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We caught up with Juanita Collins, Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year® Award for the Coast Guard in 2014. She has been attending University of South Florida, where she is a junior, majoring in biomedical sciences. She plans to graduate in fall 2019, and is still determining her post-graduation plans. She is a second-year resident assistant, president of the National Residence Hall Honorary, and recently joined an acapella singing group. She also has a shadowing position at Bayside Urgent Care Center in Clearwater, Florida. Juanita thanked Operation Homefront for helping make all this possible, and shares what she learned from other award recipients — and shares some advice of her own :

OH: What has been the biggest change in your life since receiving the award

JC: The biggest change in my life since 2014 has definitely been the transition into college life and figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s quite different living on your own and learning how to be independent. I absolutely love my school. Through my undergraduate experience so far, I have learned a lot about myself and about life in general.

OH: Tell us about a fond memory you have from traveling to Washington, D.C., for the gala.

JC: My favorite memory from the Washington trip for gala weekend was probably being up on the stage with my family to receive my award. Throughout that trip, I knew it was special because I was able to share that experience and accomplishment with the people who meant the most to me. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

OH: You have always been an active volunteer with various organizations. Do you still have time to volunteer, or to help military families?

JC: My most recent plan to help military families is to volunteer at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tampa, Florida, when I have time during the weekends. The VA hospital is very close to my school, so that is the least I can do to pay it forward.

OH: Have other military children ever given you advice you valued?

JC: My favorite piece of advice that I’ve gotten from another military child is to be giving. The other recipients from 2014 all displayed such giving hearts, and that’s something I always admired. For example, Kenzie Hall, the Army recipient, created a nonprofit to grant dream wishes to military kids who had a parent injured or killed in combat. That was something that I loved just seeing how young she was and how full of compassion; she was such an example. What I have learned is to always have a giving heart. No bad has ever come out of helping others.

OH: What advice would you give future MCOY award recipients?

JC: For future recipients, I would give the advice to have fun on your trip. It’s a great honor to be recognized, so continue to be awesome. Never take these opportunities for granted, and use the scholarship to do what you really want to do with your life, not what you think your parents want for you to do in school and what career they want for you, and not what you feel will impress your friends or make people think more highly of you. Use that scholarship and put that money toward what you’re passionate about, what you can imagine yourself doing for the rest of your life. Only you truly know that. But also, never doubt yourself. If you choose a major or career path that seems super hard, and you’re scared that you might not make it; go for it. Don’t be afraid to reach a goal because of the time it’ll take to accomplish; the time will pass anyway. Work hard and be determined, and stay focused! Hold that title with pride.

OH: What would you say to your past or future self?

JC: I wish I could say the above advice to my past self. I really could have used this advice, but I’m glad that I learned it while life went on, even if it was the hard way. To my future self, I would like to say, “Wherever you are, I’m glad you’re there. I’m sure it was a tough path to get to where you are, and I’m proud of you.”

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Nominations are now open for the 2018 Military Child of the Year® awards.

Our prestigious award will recognize 7 outstanding young people ages 13 to 18. Six of them will represent a branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their achievements while facing the challenges of military family life. The 7th award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by Booz Allen Hamilton which will honor a young patriot who has designed a bold, creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.

Nominate today at http://bit.ly/2cKII81 Deadline to apply is Dec. 4, 2017.

Recipients of the Military Child of the Year® awards will receive $10,000 and a trip to DC for our special awards gala. The recipient of the Innovation Award will receive a $10,000 cash award, donated gifts, and a trip to Washington, DC with a parent or guardian and assistance from Booz Allen Hamilton to advance their project. #MCOY2018

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Our veterans have given so much of themselves to an idea greater than themselves, and many of you have honored that gift through your support of our mission.  On the last day of our “11 Days, 11 Stories” series, we would like to show you how your support has impacted thousands of military and veteran families.  This support has truly made a difference, and we are encouraged, daily, by the efforts to give back to those who give so much of themselves.

Having seen his brothers serving in the Marines, Petero Taufagu felt inspired to serve as well. Born in Pago, Pago, American Samoa, he decided to enlist in the Army in 1993. Petero spent sixteen years in the Army, deploying multipe times including three tours to Iraq. In 2007, he was medically retired and began a new chapter in the expereince of many who serve: transition.

After he left the Army, Petero, his wife and five children moved from San Diego, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada. During the move their 2004 BMW broke down and with their limited funds, they fell into financial hardship. Petero’s mother had passed, so their savings were gone, leaving the family without money for their auto repair, security deposit, rent and food.

