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Making Of A Home

Military families learn early on that home is where the heart is, as they move across the country, or across the sea, and back again.

They learn that their foundation is not made of cement but it is built upon memories with other military families they cross paths with along the way. Most agree that, while it’s a great experience to see other states and cultures, it’s nice when you can finally settle in one place and put down some roots.

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U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Brian Lynch and his family were recently awarded a mortgage-free from Chase, through our Homes on the Homefront program.

Our Homes on the Homefront program gives military and veteran families a chance to do that. Since 2012, we’ve awarded more than 400 homes to military and veteran families. Whether the key is handed over at a ceremony with VIPs and celebrities in attendance, or whether it’s a quiet event with a few pictures at the front doorstep, the impact is still huge.

These families, who have sacrificed so much in their lives, are now living mortgage-free.

That means that the dollars that were once used for rent can go to earning a degree or can be put away so a child can go to college later. It means they can pay off a car faster…or buy a newer one. It means that they have more freedom, choices and control over their future.

For one family, it means they can pay their medical bills.

U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Brian Lynch joined the National Guard because he knew it would help him grow as an individual and add discipline to his life. In 2008, he enlisted in his hometown of Rockford, Minnesota and recently reenlisted for another seven years. In 2013, he served a tour in Afghanistan.

Brian married his childhood sweetheart, Michelle, and they have two children. Michelle has needed multiple surgeries due to a medical issue she was born with. Their finances have been stretched under the weight of significant medical expenses and monthly rent.

While they’ve tried to set aside money for a home, it hasn’t been enough. Brian heard about the Homes on Homefront program and applied for a home that was near his family.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Brian was awarded a mortgage-free home in Zimmerman, Minnesota.

“It means the world to us,” said Brian, “now we don’t have to move from place to place.” He is looking forward to watching his kids grow up. He and Michelle have relatives living nearby and look forward to spending the holidays together.

“I would like to say thanks and that we are very grateful,” added Brian. “I was gone for a year, but now if I go again, my family is able to do things without me being there.”

They can now settle in and place their heart and their home in one spot.

eckrich-operation-homefront-cmt-hot-20-countdown-randy-houserThe Lynch family were featured on the CMT Hot 20 Countdown episode today. As part of their home giveaway surprise at Country Thunder in late July, they got to meet country music star Randy Houser, enjoy a great cookout with Eckrich and learn that they were also going to receive free groceries for a year from Walmart.

To find out more about our Homes on the Homefront program and see available homes across the U.S., go to www.homesonthehomefront.org. Thanks to our partners Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Meritage Homes for donating homes to this program.

Not Again.

It is hard to find the words to describe what happens when a life is extinguished. Even harder, it seems, when that life was taken.silhouette-wounded

So it was with shock that I learned this week that another talented, gifted, and beautiful soul had convinced himself the world would be better off without him. Because this person was famous, there was a cyber-shockwave that reverberated through the social media world. But as palpable as that shock was, and the depth of the emotions being felt worldwide, nothing comes close to what those who were closest to him were feeling.

I know a little bit about that feeling. Because 30 years ago, a young man, full of life and a bright future, was found in a field, not far from his home, in the early evening hours. With a gunshot wound to his head.

That young man was my brother’s best friend. Athlete, class officer, with a smile that melted all the girls’ hearts. And despite how close they were, my brother still had no idea that his friend had slowly convinced himself that the world would be better off without him.

He was 14.

No matter how many years pass, and how many lives are lost, one never gets past the memory of that pain.

Along with those memories often comes a feeling of defeat, of resignation. “Not again.”

It is a resignation that creeps into the minds of many of us who work in the military and veteran communities every time one of our own loses the battle with their pain. Posts in social media in the wounded veterans’ community spoke of avoiding the news, of trigger alerts and warnings, of fears past and current. And sadness.

It is believed that 22 veterans take their lives every day in this country. Each one extraordinary, one of a kind. They leave behind shattered hearts and, often, more questions than answers.

But as quickly as it comes, that resignation turns to determination. A need to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And while it does, and it will, we can’t stop working towards the goal of preventing suicide among our men and women in uniform and our veterans.

So please, from someone who has experienced the indescribable pain that suicide causes to loved ones and friends, I ask that everyone hammer home that help is available. Sometimes it may seem you are shouting into the wind…but someone may hear you. It could be that 14-year-old teenager. Or 63-year-old. Or a veteran for whom war has taken the spark of the soul, and who feels that the only way to tend the pain is to end their life.

Here are some resources to share:

Veterans Crisis Hotline

Real Warriors

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

IAVA Campaign to Combat Suicide

DCOE Outreach Center

Military Crisis Line

“Survival is your strength not your shame.” – T. S. Eliot

We Celebrate The One

100,000 Facebook fans. Upon hitting that number, we sat back and thought about the meaning of this milestone.

