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School Daze

Another summer comes to a close and a new school year begins. For you lucky ones not going back until after Labor Day…enjoy some sun for us! But no matter when you start back, we have a message for you:

You’ve Got This!

These military kids from our BTSB event at Fort Campbell are ready to go!

 

We also have another message: Thank you.

 

 

Thank you to our military families for joining us at our Back-to-School Brigade® events at more than 60 locations across the USA in July and August.  Getting to meet all of you is one of our greatest joys.  Seeing some of you again is like a get together with friends.

 

Back-to-School Brigade at JBER Alaska served 200 military children.

Our Mid-Atlantic Field Office welcomed 1,800 military children at their events…1,000 at Norfolk alone.

These smiles! Priceless!

Our TNKY Field Office served 1,000 military children at Fort Campbell, and another 250 at Fort Knox.

No better feeling in the world than to know you made a child smile.

 

Thank you to our national partners Dollar Tree and SAIC who have been steadfast supporters of military families through our Back-to-School Brigade program. Dollar Tree, our partner for 10 years, collected donated supplies at over 6,000 stores nationwide over the course of the program.

 

Dollar Tree staff came out to help at BTSB Norfolk.

 

Thanks to these amazing organizations, our program just keeps getting better and better.

 

SAIC volunteers in Kansas City stuffed more than 300 backpacks full of school supplies for military kids in the Kansas/Missouri area.

We would also like to thank all of the community organizations around the country that attended our events and brought information and resources to our military families.

Thank you to our volunteers.  These events require a ton of planning and man-hours, and you are the reason that we can host over 60 events nationwide to support thousands more families at bases from Maine to Alaska, Hawaii to Idaho, and everywhere in between.

 

Our volunteers make the magic happen. Here are some of our friends at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Volunteers of all ages helped out at our events, such as this family team from Colorado Springs, CO.

 

You can find all BTSB2018 albums on our Flickr page.  We are still receiving and uploading event images, so please check back if you do not see your even yet.

Get out those cameras and snap your best “Back-to-School” image because we still have more fun waiting. Our friends at Procter & Gamble invite you to celebrate the start of the school year by sending your child’s “First Day of School” photo for a chance to win a $150 Amazon Gift Card! Go to https://startstrongpg.com/firstday for details and official rules. Deadline to enter is Sept. 7. Thank you to our friends at Procter & Gamble for celebrating military kids!

Have a GREAT school year!

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The car you drive may reflect a lot about who you are. It may convey your sporty, fast-paced side that craves an adrenaline rush. It may show your practical, logical approach to everything you do. Or, the car you drive may even demonstrate how you give back to a great cause in your community.

Victory Automotive Group is providing its customers with an opportunity to say “thank you” with the purchase of a car from any of their dealerships.

Victory Automotive Group, with 41 dealerships across the U.S., has issued a challenge to sell 12,000 cars to benefit military families and they will donate $250,000 to Operation Homefront. All of the excitement is part of the Victory 12,000 campaign that Victory Automotive Group launched on July 1 and will extend to Labor Day. It’s a win-win! Customers may celebrate “new car euphoria” made even better by knowing that they played a role in helping Operation Homefront build strong, stable, and secure military families.

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This car was purchased, as part of the Victory 12,000 campaign, at Marin County Ford in California. Marin County Ford is one of 41 dealerships that are part of the Victory Automotive Group family.

That gift of $250,000 will have far-reaching impact for the military families we serve. This significant donation may allow us to fulfill hundreds of requests for financial assistance, to provide caseworker support for those military families participating in our transitional and permanent housing programs, and to host Back-to-School Brigade events for military children across the country. For example, $250,000 may:

  • Pay the rent/mortgage for 183 military families (average cost of $1,362/month), or
  • Provide food and groceries for 1,462 military families (average cost of $171/family), or
  • Cover utility bills for 1,157 military families (average cost of $216/request), or
  • Repair 129 vehicles for military families (average cost of $1,933).

