Shannon joins service expedition in Altimira

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Patrick Shannon visited the Dominican Republic with a group of Gold Star families on a service mission. The group is pictured with the family who will live in the home they built. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Guttenberg resident Patrick Shannon, son of Dan and Joan Shannon and younger brother of the late CPL Stephen Shannon, joined the Travis Manion Foundation on a service expedition to a small village in Altimira, Dominican Republic in late November. Shannon spent a week there bonding with others who have experienced the loss of a family member in the service, and the group of 19 built a home for an Altimira family from start to finish. 

“It was an opportunity to do some good for others and volunteer my time,” Shannon told The Press after his return. His words echo those of the foundation’s namesake, Travis Manion, who was killed by an enemy sniper while saving wounded teammates in 2007. According to the foundation, Manion’s last words before leaving for his final deployment to Iraq were, “If not me, then who?” The Travis Manion Foundation was created to carry on his legacy of character, service and leadership. The foundation empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations, and service expeditions like the one Shannon participated in are one example of that mission in action. 

In Altimira, Shannon and his group met a single mother with three teenage children. “Her oldest son was mentally disabled, and he was in a wheelchair,” Shannon explained. As a home health supply professional, he understood all too well the need for wheelchair accessible living quarters for the family. In partnership with Casas por Christo, the group built the family a new home in just three days. “Her house was completely worn down, and in terrible shape. She needed this to happen,” said Shannon. 

Starting with an empty lot where the family’s home once stood, the 19 volunteers from the Travis Manion Foundation spent their first day on concrete and frame work. The second day, siding and a roof were installed, and by the end of the third day interior walls were up and electrical lines were complete. “I learned some basic stuff with framing and concrete work,” said Shannon. “I mainly worked with lumber, putting on siding and trimming.” Three volunteers had built several homes before, which made the process go quickly. 

The home had no running water and its bathroom was a nearby outhouse. It included a combined kitchen and living space and two bedrooms for its four residents. Volunteers used siding from the family’s old home to build a table for their new residence. “The only thing the mother is able to do is take care of her son in a wheelchair; her daughter is going to school and her youngest son works the fields to bring in the money for them,” Shannon told The Press. 

“It’s not a good economic situation. All the money is in the tourism areas and Santo Domingo itself, the capital city,” said Shannon. The people of the village, he said, were very inviting. “They are lovely people, very kind, very welcoming. They loved to give you hugs.” 

Shannon and the other 18 volunteers stayed with the local pastor, Melchor, and his American wife, Cassie. Food was prepared for them straight from the land and included braised chicken, papaya, bananas, and “the best pineapple I’ve ever had in my life,” Shannon told The Press. 

The group also got to experience the local landscape with a waterfall hike. “It was about a mile and a half hike up the side, and we’d ride waterfalls the whole way down. They’re like waterslides, with some 20-30 foot jumps,” said Shannon. He described the landscape as jungle terrain. “Luckily we stayed on the mountain, so we had some breeze, but otherwise it was 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity the whole time.”

When the home was finished, the small community held a ceremony for the family and volunteers. When asked what the biggest takeaway was from the experience, Shannon responded, “Getting to represent my brother with a group of people who’ve all lost someone in the military.” Since his return, he’s kept in touch with the people he met on the trip – and the group is already making plans for another service expedition in Puerto Rico in May. 

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