Noah White reacts as he and his family enter his brand new, mortgage-free, smart home presented by the Tunnel To Towers Foundation on Aug. 23, 2023. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Noah White likes the shower the most of all the features in his new Bangor house.

That’s because it is spacious enough to fit his wheelchair. The doorways and rooms are designed to help him get around easier after an accident in July 2019 left him paralyzed from the neck down.

White grew up in Bangor. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 19. Before his deployment, he was injured in a training accident in California, leaving him with quadriplegia and confining him to a wheelchair. 

Since then, White has had to navigate tasks in new ways. He often relies on his mother, Shannon White, to help him eat, shower and move around.

Noah White likes the shower in his new home, which is spacious enough to fit his wheelchair. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

White regained a sense of independence Wednesday when the Tunnel to Towers Foundation presented him his new mortgage-free “smart home” in Bangor. He is one of about 140 veterans around the country to receive such a house, which is tailored to meet his needs. This is the foundation’s third smart home built in Maine.

“Independence is hard to come by when you’re quadriplegic,” said White, who turned 24 on Wednesday. “I’m in a rental now, and I can’t even get into the shower. I have to set up a portable shower in the kitchen. Now I’ll be able to shower for hours.”

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation, based in New York City, spent the last year and a half building the house through its Smart Home program. It gives customized houses to severely injured veterans and first responders with physical limitations.

On the outside, the house with cream-colored siding and dark gray shingles doesn’t look so different from the others on Knoll Crest Drive.

A closer look reveals its automatic exterior doors and wide hallways inside, which will allow White to enter and exit easily in his wheelchair. There is also a door that takes him from outside straight into his bedroom.

The bathroom nearby includes a vanity built for his wheelchair to fit underneath and a motion-sensing toilet. Outside, the fenced-in yard includes a kennel built for White’s dog, a German shepherd named Max.

“Oh wow,” White said when he entered the house for the first time. “Holy crap.”

USMC Lance Corporal Noah White smiles while looking around his brand new, mortgage-free, smart home. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN

The space is a huge help to White financially, and he’ll have it for many years to come, he said. It gives him the space and freedom that he’s been needing for a long time, said his brother, Cole Jordan.

White will be able to control the thermostat, security system and lights with an app, his mother said. Because he cannot move his arms, he relies on a GlassOuse device, worn like a pair of glasses and a headpiece, to connect to his iPad and other technology, she said. 

The smart houses typically cost from $500,000 to $1 million to build, depending on the location, said Jack Oehm, who presented the house to White and family members during a ceremony that drew roughly 60 people. Oehm is a foundation board member and retired New York City Fire Department battalion commander.

Bangor’s fire chief, a police lieutenant and a city councilor were among the speakers at the ceremony, and the Marine Corps League’s Greater Bangor Area Detachment 1151 was also present. Shannon White, who stood by her son’s side the entire afternoon, wiped tears from her eyes through most of the ceremony.

“I am super proud of Noah,” she said. “I’m hoping this house takes Noah further than he is now. It’s what he deserves.”