“Victory Automotive Group is more than just a business in the community – we are part of the community. We care about the area we serve and the people in it, and there is no better way to give back to our community than to help the men and women who have done so much to protect us,” stated the Cappo family.

But it goes deeper than that. Veterans are not only part of the community that Victory Automotive Group cares about. They are also a part of the team. Victory Automotive Group has veteran staff members who play a huge role in the success of each dealership.

For example, Glenn Ross, who works sales at Marin County Ford, has 5 years of service in the Army. Glenn chose to serve in the military because, “First, it is a tradition in my family to serve and 2nd, it felt right to serve my country.” Glenn is grateful that Victory Automotive Group is supporting military families through Victory 12,000. “It makes me feel proud to know that the company I work for values people who serve and have served in the armed forces” said Glenn.

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Thanks to generous donors like Victory Automotive Group and its customers, Operation Homefront provides military families with critical financial assistance, transitional and permanent housing, and other family support programs throughout the year. Operation Homefront has consistently earned high ratings from leading charity rating services, including Charity Navigator, which gave the organization its highest rating of four stars for 11 consecutive years for superior service and accountability. At Operation Homefront, 92 percent of expenditures go directly toward delivering programs and services to military families.

“Clearly, the entire Victory Automotive Group team shares our unwavering commitment to meeting the needs of those who have done so much for all of us and their support will allow us to help military families have the opportunity to thrive in the communities they have worked so hard to protect,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront.

Find out more about our partnership with Victory Automotive Group.

The best moments can’t be scripted. And while a lot of preparation went into the grand opening of the Operation Homefront Transitional Housing Village in San Antonio this week, it was the unexpected moments that highlighted the importance of a program that changes lives:

  • A tear running down the face of a program graduate who shared his story of healing and renewal.
  • Two happy little girls showing off their bedroom, smiling because their daddy is getting better and their mom is experiencing much less stress.
  • Donors getting to directly shake the hands of the families, the lives on which they have had a powerful impact.
  • A very large service dog and an extremely small chihuahua greeting guests who toured one of our rent-free apartments.

“In this celebration we have today, realize that there are families, faces of real people, that we collectively are helping, and we are changing lives for the better.” Operation Homefront President and CEO Brig. Gen John I. Pray (ret).

Our rent-free transitional housing village program, which started in 2008, enables the families of wounded, ill, and injured service members recovering in major military medical centers to heal together, while bridging what can be a lengthy gap between when military pay ends and veteran benefits begin, or when veterans’ disability claims are reviewed and received.  Since 2008, Operation Homefront’s Transitional Housing Village program has provided temporary homes for more than 500 military families, defraying more than $5.million in rent and utility costs.

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“I would like to thank Operation Homefront for selecting my family to be a part of the program. It has truly changed my life,” said Walter Perez, a graduate of our transitional housing village program, shared his personal experience at the grand opening. Perez was injured by an IED during a deployment to Iraq. Because of the injury, he had to relearn how to use his hands, walk, and other basic movements. He arrived with $500 in his bank account and much debt. When he left the program, he had cleared out all of his debt and saved enough money to put a down payment on his home and start his own mechanic business. He also finished his bachelor’s degree while living in one of our rent-free, utility-free apartments at our Villages.

Our transitional housing village program helps wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families to establish the financial stability to purchase their own home in the community of their choosing.  Many of these families face the financial burdens associated with traveling back and forth to be with their loved one when they are far apart, as well as the challenges of their service member’s recovery and rehabilitation.

Each participating military family is provided with a rent-free, utility-free, fully-furnished apartment; case management and customized transition plans; one-on-one financial planning; medical referrals; a support network; and assistance with employment and educational opportunities. These recovering service members and their families experience a supportive environment among peers, and most make significant financial improvements during their stay, leaving the Village debt-free or nearly so with an emergency savings plan in place.

