Don Reilly wanted to join the military, but his mother refused to grant her consent. He’d passed the ASVAB, the military’s entrance exam. He was 18 years old, and he’d graduated high school. So he could have gone against his mother’s wishes and signed that dotted line anyway. But deep down, Don knew his mother needed him, and he couldn’t bring himself to leave.
Don’s mom raised him and his sister on her own. She worked long hours and depended on Don to be there for his little sister. Duty to his family overrode his desire to serve, and Don put that dream in his rearview.
It would be decades before Don Reilly came face to face again with his passion to serve, and found a unique way to do so.
Years passed, and Don found other passions and strengths to pursue. He became a carpenter and built his own company, Elegant Home Exteriors. It’s a perfect outlet for Don’s love of carpentry and people. In a field where most companies have about a 5-year life span, Don managed to grow his company into a thriving business. He’s proud of his success and his excellent reputation, both of which are no small accomplishments in the construction industry.
Along the way, he met Jim Amatulli, a film director who worked in the area. Their first meeting was admittedly less memorable for Jim than it had been for Don.
Don, explains Jim, was “atmosphere” in his film “Artworks” starring Virginia Madsen. Don was one of about 50 extras in a restaurant scene, to whom Jim barely spoke or interacted with. “Keep eating and don’t look at the camera!” are the only words Jim remembers tossing in the direction of those extras. He laughs about it now because life led him back to Don, who is now his business partner and one of his closest friends.
Don Reilly was creating a sales training video, and it was Jim who agreed to direct it. The two forged a friendship as they worked together. The TV station wanted more of Don and his home improvement tips and asked him to begin regular appearances on its news show. With thirty years of experience in the media, and now his own media and marketing company, Jim instantly recognized the potential in the offer – and then took it a step further.
What would make this even better, he asked? The answer was veterans.
The moment Don Reilly heard Jim suggest incorporating helping veterans into Don’s home improvement content, he reconnected with that 18-year-old he once was, and his love of the military came rushing back.
The idea flourished under Don and Jim’s talent and commitment and evolved into a pilot TV show that aired in 2016. Back Home Patriotic Renovations introduced viewers to two veterans in need of help with home repairs.
Stephanie Kemplin was one of the first female gunners in Afghanistan. The single mom was struggling to meet the demands of raising her daughter, working, and stretching her budget to make it through each month. Her home looked nice enough on the outside, but on the inside, everything was falling apart. That was kind of how she lived her life, too, as she battled the symptoms of PTSD.
Navy veteran Robert Snow lived in his house for 46 years, and it was falling apart. He’d been holding things together fairly well until the recession in 2008 when work dried up and he was laid off. Then he had a stroke that left him with some memory issues, and things began spiraling downward. The roof was in dire need of being replaced. Mildew and mold spread across the exterior like veins on the house, and Robert needed help.
With community support and donations, Don and Jim were able to present both veterans with their newly renovated homes.
“I’ve come to the realization that I’m very blessed,” said Robert as he thanked Don and shouted out to all veterans, reminding them that their service mattered.
Stephanie and her daughter were overwhelmed again when they re-entered their renovated home, only this time it was happy tears. “Thank you so much,” said Stephanie as she reached out to hug Don.
Stephanie has since gone on to launch Living Waters Farm a Christ-centered non-profit organization devoted to helping women and young girls who have been exploited through human trafficking.
Not only had they managed to significantly impact the lives of two veterans, but Don and Jim had also convinced themselves and others that they were on to something special. Plans were made to convert the pilot into a series. They connected with big names in the entertainment industry and secured a major sponsor. The series was charging full speed toward production when the sponsor withdrew and the series was shut down.
That may stop an average person from proceeding with the work in progress, but Don is not the average person. He and Jim carried on helping veterans because, as Don says, “ This is my life mission.” They’ve since renovated a home for a Gold Star family, helped with other veterans’ homes, and even rallied the community to pay for a veteran’s burial costs when the veteran’s family could not do so.
It’s more than patriotism and a good heart that drives Don to do this. He’s also inspired by the people he serves. Not only does he have profound gratitude for their military service, but he is also in awe of the spirit they continue to show by helping other people in spite of going through hard times, themselves.
The Gold Star family, says Don, lost their son to a roadside bomb. They were struggling to keep their own house and hearts together and yet were in the midst of organizing a 5K to raise funds to help veterans.
He went years without looking around to take note of the service and sacrifice of others, says Don. But those years are behind him.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Freedom is not free, there’s somebody who sacrificed their life so you could get into your car and turn the key and go to work. – Don Reilly, Back Home Patriots ” quote=”Freedom is not free, there’s somebody who sacrificed their life so you could get into your car and turn the key and go to work. – Don Reilly, Back Home Patriots” theme=”style5″]
Gratitude is a big part of life for Don Reilly.
He is thankful for all the opportunities this country provides, and he is thankful for the beautiful family he thought he’d never have.
Don and his wife tried for years to start a family. Finally, they decided to foster children instead, with the hopes of adopting a child of their own. No sooner had the idea been voiced that they were enrolled in foster parent classes and bringing home four young siblings.
It was too much, too soon. The abrupt transition from childless to parents of four young children was overwhelming and, with regret, that called the foster agency and admitted temporary defeat.
It broke their hearts to do so, but they were quickly comforted by learning those four siblings found parents and are a forever family.
Don and his wife went on to foster several more children. Each time, says Don, it got harder to let a child go when his or her parent won custody back. Emotionally exhausted, they asked the foster agency to please note they wanted to foster with an intent to adopt.
Their prayers were answered shortly after, and the Reilly’s became parents to three beautiful girls.
In a quirky twist from the Universe, Don’s wife became pregnant within months of their three little girls arriving. Don cannot help but laugh every time he talks about it. God always has a plan, and that’s what this is,” he says.
Don’s got big plans for his big life. He’s got four girls and a wife he loves to pieces, and he’s got a mission he is committed to with a partner who is equally committed.
Don and Jim just announced the establishment of Back Home Patriots, a 501(c)3 on a mission to help veterans with home improvement projects that are beyond their reach, whether due to financial, emotional, psychological or physical challenges. They will also create awareness and educate the public about veterans’ challenges and to encourage support for our veterans.
Their vision is to take their Back Home Patriotic Renovation projects across the country by linking with others who can support and spread the mission and the work.
It’s a daunting goal but one which Din and Jim are ready to attack.
“I want to help these people, and the way people look at military service, and we’re definitely going to tell their story,” says Jim. That sounds like an excellent plan for us.