Having only one vehicle, the Taufagu family was not only experiencing financial stress but major logistic challenges. They had to coordinate dropping all five children as school as well as being two working adults. Petero’s wife had to work around his schedule. It was then when Petero was referred to Operation Homefront by the Warriors Transition Unit.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and generous donors, Petero paid off and repaired his car, as well as getting some breathing room with housing costs and groceries for his family.

“Thank you,” said Taufagu,” We had limited funds due to the move and my mother’s passing, and you guys made it happen.”

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Petero Taufagu was the recent recipient of a new Jeep Cherokee, thanks to our partnership with American Airlines.

Transition from service is a challenging time for veterans, and especially so for veterans also coping with injuries and illnesses as a result of their service.  Many times, just one financial crisis can mean the difference between continuing towards a strong, stable and secure future and a setback that can take years to overcome.  Our Critical Financial Assistance program, as well as our transitional housing villages, stands ready to help when these families need it the most.  Our donors, sponsors, and supporters are the reason we have been able to provide over $21 million in financial aid, fulfilling more than 40,000 requests*, including:

  • Providing rent-free temporary housing to more than 500 families of wounded service members, saving them over $5-million in rent and utilities though our Transitional Housing program;
  • Matching nearly 600 military families with mortgage-free homes through our Homes on the Homefront program, providing well over $56-million in deeded value;
  • Delivering over a quarter million backpacks to military kids through our Back-to-School Brigade; 
  • Serving nearly 70,000 military families through our Holiday Meals for Military program,  a program that has  impacted over 300,000 individual family members since inception.  In 2017, we will be hosting families at 32 events in 20 states, serving thousands more.

This Veterans Day, we encourage everyone to show their gratitude for the gift of freedom given to us by the centuries of service of our nation’s veterans. Send a message of thanks or stories with #RaiseYourHand. Send us your pictures and videos that show your support for our military, our country and why you answer the call! Together, united, let’s show our American pride and show some love for those who give so much to make our country great!

If you would like to help support families like the Taufagu family, you can support one of our current needs or check out more ways to give here.

If volunteering is high on your list of ways to give back, we welcome you to see the ways to Get Involved with Operation Homefront.

* numbers through Summer 2017

Reaching Beyond To Serve

Texas native George Puryear was born and raised in Austin. After graduating from high school, George wasn’t ready for college, but he was ready to make a difference in this world.  So he wanted to serve in the military and enlisted in the Marine Corps in his hometown.

george puryear

George Puryear, and his family, meet Santa and Mrs Claus while resident at our rent-free transitional housing village in San Antonio.

George rose to the rank of staff sergeant and served as an explosive ordinance and disposal technician. During his term of service, he would have three deployments to Afghanistan. His first deployment was in 2009. His second was in 2012 and third was in 2014.

During his military career, George completed his bachelor’s degree in homeland security. While living on base at Camp Pendleton, George and his wife, Courtney, saw a flyer at their recovery care coordinator’s office in the Wounded Warrior Battalion Unit about Operation Homefront and the different programs they offer. They considered the transitional housing program further because there was one located in San Antonio, near George’s hometown, and applied.

Thanks to Operation Homefront, George and his wife, Courtney, were accepted into the rent-free, utility-free, fully furnished Village program in San Antonio. Soon after being accepted into the program, he medically retired with an honorable discharge in November 2016.

George and Courtney have been married for seven years and have three boys. It has been a difficult time during their transition. For the past year, they saved $10,000 and reduced their debt by over $20,000. They plan on adding to their savings for their children’s future. Their goal is to be completely debt free after purchasing their new home in Round Rock, north of Austin.

“Living at the Village in San Antonio gave us our own space to transition out of the military,” said George and Courtney. “It was a bit stressful because we have three small children, but in the end, we want to give Operation Homefront a huge thank you.”

“I could never put into the right words how this has helped us,” added George and Courtney. “If there is something that we want to do to give back and donate, it would be to Operation Homefront.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

2012. Crowds filled the stands at a home game for the Houston Astros against the Colorado Rockies. Little did the fans know that they would soon see a life-changing event on the field as Operation Homefront and Chase donated a home to a deserving veteran of the war in Iraq, medically retired Army Specialist Quintin Muirhead and his wife Jennifer.

Just a few months into Muirhead’s deployment to Iraq in 2009, swine flu spread among the troops. When he grew weak and went to the medic, doctors discovered something much more serious. A number of tests revealed he had both pneumonia and leukemia. He fell into a coma on his way to a medical facility in Germany, where the diseases continued to weaken his body. After two months in a coma, he awoke and the pneumonia was gone. The leukemia, however, was not and Muirhead spent the next few months undergoing chemotherapy.