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Many corporate representatives came to celebrate our grand opening with us. After the ribbon was cut, they got a chance to visit a wounded veteran family in their and see, first-hand, the supportive environment provided at our rent-free transitional housing villages.

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Peter Dubey and his family are current participants in the program. Peter has had an ongoing battle with cancerous tumors in his leg which caused him to be medically retired from the military earlier than planned. The family found themselves in a precarious financial situation while they were waiting for the benefits to begin. They came to the program with very little money, burned with overwhelming debt. “It was terrifying,” said Kailey, Peter’s wife. They will soon graduate from the program with all of their debt paid off and more than $30,000 in savings to help prepare them for the next phase of their life. “Now we actually feel excited and comfortable.”

Families not only receive a rent-free, furnished apartment, but they participate in a program that will help them be successful as they continue on in their lives. The program allows them to heal together as a family and move on together as a family.

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Not too long ago, Gracie and her little sister Karlie were living with their parents in a hotel and facing an uncertain future. Thanks to the Operation Homefront Transitional Housing Village program, their future is much brighter.

 

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“Tank,” the mighty chihuahua (above), and “Toast” his larger companion and family service dog (below), happily welcomed guests to tour their family’s rent-free apartment.

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The new San Antonio Village location replaces the previous Village on the city’s east side and joins Villages in San Diego and the Washington, DC area – each near major military medical and Veterans Affairs facilities.  Find out more about the program on our website.

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The ribbon is cut! Operation Homefront is grateful for our corporate partners who make our transitional housing program possible: Clark Foundation, Home Depot Foundation, Veterans United Home Loans, Genentech, and The May & Stanley Smith Charitable Trust. We were happy to welcome representatives from several of these generous organizations to celebrate with us.

 

See more pictures from the event.

 

Watch the ribbon-cutting ceremony:

 

Deb Mullinex (left) with our Director of Volunteers, Charlotte Merriam (middle) and volunteer captain, Meleeza Brown (left). Deb and Meleeza are both long term volunteers with Operation Homefront.

Giving, caring and sharing is at the heart of every Operation Homefront (OH) volunteer and Deb Mullinax is a great example of that generous spirit. Deb has been volunteering for OH for over 16 years, first as a Navy spouse in Norfolk, Virginia, and now as a team captain in Jacksonville, Florida. She plans to continue helping military families because she remembers what it was like for her as a military child.

“I saw my mother struggle with three kids being military,” Deb said.  “I knew what it was like for her, and I know it hasn’t changed.  Until my father made officer, it was really hard.”  Deb’s father retired from the Navy after 30 years.

In October, Deb’s husband, Max, also retired from the Navy as a master chief with 30 years of service, including 26 years of sea duty.  She and Max married in 1992, were stationed in Norfolk for over 20 years, and moved to Florida in 2012.

The next event Deb helps with will be the Back-to-School Brigade (BTSB).  Each summer, near military bases across the country, OH distributes backpacks filled with most of the school supplies military children need to succeed in school. The supplies are generously donated by OH partners, like Dollar Tree, whose customers support the program at thousands of stores nationwide.  Since 2008, OH’s BTSB program has distributed over 300,000 backpacks to military families, saving them money and hassle because they often face special challenges such as frequent relocations and deployments.

Deb adores seeing the kids’ faces light up.  But even more, “I like to see the look of the young parent that can’t afford to buy stuff,” she said.  “The relief of the sailors themselves. That’s my satisfaction.  And that’s my husband’s satisfaction.”

Deb said it’s even harder for today’s parents because schools give them a two-page list of items their kids are supposed to bring.  “If you have a family of three or four, you cannot do it on their budget,” Deb said.  “Their pay has not gone up much at all.”

When military families get transferred to a new base, they are only allowed to bring belongings weighing a certain amount, taking up a certain amount of space, so sometimes they must leave behind items such as backpacks and their contents, Deb said.

