"It's amazing... magical," Tesa Stinson said of an annual project by area veterans to decorate the Guilford Township home of disabled veteran Zach Stinson and family.
Organizer Charles McKnight, one of 40 or more volunteers who turned out on Saturday for what turned into a full-blown Christmas decorating party at the Stinson's home, said the event was a way of giving back to a fellow veteran and his family, who sacrificed so much for their country.
Zach and Tesa's story is one of teenage love that almost ended in tragedy when Zach stepped on an improvised explosive device while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan in 2010.
The explosion took both of Zach's legs and put him through an ordeal of 24 surgeries during a long and arduous recovery.
Zach and Tesa had met while both were students at Chambersburg Area Senior High School. They had been married only a year when the one thing all military families worry about the most happened.
Today, Zach calls himself "really fortunate" in that he has had continuous support from veterans and groups like those participating in Saturday's house decorating party.
"It means a lot to know (the community) is so supportive," Stinson said. ""The really great thing is that that at every corner I've turned, I've had help whenever I needed it."
Stinson retired from the Marines in 2010, and in 2013 Homes for our Troops built a home in Guilford Township for the family, specially outfitted to meet his specific needs and make it easier for him to get around with his disabilities. The house was dedicated December 13, 2013.
Since then, Stinson says he hasn't lacked for help from the community when he needs it.
McKnight says Stinson, Tesa and their two children, Olivia, 5, and Rylee, 19 months, deserve the help they receive from their grateful community, and more.
"Zach's a very special guy. He never complains." he said. "He sacrificed a lot, and it makes me feel good to see the community come together like this to do something so special for someone who has given so much for us."
Tesa Stinson marvels at the way the community has turned out to decorate each year. While she says the decorations are especially nice for Olivia and Rylee, the biggest benefit comes from growing up in a community that helps each other.
"It's a huge gift (from the community)," she said. "I'm very grateful for everything they do."
McKnight first organized the Christmas decorating project four years ago, but it has grown over the years.
The Legion Riders of Chambersburg and Fort Loudon always participate, putting outdoor lights up along the roof, decorating the front porch pillars with artificial evergreen rope, putting up an artificial tree on the porch, then decorating it and placing special inflatable decorations for the Stinson children's enjoyment in the front yard.
This year Angie Crouse donated "icicle" style lights for the roof, the Legion Riders donated a huge star with lights which was hung under the eaves above the garage door, and the Kauffman Family Christmas Tree Farm donated a live Christmas tree which volunteers set up in the Stinsons' dining room. The family will decorate that tree themselves as a part of their private family celebration, McKnight said.
In the past, Jeff Johnson has donated money for the tree, but with the Kauffman Farm donation, the group was able to use their donations to buy four Disney inflatables to join last year's donation, a 12-foot tall inflatable Olaf from the movie "Frozen," young Olivia's favorite.
McKnight said he is always amazed at the way the community, especially the community's veterans, drop everything else they are doing to donate and provide labor for the holiday decorating project.
This year the group was joined by a Chambersburg acoustical band, the BC Kings, who set up in the Stinson garage and played during the entire decorating party.
Some people brought hot dogs and covered dishes, and Tesa Stinson served hot chocolate.
McKnight said that often people get busy and it is hard to get them together for ordinary events, but when it comes to helping families like the Stinsons, the community comes together enthusiastically and without hesitation.
"(Zach) served his country, so it is the least we can do," he said.
One bonus is that everyone who participates in the decorating party has a great time, he said.
"Everybody enjoys it," he said.
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