.

Not only does this organization help people in need, but the volunteers who work on the house say that it benefits them as well.

Dostie said that the thing that keeps her from backing out of the project is that she knows it helps the volunteers work through their own PTSD as well.

“The HEART 9/11 people have emphasized for them that it’s therapeutic,” she said. “ It’s helpful for them to give back now, and that helps them with their PTSD process. So to know that they’re getting something out of this, and it’s not just about me, that it’s for them I guess lets me accept all that they’re giving to us – which is a lot.”

Dostie also said that the volunteers and construction workers have never made her feel undeserving.

“I just can’t get over how kind everyone has been,” she said. “Never once have I felt like I’m a burden or that what they’re doing is too much. I never feel looked down on in any way. I’ve never felt like they pity me either. They treat me with kindness and respect and like an equal, which is really cool considering what they’re doing and what they’ve been through, which is considerable.”