Junior enlisted families receive priority registering for BTSB, for children 5 and up.  Not wanting to leave out kids under 5, Deb put together sacks for little ones too young to receive a backpack, using drawstring bags donated by Whataburger and various items she had left over from previous collections.  “They were ecstatic over it,” she said.  “They got their own ‘backpack.’  They wanted their picture taken with it and everything.  That was awesome.”

In early July, Deb contacts Dollar Tree store managers to arrange supply pickups.  With 10 stores to collect from, Deb might drive 100 miles or more over two days, filling their truck, at personal expense.  The couple has learned to live with stacks and piles of donated goods temporarily stored at their home.  The night before the BTSB event, Deb and Max arrive at the rec center to set up tables and organize.

Deb often works with another long-time OH volunteer team captain, Meleeza Brown, an assistant manager at Navy Federal Credit Union.  “I love doing it,” said Meleeza, whose husband retired from the Navy 18 years ago as an E-6.  “I really love to give back to the military family.”

Meleeza will keep volunteering because she remembers tight budgets when her husband was an E-3.  “We’ve been there — I know how it is.”  She can relate because the Browns have three grown children.  “When it’s time for back to school, when you don’t have enough to buy everything the kids need … it’s kind of difficult.”

Deb and Meleeza also help recruit and train OH volunteers, and assist with other Operation Homefront programs, including Holiday Toy Drive and Holiday Meals for Military (HMFM), which provide toys and holiday meal ingredients to service members and their families.

“I see that E-1, E-2, E-3 parent … excited that they got either food or what they need for their kids’ supplies,” Deb said.  “Just to see the relief on the parent’s face — my kid’s going to get a bike, my kid’s going to get that basketball.  When they come to pick up a meal, they don’t care what’s in it — they have something. … That’s why I do it. This is my passion.”


Registration for 2018 Back-to-School Brigade is now open! Check out our Events page to see if there is a Back-to-School Brigade event in your area. If you don’t see an event, thanks to our partnership with Dollar Tree, free school supplies may be available through your local FRG or participating organization. Be sure to build and/or check your profile for new events. IMPORTANT: If you already have a registration profile built, please make sure all information is up-to-date, especially your child’s grade, before you register.

You can also help support our Back-to-School Brigade by donating school supplies at your local Dollar Tree or by donating to our current need, Help Provide Backpacks To Military Kids Across the U.S.

Thank You, Dollar Tree, for 10 years of supporting our Back-to-School Brigade!

The Bridge to Maine

After eight years of military service, Travis Putnam was looking forward to settling down and enjoying life. But he and his wife of 10 years, Heather, didn’t know what direction to go, other than to point their car north, toward the beautiful state of Maine.

Putnam in Service

Travis, a Maine native, joined the U.S. Army to fight for his country a few years after high school while he attended college. He enlisted in 2009 and immediately headed out for his first deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He quickly rose to the rank of sergeant first class and served as a combat engineer. He would build, repair, and maintain buildings and roads to ensure potential minefields were safe and clear. Travis deployed again in 2012 before medically retiring in 2017 with an honorable discharge. The hidden wounds of being in combat that affect so many service members — post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury — have also impacted Travis.

Putnam family

Following his retirement, Travis, his wife, and their three children moved from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, back to Maine, where both of them grew up. Travis’s fourth son also lives there with his mother. They stayed at his aunt’s house while they searched for a place to live.

However, the temporary living situation created more challenges. Not only was the couple struggling to find full-time employment, his aunt’s house became too crowded and stressful for Travis. So, Heather began to research housing assistance for veterans and military families. She learned about Operation Homefront’s rent-free Transitional Housing (Villages) program and immediately applied to the OH Village located in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

See a recent TV news report about the Putnam family.