Truly, it’s not about the number, but what it represents. A community of people from all over the USA, and even overseas, who have a common bond of service. Service to our country and service to each other. A commitment to making a difference in someone’s lives. That’s powerful stuff, and in a world that seems to be getting crazier by the moment, concrete proof of the goodness of people.

Hug someone right now!

There are so many good souls out there just waiting to bring a smile and a helping hand to their neighbor.

Yes, we have 100,000 reasons to celebrate today, but every day, we celebrate the one. The one person who found the courage to reach out and say, “I need help.” The one who reached out to say, “I want to help.” The one who dropped by to let us know how they are doing and how your support of our mission allowed us to make their lives better at a time when they felt nothing was going their way. And yes, even the ones who let us know, sometimes colorfully, that we have some more work to do.

We smiled for days after receiving this.  Your support means the world to our military and veteran families.

We smiled for days after receiving this. Your support means the world to our military and veteran families.

We particularly love to share pictures of what we’re doing and the impact your support is having on our military and veteran families. Some of our favorite posts have been from our photo contests. Over time, you have shared thousands of moving photos that have captured joy, sadness, triumphs and loss. You have allowed us to help share with the country a glimpse of what it means to serve.

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Joy, relief, love…wrapped up in one precious moment. (one of the finalists in our My American Life photo contest, submitted by Krystal Lund)

So, we just want to say “Thank You” for checking in with us…whether it be daily, weekly or monthly. On our Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram page or here on our blog. We know that these days, lives are very busy, and your time online is often filled with just as much to do and process as your offline world. Time is a priceless gift these days. We are honored that you would take the time to help us raise awareness of the challenges faced by military and veteran families, and how someone can help.

Together, we are unstoppable!

 

And we can’t say thanks without also mentioning those who make it possible…our individual and corporate donors. Your support is the reason we have a really good story to tell in the first place.

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Thanks for 100,000 likes. We like you too.

 

 

 

By Jim Knotts, President & CEO

I think most people would accept that an office doesn’t define an organization. People make an organization what it is. While the paint has just dried on the walls in our new San Antonio office, I can’t help but reflect on the deeper significance of what the recent move means for the growth of our organization, the reach of our impact for those we serve, and the manner in which our staff carries out its vital mission with such tremendous dedication on a daily basis.

We’ve been fortunate thanks to the generosity of the American public and very gracious corporate partners and donors to transcend from humble beginnings as a spouse support network shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to a full service nonprofit that received donations from 1,800 individuals, corporations and foundations in 2013. The best part of course, is that our success is directly transferred to those who have worn and still wear the uniform of our country.

We would not be where we are today without the dedication of our community, our supporters, and our incredible staff. You are the reason we can make a difference in the lives of our military and veteran families.

We would not be where we are today without the dedication of our community, our supporters, and our incredible staff. You are the reason we can make a difference in the lives of our military and veteran families.

Paramount to the success we’ve enjoyed is the sacred trust we hold with donors thanks to a constant focus on carefully managing costs, so that 93 cents of every dollar goes to programs that benefit military families, veterans and wounded warriors. As we studied the need to move from our old office to a bigger space, the numbers told the tale. In just two years, we’ve grown from 33 to 125 staff; we’ve gone from offering no mortgage-free homes to veterans – to receiving more than 400 homes from our bank partners; and last year alone we more than doubled our emergency assistance grants for those military families in times of crisis. We’ve centralized and consolidated our operations in the name of efficiency with the majority of our housing caseworkers and emergency assistance social workers based in San Antonio for redundancy and knowledge sharing, and we’ve been able to increase the number of states we serve through our field offices from 27 to 45, thanks to strong coordination and volunteer support.

So while an office move across town isn’t exactly the stuff of headlines, I couldn’t be more proud of the team at Operation Homefront and what our staff has been able to accomplish in such a very short time. For those of you who know us well – it shouldn’t be surprising that we closed the office door of the old space on a Friday and welcomed everyone to the new office on Monday. It required a team effort to make it seamless, most importantly without skipping a beat for those clients we serve.

If you find yourself in San Antonio, please drop by and see us, we’d love to show you around. Please take note of our new address:

1355 Central Parkway S

Ste. 100

San Antonio, TX 78232

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We’d love you to stop by and learn more about our mission and how you can get involved.

Whether you’re a donor, a client, or just follow this blog, thanks for your interest in Operation Homefront and our mission. It’s an honor to lead an organization and a group of people so committed to making a substantive difference in the lives of families who sacrifice so much for all of us. Learn more or find out how you can join us in our mission.

