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In a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families.

Today, we host guest blogger, Clifford Cho, Bank of America Senior Vice President /Business Banking Market Executive.

San Diego is home to nearly 100,000 active service members and more than 240,000 veterans living and working right here – one of the highest such populations anywhere in the United States. While we owe a debt of gratitude for the service of veterans and their families, we also owe it to ourselves to recognize how integral they are—and will be—to our lives every day. Here in San Diego, for example, these men and women are inextricably linked to the $45 billion that the military generates for our local economy.

The need for greater financial education among veterans and military families is as great as it’s ever been. A 2015 study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that service members carry higher credit card debt and unsecured debt balances than their civilian counterparts. And in a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that financial readiness training should be more tailored to fit specific family needs.

Statistics aside, many simply struggle navigating the complex system of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, and figuring out credit, lending, savings and mortgage options can be daunting for those who are facing them for the first time.

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It was our honor to participate for the 6th straight year in Operation Homefront’s Back-To-Brigade.

Recently, I joined other Bank of America employees at a volunteer event for Operation Homefront called “Back-To-School Brigade” in San Diego. During the event, over 1,000 deserving military children were each given a new backpack filled with school supplies. Nationwide, the Back-To-School Brigade served over 20,000 military children, ensuring they had all of the tools they need to be successful in school. It was our 6th straight year of participating in this event and we all witnessed first-hand how appreciative the military members were of our support. Our team has also supported Operation Homefront holiday programs with drives and volunteers.

In addition to Operation Homefront, Bank of America also works with many other military organizations. One of those groups, REBOOT San Diego and its veteran’s transition program that provides job skills and career education to returning service men and women. To date, REBOOT has helped over 1,450 transitioning service members and veterans maintain a steady 97% success rate in completion of their various workshops, attainment of a stated goal of education or employment and retention in the REBOOT program after their initial year. We’ve also been able to fund additional monthly workshops in North San Diego County to help Marines from Camp Pendleton and area veterans.

Proper financial education can make a massive difference for all of us and for military families in particular. It can help to relieve financial stress—one of the major causes of tension in service members’ relationships—and it can improve the lives of entire families. For some, it can even be the difference between homelessness and gainful employment in a fulfilling career.

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It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed.

In addition, through BetterMoneyHabits.com —a financial education resource that Bank of America developed with education innovator Sal Khan and Khan Academy—we recently launched new content specifically geared toward veterans and military families. The new content offers transitioning service members guidance on issues like navigating the complexities of the GI Bill, a tutorial on how VA home loans work and a primer on buying a car.  The publication Military Times partnered with us to discuss these topics along with financial readiness as part of a free webinar available online.

It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed. More importantly, as citizens and members of the community, we each have a responsibility to use our unique skills and gifts to help unlock the potential of the veterans and military families we encounter every day. We do this through financial literacy. How can your company help grow the skills and strengths of our nation’s veterans?

Bank of America has been a steadfast supporter of Operation Homefront programs and events across the country, such as our Back-to-School Brigade and the Holiday Toy Drive programs.   We look forward to continuing to work with them to build strong, stable and secure military families.

Drew's Profile PictureOne of the best feelings in the world is to see the smiles on the faces of our military families at our Back-to-School Brigade events.  A close second is the honor of seeing so many come together in a shared mission to make a real difference for part of their community that often does not have the roots and support system that their neighbors enjoy.

It is that shared mission that drives volunteer Drew Aquino. Drew is the Director of Military Outreach for the Southeast Armed Services YMCA Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs.  Not only is Drew helping make our Rocky Mountains Field Office Back-To-School Brigade event possible at the YMCA, he is also picking up school supplies at 13 local Dollar Tree stores. In addition, he is managing the whole process to sort and pack thousands of supplies into backpacks that will be given to military kids in the area.

Drew grew up in a military family, and is himself a former Marine. Having been stationed and worked all over world serving U.S. military & their families, Drew understands the challenges of settling into a new community and a new school.

On being a part of our Back-To-School Brigade, Drew says, “It is an honor to be involved with Operation Homefront and Back-To-School Brigade because we are all working towards a common goal of making a positive difference in the military community. As a former U.S. Army Brat and U.S. Marine, I am reminded of the memories of what my family endured while my father deployed multiple times. Nothing is more honorable than to give back to the military community and be a humble servant leader.”

ASYMCA and Operation Homefront have similar missions, helping and serving military service members and their families. Working together, both organizations identified opportunities to synergize and make a bigger impact and positive difference for military families in and around Colorado Springs.

Drew encourages others to find a way to help affect change in their communities. “Get involved in your local community. Give back. Make a positive difference in a person’s life and build community. We are the leaders who must set the example for our kids and the future.  Passion, hard work & a positive attitude is a force multiplier!”