After chemotherapy, the Muirheads were ready for a new life. But they faced numerous challenges that made life increasingly difficult. Operation Homefront Village in San Antonio, which provides transitional housing for wounded heroes and their families, gave the young couple the fresh start they needed. But what came next would truly start them on the path to a strong, stable, and secure future.

The Muirheads’ were selected to be the first ever recipients of a new home through Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. The couple were awarded a home in the Houston suburb of Katy that day at the Houston Astro’s game.

We caught up with Quentin to see how life has changed since leaving the service and starting over.

“Transitioning is harder than I thought. You develop so wanting habits and become use to so many routines that just go out the window.”

In the years since he received his mortgage-free home, Quentin has been able to pay off debts, build savings, and he even started his own business. He is also a semester away from getting his degree in business.

Quentin has come to terms that his body will never be the same. “I’m constantly in pain but as long as I wake up each day I’m willing to accept that pain.” But now, he won’t allow that to slow him down. “I finally feel like I’m enjoying my life, being able to travel, and save money.” Other members of his family have since moved to Katy, an opportunity Quentin attributes to his being able to put down roots for all of them.

His advice for other veterans facing transition? “I’ve also learned it’s ok to ask for help or admit when something is wrong. A lot of the times we let our pride get in the way of getting the help we need and deserve.”

Find out how you can help a wounded hero today. Visit our Current Needs page  or make a donation to OperationHomefront.org. 92% of Operation Homefront expenditures go directly to programs and services for military families in need.

Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City, Walter Perez had a full ride scholarship to Syracuse University. Instead, he decided that attending college at that time was not for him because he wasn’t ready. After graduating from high school in 2000 and witnessing the attacks of 9/11, Walter decided to join the Army. As a first-generation military enlistee, he felt that it was his duty to serve his country and make a difference. In 2003, he enlisted at Fort Hamilton in New York City.

After serving for almost thirteen years, Walter medically retired with an honorable discharge in 2016. He attained the rank of Sergeant First Class and was an acquisitions contract specialist overseeing government related contracts. He also negotiated contracts on behalf of the government when purchasing items from vendors. During his term of service, he was deployed to the Middle East four times. Walter deployed to Iraq three times in 2003, 2007, 2009 and to Afghanistan in 2009. It was during his first deployment to Iraq that he was a victim of an improvised explosive device that hit the vehicle he was riding in and he now suffers from traumatic-brain injury.

During Walter’s transition to civilian life, he was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, but he didn’t have a plan for after the military. He had heard about Operation Homefront’s Rent-free Transitional Housing program through his Wounded Warrior Battalion Unit. Walter had a few of his peers tell him about the nonprofit also and that they could assist him while waiting for his Veteran Affairs benefits. Walter decided to apply and was accepted into the Village program in San Antonio, Texas.

Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Program allows service members to live rent free while they go through the transition process. Upon placement, Operation Homefront counselors set up a mandatory schedule that these service members, veterans and their families must follow. They are required to attend support groups, workshops, benefits briefings, and resume writing classes, as determined by their counselor.

They also undergo one-on-one financial counseling to reduce debt and build savings. Operation Homefront counselors meet with each family every 30 days to review their financial situation, determine where they are in the transition process, review their attendance in the required workshops and classes, and determine their ability to live on their own.

Once they have become self-sufficient, our counselors help them find suitable housing in an area of the country where they want to settle down.

While living at the Village, Walter took full advantage of every service the program offered. He needed the guidance and direction in a transition plan, financial counseling and employment resources. After living at the Village for nine months, Walter and his wife saved over $5,000, reduced their debt by 70 percent, and purchased their first home in San Antonio.

“I want to say thank you to Operation Homefront and their staff,” said Walter. “They had so much patience and they worked with us tremendously.”

“Operation Homefront went above and beyond to make sure we were successful,” added Walter. “Everyone spoke about the different resources that veterans are given, and we became a success because of it. I love the Village program and definitely recommend it – it’s worth it.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

An unexpected expense would usually not be an issue for Air Force veteran Martin Scammel and his wife, Alice. But the series of emergencies that hit them this year was not normal and not planned.

Martin Two of usMartin Scammel has over 23 years of service spanning from the Vietnam War to Iraqi Freedom. After high school, Martin joined the Army in July 1972 because he wanted to be a helicopter mechanic. After a ceasefire was declared, Martin left the Army in 1975.

Later, Martin decided to join the Air National Guard, and then he enlisted in the Air Force. “Martin enjoyed what he was doing,” said his wife Alice. “He liked traveling, meeting people, and learning about different cultures.”

His time in the military took Martin to Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Ord, California; Landstuhl, Germany; and Diego Garcia, to name a few. Martin also had deployments to France, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. It was in Iraq that Martin was wounded and medically retired from the Air Force in March 2007 with a 100% disability rating.

