HOME for a HERO: Veteran, 4 children start ‘new life’ in LaPlace

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

While serving as a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant in Iraq, Juanika Cann endured many life-threatening experiences.

The two decades of service exposed her to machine gun fire, severe spine and ankle injuries and current struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Despite all of those challenges, the mother of four said one of her lowest points came in March when the home she was staying in was sold out from under her, leaving her temporarily homeless.

The family includes (from left on chairs) Juanika, son Rashan Kelly, 22; and daughters Kristina Frazer, 19; Jasmine Frazer, 17; and Faith Cann, 13.

The family includes (from left on chairs) Juanika, son Rashan Kelly, 22; and daughters Kristina Frazer, 19; Jasmine Frazer, 17; and Faith Cann, 13.

“All of my belongings and my kids’ belongings were put on the street,” Cann said.

“You can imagine, at the same time, I am struggling with my PTSD, I’m a single parent raising my kids and my pastor had to find me a place to live.”

Finally, it seems those mighty struggles are behind Cann and her four children.

The family was able to move into a new place Friday, and not just any old spot, but a 2,278-square foot home with four bedrooms on Portrush Drive in LaPlace that comes mortgage free.

National nonprofit Building Homes for Heroes delivered the home with updated appliances, new flooring, grab bars to the master bathroom and a water feature to assist with PTSD.

Volunteers also painted the rooms in the colors chosen by Cann and her children.

Building Homes for Heroes builds and modifies homes and gifts them mortgage-free to wounded veterans and their families who served after Sept. 11, 2001, and during the time of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Cann went through a near three-year application process.

The former Baton Rouge resident was honorably discharged. Since her retirement, she has helped feed and find placement for homeless veterans in her community, organizers said.

“She has volunteered her time and put her own resources towards this selfless cause,” said Leika Drouillard of Building Homes for Heroes.

Cann said she is going to Bible college and plans to serve in the ministry and work in a church.

“What this means to me and my family is a stable life,” Cann said. “Right now, I am a single parent of four kids, and our life has been kind of unstable. I’ve rented and moved place to place since I got out of the military. Because of my unstable lifestyle, I have had unstable credit and things like that so I wasn’t able to obtain home ownership so I would end up moving again trying to find the right community.”

That’s changing now.

“This means the world to me, like I’m taking my life back,” Cann said. “When I got out of the military, for some reason, you feel like you lose part of your life. I feel like I got it back.

“I feel blessed. This community is good and stable. It’s like a family when you come here, go to the gas station, meeting the neighbors, everybody is so pleasant and happy. I feel like I have not just gained a home, I have gained a family and a whole new life for my kids.”

Cann said she is most excited to pick out furniture, adding she realizes she would not be buying everything at one time.

“It’s going to be so exciting decorating the home,” she said. “I look forward to those things, living in a home, sleeping in my own bed. Even spending time with my family in this home watching TV, knowing we never have to move again, means so much.

“We’re going to be making our own memories.”

Building Homes for Heroes organizers said the LaPlace location offers a great opportunity for Cann and her family because of strong local schools, nearby family and short trips to doctors offices.

— By Candace Hemelt