Just minutes after presenting retired Army Sergeant Alan Wyrwa, wife Erika and daughters Camila and Ariel with a variety of gifts to go along with the mortgage-free home provided by Chase that they will soon move into, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins shook his head and summed up the awe-inspiring experience in one brief sentence.
“This,” Martins said while still being somewhat in amazement of the tears, smiles and excited dances from the Wyrwa family, “is what making a difference in someone’s life is all about.”
The Magic joined Chase and Building Homes for Heroes on Saturday night during Orlando’s home finale to honor Sgt. Wyrwa and the family with a variety of gifts. Sgt Wyrwa, a North Carolina native, was in the Army’s infantry division for 12 years and he did four tours of duty in Iraq and another year of service in Afghanistan before an IED blast left him no longer unable to serve his country.
Wyrwa, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2013, was recently awarded a mortgage-free home in Kissimmee by the Magic, Chase and Building Homes for Heroes. The Magic also made the night extra special by recognizing the Wyrwa family at midcourt and honoring them with Disney Park Hopper passes, a two-night Marriott Vacation Club stay, a 40, inch television, $1,500 for home furnishings and new bicycles for the girls.
Wyrwa said that the whole night felt like a dream, and he couldn’t have been more impressed with the generosity of the Magic and Chase.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s above 50!” Wyrwa said. “There are no words for my gratitude that I have for each team member. It comes from the bottom of my heart sincerely when I say that this is an awesome night.”
Building Homes for Heroes is a national nonprofit, bipartisan organization committed to rebuilding lives and supporting the brave men and women who were injured while serving the country during the time of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organization, with assistance from Chase, builds or modifies mortgage-free homes and gifts them to veterans who qualify.
As Champion of the Community partners, the Magic and Chase have been working together on community projects that impact and benefit Central Florida. It is through that partnership and commitment to the community that the Magic and Chase teamed up to honor a family that has made sacrifices while defending America. Martins, who joined the Wyrwa family at midcourt of the Amway Center on Saturday, said the Magic were delighted to honor a veteran injured in the line of protecting his country.
“These men and women give their lives for us citizens and this country and what we’re able to do for them is the smallest thank you for what they do,” Martins said. “The greatest feeling of all is seeing the smiles and the joy from the kids and the parents.
“We want to change as many lives as we can. That’s our mission as a franchise and that’s something that we try and uphold daily with what the OMYF (Orlando Magic Youth Foundation) does for people in Central Florida. “To change a life like we have (on Saturday night with the Wyrwa family), it’s so special.’’
Alan met his future wife, Erika, while the two were serving together in the Army at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Co. The family has lived in Pembroke Pines in South Florida in recent years, but it will be moving to the new home in Kissimmee in June once their oldest daughter, Camila, finishes the current school year.
“The house that we wanted and needed for so long was out of our reach and nowhere close to being financially possible. It probably would have been 20 years before we would have been able to even think of a house like this,” Alan said. “So to get it, it’s just amazing for our family.”
Erika Wyrwa, who was also in the Army and served one tour of duty in Afghanistan, said that landing the new home was a welcome relief to a family that has struggled to plant some stable roots since leaving the military because of the difficulty in finding work. Alan has been unable to work because of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and injuries suffered while in battle, but he hopes to one day own his own business following his schooling.
“We got denied, denied, denied and almost without hope and wondering what we were going to do (for housing),” Erika said. “We were feeling like the doors were closing for us. And for this to come about now, it’s a miracle. We couldn’t believe this was true or even real. It’s just an amazing opportunity for us.”
Alan said the ovation that he got from the Magic fans on Saturday night and the gifts given to him by Building Homes for Heroes, Chase and the Magic warmed his heart greatly. He said he was proud to know that citizens care about those in the military who put their lives in harm’s way to protect the United States.
“It’s a heart-warming feeling to know that they care,” Alan said. “During service, that’s not something that we always see. We don’t see communities, corporations or individuals coming forward to provide soldiers opportunities like this. This is a dream come true to be honored and cared for like this. And for the Magic to honor soldiers who are still within the fight or getting discharged, I think it’s great. It shows soldiers that people care about them and it’s just heart-warming.’’