The Putnam family was accepted into the rent-free, utility-free, fully furnished three-bedroom apartment. They were accepted because they did not have the financial means to rent an apartment or home and faced homelessness. Travis will be graduating from the program at the end of June.

“Living at Operation Homefront’s Village has opened up so many opportunities,” Travis said. “The staff here went above and beyond to assist us in our transition.”

As part of the OH Transitional Housing program, Travis and Heather received guidance on how to save money, reduce their debt, and manage their finances. Eventually, they were able to pay off thousands of dollars in debt and save thousands more.

Putnam Kids

One of the biggest impacts Operation Homefront has had on the Putnams has been the stability given to the family in their everyday lives. The Village provided them with a safe place to live with a great school for the kids to thrive in. Most importantly, living within the Village program has removed the weight of financial stress so Travis and his family can focus on his health and getting better.

Fittingly, Travis is expected to graduate from the Village program in June, which is recognized as PTSD Awareness Month.

Soon, the Putnam family will return to Maine as they have made a down payment on a new home with the money they saved. They plan to live in a house in Heather’s hometown, just a couple of towns away from Travis’ aunt. Heather will continue to enjoy the active role of being a mom and Travis’ caregiver. To receive additional encouragement, she is now part of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor caregiver program.

After everything he’s gone through, Travis now eagerly anticipates fulfilling his desire to settle down and enjoy life with his family in his new forever home.

Operation Homefront has housed more than 500 families in our rent-free transitional housing at our three OH Villages in San Diego, CA, San Antonio, TX and Gaithursburg, MD. Find our more about our villages.

Blog by Jeremy Kolok, Communications Associate, Intern – Operation Homefront.

We asked YOU, our community, to join us in our #Mission2Honor and send messages of thanks to our military this Military Appreciation Month..and, boy, did you ever!

Messages poured in from all over the USA and even overseas. Today, we would like to share some of those messages so that our men and women in uniform, their families, and all who love our military can see how much our country appreciates their courage and commitment to protecting our country and our freedoms.

-As we all know FREEDOM ISNT FREE and we SO appreciate all the duty to our great nation that you give and your sacrifice of time away from your families and all the mental and physical sacrifices you are experiencing. Thank you with all of our heart!! You are always in our prayers!!Rita, Utah

-Mahalo to all our military members and their families for their dedication and sacrifice. As a military brat, spouse and mom, I know how difficult military life can be; yet, it can also be rewarding and gives you a special kind of pride that only military families share. I honor you all with aloha.-Lahela, Hawaii

-Thank you so much for your service! My name is Hannah, I am 8 years old, I am a member of American Heritage Girls in which I am currently learning about the military and I want to thank you for all you have done. Thank you for going away from your family and risking your life just to keep me safe. Thank you for helping make it possible to live in a country I can do anything in.Hannah, Delaware

-I would like to thank all members of our armed forces for caring for the greater good of our country with your dedication, sacrifice, and time away from loved ones. I truly appreciate each and every one of you and your families. Thank you for all you did, are doing and will do. You are the awesomeness of America.-Cathy, Wyoming

-I would like to give thanks to all of our service men and women, whose work effort has given a lot of support and gratitude to many nations! God bless our families and give honor and respect to those who serve!-Eric, Florida

-Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do. The time away from loved ones and the effort put towards your job does not go unnoticed and we appreciate all you do. Stay strong and know you are thought about. God Bless you!!-Amber, Virginia

-Thank you so much for the sacrifice you have made for your country. I am sure there have been missed birthdays, holidays, and special events. I cannot thank you enough for your service! Please know you are appreciated.-Wilson Family, USN, Arizona

-Words will never be enough to truly convey the gratitude my family and I have for servicemen and women. Thank you and God bless!-Natasha, Ohio

There is still plenty of time to join in #Mission2Honor and send your words of thanks and encouragement to our military families. You can submit your message here.

Operation Homefront has many events planned this summer to give back to our military families. Click here to learn more about how you can get involved.

