John Kretchmar

As told by John Kretchmar, NAR Leadership Academy class of '10

This year I'm proud to announce the start of a program that will make a tremendous difference in the lives of U.S. soldiers returning from conflicts overseas. It's called Heroes Welcome Home, and its objective is straightforward: Educate REALTORS® in metropolitan Chicago and, eventually nationwide, about the need to increase the availability of specialized housing for veterans who have sustained life-changing injuries through military service.

Heroes Welcome Home is needed now for a couple of reasons. First, soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan return with injuries that are far more serious than in previous wars. And the injuries - physical and mental - are much more severe and debilitating. Second, all of us feel the brunt of foreclosures and high unemployment in today's sluggish economy. Many veterans return home to find their homes in danger of foreclosure, their jobs gone. And, it's simply the right thing to do; it's one way we can give back to those who sacrificed so much for this nation.

Here's what Heroes Welcome Home is designed to do. Through education and outreach programs, we want to make REALTORS® aware that wounded vets require housing in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and that some may require help securing a mortgage and getting relocation assistance. One goal is to establish a database of veterans in need within the Chicago area as a way to encourage REALTORS® to get involved. Anyone interested in learning more can attend a workshop May 25 and 26 at the Chicago Marriott Suites Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois. Visit to register.

The program is being funded through the NAR Game Changer Challenge initiative, and it will be administered through the Chicago Association of REALTORS®. Credit goes to the staff at CAR, especially Bill Wald, Senior Director of Business and Professional Development, for drafting the Game Changer grant proposal. So far, we've received additional support from the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs and U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris. We anticipate Heroes Welcome Home will gain much momentum by early 2011.

My passion for this program is fueled by personal experience. I served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. After I was discharged, I helped returning veterans in the early 1970s take advantage of education and other provisions within the GI Bill. Today, I'm developing 110-units of transitional and permanent housing for veterans on the grounds of the Hines VA Hospital just west of Chicago.

Heroes Welcome Home is an opportunity for all area REALTORS® to use their skills and market knowledge to help returning veterans secure a place to live in peace in the land they so bravely defended.