ANITA FIREBAUGH
Contributing Writer

M.W. Dunbar Construction’s Mark Dunbar and his wife Elizabeth Dunbar with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the background.

A major fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital begins today, October 3, at 5:30 p.m. when local contractor Mark Dunbar with M.W. Dunbar Construction breaks ground in Ashley Plantation for a Dream Home.

The St. Jude Dream Home program involves selling a limited number of $100 chances to win a brand new, single-family home in a local community. Each dream home has a market value in the range of $300,000 to $700,000. It is built mostly with donated land, materials, and labor. This will be the third such home built in Virginia and will be one of 42 houses in 23 states that St. Jude plans to construct and sell this year. “The proceeds all go back so it’s a win-win for the hospital,” Dunbar said.

“We’re right excited to be chosen. This is nothing to take lightly.” Dunbar will build the two-story colonial home, which will have an estimated value of $425,000, on Lot 9, Island Green Drive, in Orchards of Ashley Plantation, across from the Ashley Plantation clubhouse. The home will have four bedrooms, three and a half baths, a three-car garage and a spacious chef’s kitchen. The house will be 2,688 square feet in size. The house will be built to the same standards as other homes in Ashley Plantation, Dunbar said. He is looking for partners who would like to donate time and materials to the project.

Right now, major sponsors include Dunbar, WSET ABC 13 in Lynchburg, New Country 107.9 WYYD radio, BRIZO, Trane, Bosch, and Shaw Floors. Western Virginia Water Authority is waving connection fees, Dunbar said. Dunbar will build the home over the winter and must have it completed by May 1. The house will be open to the public for inspection and review from May 18 to June 24 on Saturdays and Sundays. The grand prize will be given away on June 26 and the winner will be announced on WSET News 13. The long-time local building contractor is hoping for additional sponsors and help. “We haven’t finalized anything, but we’ve reached out to Philip Simmons [the vocational teacher at B-TEC] to partner with the students,” Dunbar said. He hopes they can build wall sections that Dunbar’s crew would then install. He is also hoping for backing from both of the county’s local banks, and Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe is aware of the initiative, Dunbar said. He is also being diligent with the neighbors. “Some have given some negative feedback,” he said. “They’re a little nervous about who can win the house.” He said the winner would have to be able to pay the taxes and upkeep.

“St. Jude is not just going to up and sign it over to somebody that can’t handle it,” he said. Kelly McGuire, construction specialist at St. Jude, said the program began in 1991 with the sale of a single home that brought in $191,000 for the hospital.

“Twenty-seven years later, we just hit a $400 million milestone of raising money for the hospital” through the Dream Home Giveaway program, he said. St. Jude opened in 1962 and is the only research hospital that pays for all treatment and expenses not covered by insurance, including travel, lodging, and food, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. St. Jude, which was established by actor Danny Thomas, has developed multiple protocols that have brought the survival rate of childhood cancer from less than 20 percent when the hospital was founded to over 80 percent now. The hospital shares its discoveries with the scientific community and other children’s hospitals around the world. McGuire noted that in 1962, the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, was 4 percent. Today, the survival rate for this disease is 94 percent, thanks to research and treatment protocols developed at St. Jude. The other two dream homes in Virginia are located in Hampton Roads and in the Richmond area. Generally, about 83 percent of all labor and material is donated for the house construction, McGuire said. St. Jude generally nets at least 75 percent of the profit for each home built, according to McGuire. Most of the tickets for the dream homes are purchased, McGuire said. He expects at least a 98 percent purchase rate for the house.

McGuire said the hospital had to acquire a gaming license in order to hold these raffles, and two years ago the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation allowing for the construction of two more homes after the first one was built in Hampton Roads. The house in Ashley Plantation will be the final home in Virginia, at least for a while. Dunbar said he was impressed with the hospital’s efforts to assist children and their families. “I know this little boy, he and his family, they went back and forth and never paid a dime,” he said. “They do that for everybody. They want the parent to have concern over the child, not worry how to pay for care,” Dunbar said. “It is a worthwhile cause and my wife and I are proud to be a part of it. I hope I don’t let them down.”

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