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J.R. Martinez: Free homes give hope

updated 2:21 PM EST, Mon November 14, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Operation Finally Home builds custom homes for wounded U.S. veterans
  • Actor and Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez is closely involved with the nonprofit
  • Martinez: I know the mental, physical struggles these veterans are dealing with

Editor's note: Voting is under way for the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year. The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs live December 11 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. See the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011 and cast your vote at CNNHeroes.com.

(CNN) -- Actor and Iraq war veteran J.R. Martinez is the spokesman for Operation Finally Home, an organization that provides free custom-built homes for injured veterans.

The nonprofit was started by Dan Wallrath, who was a top 10 CNN Hero last year.

Martinez recently sat down with CNN's Sonya Hamasaki to talk about CNN Heroes, his recent success on "Dancing With the Stars" and the efforts of Operation Finally Home. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Sonya Hamasaki: What inspired you to get involved with Dan Wallrath's efforts?

J. R. Martinez: I heard about him in Houston, Texas, and that's where we met.

I heard about the great things he was doing by himself with just a couple of friends. And I thought to myself, "Anyone who's doing things from the goodness of their heart is somebody I want to be involved with."

Hamasaki: How does Operation Finally Home work?

Martinez: Operation Finally Home helps to give wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan a mortgage-free home. It really changes lives, and it gives people hope.

A lot of times, one of the biggest things for our troops is getting jobs. If they can have a home, it then kind of alleviates some pressure and they can start focusing on the job aspect of things.

Hamasaki: What's it like to see the reaction when someone finds out they have a free home?

Martinez: It's amazing to witness the transition ... to see their emotions and their body language completely change.

And it's not just the service member; it's the spouse, it's the parent, it's the brother or sister, it's the child. There's this change all the way across the board. It's a beautiful thing to witness that kind of emotion.

Hamasaki: What's your personal connection with the organization?

Martinez: It's a great feeling to be able to be part of the movement.

I know the emotional void and the mental struggles and the physical struggles that the men and women and the families go through when they're recovering. So it allows me to understand the importance of it, and it gives me the opportunity to serve.

Hamasaki: What other projects are you working on?

Martinez: I'm involved with "Dancing With the Stars" at the moment, and it's an exciting ride. It's fun, and it's a great platform for me to share who I am with people.

At the same time, I'm still doing motivational speaking. I believe that we all have something to share with someone else that can better someone else's life.

Hamasaki: Who are your personal heroes?

Martinez: There are a lot of people who can be classified as heroes and do great things and inspire me.

My mother is my hero. My mother has done so much for me in my life and has continuously been there and been my rock.

Then I come across wounded troops who persevere every single day, who smile, who have a positive attitude, and they're my heroes for what they have done.

And Dan Wallrath is a hero for the hope he's given to these families by giving them a brand new home.

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