HOTH_home_CallForEntriesAlbanyGAThrough our Homes on the Homefront program, mortgage-free homes, like this one in Albany, GA, are currently open for application. We also currently have open homes in CA, CT, FL, IL, MD and TX. While we don’t know when homes will open in  a particular state, if you are eligible and fill out an application, you will be notified via email when new homes open for application. Find out more at www.homesonthehomefront.org.

In addition, three of the homes come to us from our friends at Meritage Homes who have renewed their partnership with Operation Homefront to provide three more brand new Meritage homes to the Homes on the Homefront program.

Meritage Homes plans to build and donate a home in each of the following three Meritage communities: Winter Springs, Florida; Lincoln, California; and Houston, Texas. Find out more about our amazing partnership and how to apply.

In order to qualify for the Homes on the Homefront Program, the following requirements must be met:

– Must have an honorable discharge if a Veteran. This includes dual Military/Veteran couples; each Military Veteran must have an honorable discharge in order to qualify for the program.

– Cannot be a current home owner or mortgage holder. This includes any household member that would be residing in the home.

– Cannot have a felony criminal conviction. This includes all adult household members that would  reside in the home.

– Must have supporting documentation such as proof of income, VA paperwork, DD214 (member 2, 4, 7 or 8), Military ID and or government issued picture ID in order to process your application.

– If you or a member of your immediate family (parents, spouse etc.) are employed by Chase, Wells Fargo, or Bank of America you may not be eligible for homes donated by that banking institution, and we ask for full disclosure of the employment in that case.

And stay tuned… for the first time, we’ll have a residence in the Aloha State very soon!

 

 

Summer is just around the corner, but it has already been heating up on Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town Tour. Not only is the country music star’s concert tour one of the hottest of the season, but he’s also giving away mortgage free homes to military families and veterans for the third year in a row as part of a terrific partnership with Chase and Operation Homefront. The partnership has awarded 88 homes so far.  Fantastic!

The homes, provided by Chase, are awarded through Operation Homefront’s ‘Homes on the Homefront’ program. Chase has committed to provide 1,000 newly renovated mortgage-free homes to deserving veterans and their families, many of which are awarded as part of Operation Homefront’s ‘Homes on the Homefront’ program.

McGraw is passionate about helping those who serve and therefore continues his efforts for a third straight year. “My sister’s a veteran of the first Gulf War. My uncle was a Vietnam veteran and my grandfather was a World War II veteran. I’ve always felt a deep sense of respect and obligation to our troops,” says McGraw. “Being able to reward them for their dedicated work with a new home is even more rewarding for us. It feels so good to give back to them, and to have the opportunity to entertain them is something I’m honored to do.”

Tim spends time with each family personally prior to each of his evening concerts, and also takes time to recognize them and all they have sacrificed in front of his thousands of fans. Tim will continue meeting with veteran families throughout the summer.

We’d love to share with you just a few of the families we’ve been honored to welcome home so far on Tim’s tour.

 

gangfamilyblogThe Gang Family – Phoenix, AZ The U.S. Navy Fireman Justin Gang decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and enlisted in the military.

Justin served as a fireman along with chemical, biological, and radiological warfare defense. He was a member of team VBSS – Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure – with the USS Harry S. Truman Strike Group.

In 2008, Gang deployed to Afghanistan for one year. During his training, Justin suffered injuries to his spine and, during his deployment, sustained further injures that led to his medical retirement in 2012.

For the past two years, Justin and his wife Caitlin have faced financial hardship as a result of his medical discharge. Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Justin will receive a mortgage-free home which will allow them to live near both their families providing a strong support network.

“We are truly grateful for the generosity of Operation Homefront and Chase during this transition,” said Justin. “We are so very appreciative and no words could ever describe what it means to be honored with such an amazing gift. This new home will help us grow stronger as a couple and work toward a brighter future.”

  

brittonfamilyblogThe Britton Family – Stirling City, CA

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal Jacob Britton comes from a long line of service members; his father, uncles, and grandfathers all served in the military. Born and raised in Sacramento, Calif., Jacob realized his childhood dream by joining the Marine Corps in 2008.

In 2009, Jacob deployed to Afghanistan for one year where he served as a diesel mechanic. As a result of what he experienced in Afghanistan, Jacob was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and medically retired from the Marine Corps in December 2012.

Following his separation from the military, Jacob and his wife Wendy had to rent a small apartment in an unsafe neighborhood. As a result, their children weren’t able to play outside and the environment contributed to Jacob’s PTSD. The family struggled financially, money was tight and Jacob’s stress levels were severely high.