The Scammels had been successful financially during their transition to civilian life. But earlier this year, Alice fell and broke her arm; she was out of work for three months with no pay. Between the physical therapy and surgery, the couple’s emergency savings was depleted.

Then a hail storm came through their area. The Scammel’s roof was damaged to the point that it needed to be completely replaced. Their homeowner’s insurance would cover the damage; however, the Scammels had depleted their savings and did not have the money to cover the $5,000 deductible.

Martin and Alice

Martin reached out to Wounded Warrior Project for help. WWP suggested that Martin reach out to Operation Homefront and apply for assistance. “I thought I was filling out an application to get a no,” said Alice. “Before my caseworker called, I was thinking that I would say it’s OK that you couldn’t help, and I was trying to come up with another way.”

“My caseworker Virginia was so very nice,” said Alice. “Virginia spoke to USAA, and then Operation Homefront sent the money to the contractor. Virginia was a godsend.”

“Please tell your donors thank you,” said Alice. “My husband has given so much of (his) life to the  military. We had an emergency fund. Martin was always there for his country and others when needed (and now) Martin has a lot of health issues and had some post traumatic-stress injuries…it was so nice to have someone say ‘we are going to help you now’.”

“Everybody at Operation Homefront has been so nice,” said Alice. “The process was not hard. Virginia was nice, supportive, and helpful. We are not used to asking for money. Virginia made us feel comfortable. This is not a position we like to be in. With Operation Homefront, it did not seem like a handout but rather a hand up.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

Continuing our annual “11Days, 11 Stories” series honoring Veterans this month, where we spotlight the stories of veterans we have met through our work here at Operation Homefront.  You can find previous stories here:

The day the Army recruiters came to his middle school, U.S. Army veteran Jason Stidham knew that he wanted to join the military. He just needed to be old enough to enlist. So he patiently waited then, one day before he turned 18, Jason joined the Army.

During his enlistment, Jason was stationed at Fort Campbell, Tennessee, and at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He also deployed to Iraq. Ultimately, Jason left the military in 2010, after seven years, when his injuries prevented him from serving any longer.

During his military service, Jason met his wife Tommie. “Jason and I met through a mutual friend who set us up on a blind date,” said Tommie. “We met for breakfast at IHOP and he was the kindest and funniest guy I had ever met. The date wound up lasting for 6 hours! We had breakfast AND lunch there! He proposed on our 6-month anniversary and we were married two years later.” Since then, they have welcomed two children to their family.

A few years after Jason transitioned out of the military, they moved to Alvin, TX to be closer to Jason’s family. “His PTSD became a little too much for me to deal with by myself, (so) we agreed that having his family around would help him cope better with his trauma and, it has,” said Tommie. Finally settled in Texas, Jason and his wife Tommie were focused on living a simple, satisfying life.

While the family remains tight, this year served up three hard hits.

Jason went on medication for pain management, but his dosage was incorrect and had severe repercussions for the veteran. Jason had a seizure, was hospitalized, and was out of work for four months.

The couple gradually recovered from that experience and decided to use their income tax refund to open their own car repair shop since Jason is a certified mechanic. With only word of mouth advertising, the shop did not generate enough income to pay the bills.

To supplement their income, Jason became a driver until his shop could make more money. The couple was on the road to financial recovery once again when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Their home flooded during the hurricane and then Jason was out of work for two weeks because of area flooding.

The third financial blow hit the family hard. With six kids, including one attending college and two months’ worth of rent due, the family was forced to look outward for assistance. They also needed help to pay for repairs to their washer and dryer.

Reluctantly, Jason and Tommie reached out to Operation Homefront for help. “Asking for help is extremely hard and it hits your pride. From the first time we spoke, Kerry (Operation Homefront caseworker) made me feel like she really cared. When Kerry called and said Operation Homefront would help, we never felt ashamed or embarrassed. Kerry was on our team and working with us,” said Tommie.

“Both of us were pretty emotional,” said Tommie. “Your donors have no idea the impact that they had on our family. Without you and your donors, two adults and six kids would be out on the streets. There are no words to express our gratitude.”

“Operation Homefront is amazing,” continued Tommie. “Our caseworker Kerry was wonderful, sympathetic, and compassionate.

“We are very grateful for you and your donors—people who actually care.”

This blog is part of our “11 Days. 11 Stories” series where we seek to honor veterans. Check back here daily through Nov. 11 to read stories of those we’ve served. You can also join in the conversation with us by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #RaiseYourHand to share your own inspirational story or picture of your military experience or a veteran in your life.

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