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Waterford - Cmdr. Grace Dorangricchia, a Navy dentist who specializes in prosthetics, has made a career of putting people's faces back together, improving their lives, as one of her colleagues likes to say, "one tooth at a time."
She's never considered herself a hero, though many do.
"I love my career and serving my country," she said. "You don't expect demonstrations of gratitude."
Dorangricchia was humbled, then, to learn that some real estate agents, mortgage lenders and others involved in the home-buying business in southeastern Connecticut have joined Homes for Heroes, a national program that helps active and retired military personnel, police, firefighters, health care workers and teachers save on closing costs when they buy or sell a home.
Currently living in Florida, where she's stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Dorangricchia, a maxillofacial prosthodontist, had never heard of the Minnesota-based nonprofit when she began planning a move to Groton, where she's been assigned to the health clinic at the Naval Submarine Base.
"I knew nothing about Homes for Heroes," she said.
Dorangricchia soon would meet Samantha Storey, a RE/MAX agent and Home for Heroes affiliate who teamed with Sherriann Martin of Primary Residential Mortgage and Niantic attorney David Pazzaglia. Together, the three would save Dorangricchia nearly $1,700 in the closing costs associated with her $165,000 home purchase.
Storey cut her $4,125 commission on the sale by 25 percent, a $1,031.25 savings for Dorangricchia. Martin reduced her fee by $500 and Pazzaglia provided a $150 credit. Storey also paid a "transaction fee" equal to 5 percent of her commission - $206.25 - to Homes for Heroes.
Storey, whose 20-year-old son, Zachary, is a U.S. military policeman in the National Guard Reserves as well as a North Stonington volunteer firefighter, spoke Tuesday at an event marking Homes for Heroes' expansion into southeastern Connecticut. Among those who crowded into the RE/MAX office on Boston Post Road were Dan Steward, Waterford's first selectman; Paul Formica, East Lyme's first selectman; and Murray Pendleton, the Waterford police chief.
"My first thought was that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of those who protect our community and our country on a daily basis," Storey said of her affiliation with Homes for Heroes. "I see the dedication, sacrifice and patriotism that Zach portrays daily, and I wanted to honor him and his fellow heroes in everything that they do for all of us."
Other Homes for Heroes affiliates in the region are Joanne Pendleton of RE/MAX, David Johnston of Prime Lending and attorney Chris Albanese.
The program, founded by a Minneapolis real estate agent and her family in the wake of 9/11, has more than 1,300 affiliates in 48 states, according to Bonnie Carlson, a Homes for Heroes director who's been recruiting affiliates in New England for about a year and has a son graduating from West Point.
While participation has been healthy in such states as Florida, Indiana, Texas, Utah and Washington, there were only nine affiliates in all of New England when Carlson began. Now, she said, there are more than 100, including 21 in Connecticut.
Dorangricchia's home purchase was the first Homes for Heroes transaction in this part of the state. Others are in the works here, including one involving a fire chief and another, a police officer.
Johnston, of Prime Lending, said the biggest challenge the affiliates face "is getting the word out that we exist." He said he signed on - affiliates pay Homes for Heroes a $1,200 annual fee to participate - because after 22 years in the business he thought it was time he "gave something back." The affiliation could help his business, too, he acknowledged.
"I'm going to tell everyone I know about it," Dorangricchia, said. "I can't even find words to express how I feel about these people. They're my heroes."