Now, their new home gives the family a safe neighborhood in a small community with minimal noise and distractions which has helped to alleviate Jacob’s PTSD. Jacob hopes to return to college and complete his degree in computer science. Wendy recently completed a pharmacy technician program and now works at a local CVS Pharmacy. She is going through training to become a licensed pharmacist.

“This house is amazing and has made a world of difference in our lives,” said Jacob. “I thank Operation Homefront and Chase for giving me this foundation and stability for my family. After having moved so many times, I’m looking forward to staying in one place and watching my children grow up in a great community.”

 

mcgrawhoulehanThe Houlehan Family:  Cleveland, OH

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Chris Houlehan wanted to build a better life for himself and his family. Like his father, who was a service member for 32 years, Chris made the courageous decision to enlist in the U.S. Army in 2003.

Sergeant Houlehan deployed to the Middle East in 2005. He toured Afghanistan then Iraq from 2007 to 2009 as a motor transport operator. He supervised and operated wheel vehicles transporting personnel and cargo. As the backbone of the Army’s support and structure, Chris provided advanced mobility on and off the battlefield.

Houlehan medically retired from the Army in 2012 as the result of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. His wife, Danielle, is his primary caregiver and provides Chris with daily assistance. They have a 13-year-old son who is active in sports and a straight-A student.

During his transition out of the military, Chris learned of an organization that provides service dogs to veterans as a means of helping them cope with TBI and PTSD. The founder of that organization is a ‘Homes on the Homefront’ recipient who referred Chris to the program.

After living in a small duplex and struggling with monthly rent payments, Chris applied for the home in Canal Fulton, Ohio. Shortly thereafter, he learned that he and his family were being awarded the home.

Chris’ plans for the future definitely include paying it forward and giving back to other veterans who served. He wants to volunteer his time working with the nonprofit organization that trains dogs to assist veterans.

“Being awarded a home is a humbling experience and I thank God every day for this opportunity,” said Chris Houlehan. “The things that Operation Homefront and Chase are doing are awesome.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to be awarded this home and it’s also an honor to be associated with organizations committed to helping veterans and military families,” added Chris.

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Learn more about Homes on the Homefront by visiting www.homesonthehomefront.org

 

 

By Jim Knotts, president and CEO, Operation Homefront

cemetery-operation-homefront-memorial-dayLast month, many of you might have seen the news headlines that March of this year was the first time since February 2003 that an American service member wasn’t killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a sobering statistic and the reality for a nation at war for more than 13 years. As Memorial Day weekend arrives, we’re grateful for the tremendous sacrifice of those who’ve given their lives in defense of freedom, and hopeful that their sacrifices will continue to be instructive so that future generations may avoid being sent into harm’s way.

In recent times, a good deal has been made over whether or not Americans think about the meaning of this holiday weekend as anything other than a three-day weekend, or take time to reflect on what service to country means. Not surprising, of course, given that less than one percent serve their country in uniform. Congress has even considered changing the holiday from the last Monday in May to its historical founding of May 30, as a way to “force” a reminder to everyone about the significance of the day. Yet I believe – and our organization is a testament to it – that Americans are conscious of the sacrifices made, and are able to live their lives in a way that allows them to enjoy the freedoms of life in this country thanks to the selfless sacrifice of others. One of those freedoms is the right to thoroughly enjoy the unofficial start of summer and the Memorial Day holiday weekend. We shouldn’t begrudge anyone for living the American life to its fullest, but we can encourage everyone to take time to reflect on how that life is protected and made possible.

Arlington National CemeteryFor those of us in the Washington, D.C. area, so rich with history, it’s not hard to seek out a place to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, and there’s no more appropriate place than Arlington National Cemetery. If you’ve been, undoubtedly you visited Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial. This 19th century mansion was never envisioned to be surrounded by more than 250,000 graves as part of a national cemetery, and was initially constructed as testament to George Washington by his heirs. One of those descendants, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, inherited the home at the time of her parents’ passing, and she eventually married a West Point graduate named Robert E. Lee. While Lee considered Arlington House his home for 30 years, he never owned it. And when he resigned his commission to join the Confederacy, he would never see the home again, after the government claimed it for unpaid taxes. In 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was established, and by direction of the Army Quartermaster General, graves were placed as close as possible to the home to render it “uninhabitable” should the Lee family ever want to return. This, you might say, was an ever present reminder for General Lee on the magnitude and consequence of war.

So while none of us find ourselves in General Lee’s place 150 years ago, we are very cognizant of the fact that our way of life has stood the test of time – including a Civil War – thanks to those who have worn the uniform and fought for our country. We are forever indebted, and grateful for their sacrifice.

I wish you all a fantastic Memorial Day weekend, and I know you’ll reflect on the meaning of the day while enjoying time off with family and friends, celebrating the American way of life that we all enjoy.

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