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ELK GROVE — A deserving senior is getting a home makeover thanks to the efforts of hundreds of Elk Grove volunteers and organizations.

Santiago Bonilla, 74, is a disabled Vietnam War veteran. He lives with severe diabetes after being exposed to agent orange, an herbicide the military used.

He is also the first candidate chosen for the Habitat for Humanity Veterans Housing repair project.
Sadly, he was more than qualified.

“This was the worst I had seen. Yes, the roof needed to be replaced, but there were holes large enough to be able to fit basketballs through,” Laine Himmelmann with Habitat for Humanity said.

A leaky roof caused severe rot and mold. Inspectors said they could barely breath inside the home.

“I thought they were nailed into plywood or something, but there was no plywood,” Santiago Bonilla said.

Bonilla said he tried to make some of the improvements himself. A few years ago, he got brand new windows. But everything inside of his home, he put on hold.

“He’s a proud man, and that’s why his grass was always mowed. His outside of the home was kept because he didn’t want people knowing that he was struggling, that he was living in these kinds of conditions,” Himmelmann said.

For years, his priority was getting his son Adrian help to battle a drug addiction. But this past February, Adrian passed away.

“I lost him. It’s the drug addiction. I don’t know how or why they do it, but it happened,” Bonilla cried.

When everything seemed to be going in a downward spiral, Bonilla’s daughter Monica contacted Habitat For Humanity.

With a $40,000 donation by Home Depot and incredible community support, the walls are finally coming down.

“I am happy about that. I’m grateful and there are so many people, you know. I don’t even know them,” Bonilla said.

Thursday morning, Bonilla smiled for the first time in a very long time.

Restoring a home is the first step to restoring hope for a very deserving man.

The project is expected to take six to eight weeks and wrap up shortly before Veteran’s Day.