Thank you for your support!

As about 3.6 million high school students graduate this year, we checked in with one of our Military Child of the Year® mothers about her emptying “nest,” and her youngest daughter’s college plans.

Moira Jablon-Bernstein, mother of 2017 MCOY Innovation Award recipient Sophie Bernstein, says she and her husband, Navy Reserve Capt. Brad Bernstein, played a role in raising three high-achieving children, but in the end, they are responsible for their own success.

Sophie, a graduating senior in St. Louis, applied to several top schools and decided to attend University of Missouri-Kansas City this fall. Under its B.A./M.D. program, she will graduate in six years with both a bachelor’s and a doctor of medicine degree. Sophie received the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award, which is presented by Booz Allen Hamilton, for starting Grow Healthy, an organization that has planted more than two dozen gardens at preschools and daycare centers in St. Louis. These gardens help address issues like hunger, childhood obesity and the shortage of nutritious, fresh produce available in low-income neighborhoods.

After receiving the honor, which includes a $10,000 scholarship, Sophie continued working with Booz Allen Hamilton interns to re-engineer the Grow Healthy website, www.growhealthy.co where volunteers can sign up to help maintain gardens or apply to host one. “It was really neat what they did” together, Moira said. “I think it was really mutually beneficial.”

Sophie received the 2017 Military Child of the Year® Innovation Award, which is presented by Booz Allen Hamilton, for starting Grow Healthy, an organization that has planted more than two dozen gardens at preschools and daycare centers in St. Louis

Sophie is looking forward to seeing the project grow this summer, and then passing it on as she goes on to college.

Sophie’s older sister, Simone, is in the Navy and in her third year of medical school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., through the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program. She will continue serving in the Navy after graduating. Sophie’s older brother, Jake, works for Google in Japan.

Moira used to work as a career counselor, and is now a part-time fitness instructor, teaching about 20 classes a week at community centers, corporations and universities. She recommends that parents who want to help their children do well in school and go to college must identify their kids’ strengths, and then help them achieve within their gifts, whether it’s in theater, compassion for helping others, science and math or other subjects. In their case, that meant not having computer games in the house, going to the library regularly, and limiting television. “We were just really focused on what we value, and what’s important to our family,” she said.

While the Bernsteins made academic education a priority, they also emphasized learning about the military and other types of service. “My husband’s philosophy has always been we give back to our community and to our nation,” Moira said. “For Sophie, that was the inspiration for the gardens.”

When Sophie received the MCOY award, “it was incredible,” Moira said. “It was wonderful on so many levels.” Moira appreciated that Sophie was honored for her work on the gardens project, and gained the opportunity to expand the initiative.

When traveling, the Bernstein family would make a point to visit military bases because they felt it was important for the kids to be around service members. “We made an effort to make the kids realize this is something their dad has taken on,” Moira said. “We tried to visit and expose our kids to as much military history as we can,” such as military museums so they understood and appreciated the U.S. armed services’ contributions.

“All three of my kids are really proud of their dad and to know that he’s giving back,” Moira said. “I just think there’s no greater gift in life.”

Moira Jablon-Bernstein(left), mother of 2017 MCOY Innovation Award recipient Sophie Bernstein (middle) visiting Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, on Capitol Hill.


Learn more about Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year Award program. #MCOY2018

Operation Homefront has joined with Procter and Gamble to promote the “Start Strong, Stay Strong” campaign, offering military moms a network of support – online and in commissaries and exchanges around the world – so they may connect with their communities, explore local events and discover motivational stories.  Whether they are welcoming a new child into the home, managing day-to-day household needs through relocations, adjusting to family life with a wounded veteran, or settling into new schools and communities, P&G and Operation Homefront are here to help military moms start strong and stay strong throughout their service to our country.  Moms can view a special video message from Melissa Stockwell about the campaign. Learn more at StartStrongPG.com.

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