Cedric King and wife, Khieda, used to drive through the rich neighborhoods.
To get inside gated communities, they'd tell the guard at the entrance they knew somebody who lived there — a front to get a glimpse at how the other half lived.
"I'd be in the passenger seat, and I'd tell her, 'babe, we're going to have (a house) like this one day,' " Cedric said. "I didn't know how it was going to happen, but I just knew it would."
He was right, but the circumstances weren't anything he could have predicted.
On Friday afternoon, the King Family stood before a crowd on an empty home lot in Sugarloaf Country Club — one of the wealthiest subdivisions north of Atlanta. Surrounded by red mud, gravel and earth-moving equipment, he offered thanks to all who pitched in for what will soon be his family's new home.
During the ceremony, The Gary Sinise Foundation honored U.S. Army Master Sergeant Cedric King for his sacrifice. In 2012, while serving in Afghanistan, he lost both legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device. He also sustained disfigurement on his right hand.
Supported by prosthetic legs, King approached the podium, grabbing the microphone. He stepped toward the audience — made up mostly of his family members, business leaders and organizations all pitching in over the next eight months to build a "smart home" free of charge for the veteran.
"The house I live in right now, you have to understand, I bought it before I went to Afghanistan," King said. "I never thought in a million years that house would not be enough ... I always thought it would be somewhere I could raise my (family)."
Added King: "Fast forward two years, and I don't have legs ... I have a wheelchair, but can't get through most doors in my house."
The King's new abode will be a "smart home," designed with the veteran's specific needs in mind, aiming to ease the everyday burdens that came with the loss of his legs.
It's one of 44 specially adapted smart homes underway or completed as part of the Gary Sinise Foundation's R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment).
Scott Schaeperkoetter, director of operations with Gary Sinise Foundation's R.I.S.E. Program, said he was excited to see "a new beginning for Cedric and his family."
"The effect this will have on him and his family ... it's going to truly change their lives," Schaeperkoetter said. "(Veterans like King) come back from being wounded, spend all their time rehabbing in the hospital and typically go back to a home that's not accessible. They can't get into their bathrooms, they can't get into closets, and to get a new home like this, it not only changes their life, it changes their families' lives."
During Friday's ceremony, Judy Otter, executive director of the Gary Sinise Foundation, read a letter to King from Sinise himself:
" 'Cedric, I wish I could be here today, but I look forward to visiting you and your family once construction is finished and you are all moved in. It is our hope that this home represents in some small way the sincere gratitude we feel for all you've given in service to our great country.' "
According to its website, the Gary Sinise Foundation aims to "honor America's defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need."
On Saturday, the organization will hold a similar ceremony in Maysville (Jackson County) for another veteran. USMC Cpl. Sean Adams of Gainesville, who also lost both his legs while serving in Afghanistan in 2012, said he too is grateful for what the foundation is doing.
Following Friday's ceremony, King and his family grabbed shovels and helped break ground on the land where his home will soon be located. The crowd cheered them on.
Gretchen Simpson, a relative of the King family, said she is proud of Cedric.
"He gives everybody inspiration," Simpson said. "Here he is, with a disability, and most people would just lay down, accept it and do nothing, but Cedric is not one of those people. His handicap is not who he is."
Added Simpson: "For him to get something like this — I wouldn't expect anything less, because Cedric deserves it all."
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