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with Operation Homefront in your community.  Find a list of our upcoming Back-To-School Brigade events here and find out how our “1 Military. 1 Family” campaign is making a difference for military families across the country.

Our Back-To-School Brigade events would not be the resounding success they are without our volunteers.  From collecting donated supplies to sorting through pencils, crayons and glue sticks, thousands of volunteers spend their summers giving selflessly of their time to show their appreciation to our nation’s military families. We asked our Field Offices to help us share a few stories of those who are helping us make a difference in the lives of the military families in their communities. They define what we mean when we say “1 Military. 1 Family.”

ViktorVolPicA Heart The Size of Texas:

A retired union carpenter from New Jersey, Victor Michaelson moved to El Paso, Texas to be close to his daughter and son in-law, who has served in the US Army for over 12 years. Victor learned about Operation Homefront from his daughter, who introduced him to volunteering in the Army community.

Sunah Noble, Community Liaison for our Southern Plains Field Office, wrote to us: “Victor is such an outstanding, hardworking volunteer!  He has been volunteering from the beginning of the Back-To-School Brigade at Fort Bliss, helping us pick up more than 600 educational workbooks from the Molina Foundation, picking up Dollar Tree store collections, helping receive supply collections from other volunteer drop offs, sorting school supplies, and helping us shop for program supplies and materials for Back-to-School Brigade.  Victor has also been working hard to support Back-to-School Brigade by promoting the event at information tables and helping out at our local Shamrocks restaurant fundraiser.”

Victor shares, “I love the opportunity to give back to the men and women serving our country.  The words of encouragement I would give others thinking about getting involved with military families and the local community is:  if you have the opportunity to work with great people, jump at the chance to give back to the people who give so much for us!”

 

ErikaVolPicA Born Volunteer:

Erika Stewart is a new Operation Homefront volunteer, but she was born for it.  The daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, Erika is a military spouse whose experience with service and leadership has been an invaluable asset to our Rocky Mountains Field Office.

“Erika… has stepped into the (volunteer) role with relish!” wrote Christine White, Program Manager for our Rocky Mountains Field Office. “She is our “volunteer wrangler” at school supply sorting sessions, and will do so again at our Back-To-School Brigade event.  We appreciate her willing spirit and dedication—Erika is always ready to jump in and do what needs to be done with lots of enthusiasm and energy.  Working with her is a pleasure!”

About getting involved in the community, Erika offers these words of wisdom, “Volunteering is rewarding, and makes you thankful for what you have.  Glass is half- full rather than half-empty.  Look for the positive in every situation.  Smile on kids’ faces when they get their backpacks.  Military families are part of our communities, our neighbors, our community.  The friendships we create are the family we choose for ourselves.”

Maybe you were born to volunteer too? Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with Operation Homefront in your community.  Find a list of our upcoming Back-To-School Brigade events here.

Check back with us this weekend as we feature more of our All Star Volunteers. #1Mil1Fam

 

 

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Meet Hipsley!

It began with the need to do something.  To make a difference.

A dedicated group of volunteers with the Mid-Atlantic Field Office of Operation Homefront, concerned about the heartbreaking statistics surrounding veteran suicides, approached the Field Office staff with an idea. As part of their annual fundraising efforts, they wanted to support Operation Homefront – and support the training of a service dog for veterans recovering from physical and psychological wounds.

Though not a need addressed by Operation Homefront programs, the Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic team knew they could help, as they are active in supporting the needs of families at Walter Reed and Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Belvoir. They also knew an organization that worked with service animals. And so began a unique partnership between Operation Homefront, the community, and the non-profit Warrior Canine Connection.

After 18 months of planning and fundraising solely by the volunteers with support from Operation Homefront, their wish became reality Wednesday as Operation Homefront presented Warrior Canine Connection with a check for $25,000 to cover the cost of training a puppy named Hipsley at Fort Belvoir.

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Jane Hipsley, herself a “puppy parent”, after learning that a puppy will carry on the name and legacy of her son, Sgt. Christian Hipsley.

Hipsley is named in honor of Army Sgt. Christian Joseph Hipsley, an Army medic who graduated from Hannah More Academy in Baltimore in 2000.  He was known as an individual who cared deeply for people and who found uncommon courage.  Sgt. Hipsley’s 13 years of service entailed three tours of duty in the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.  Sgt. Hipsley was awarded the Bronze Star in 2011 for his efforts in saving five Afghan National Army soldiers after the caravan he was riding in was struck by consecutive IED blasts.  When the book was closed on his Army career, Sgt.  Hipsley had earned the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguished Valor and the Army Commendation Medal.  The soldier lost his battle with PTSD in 2014 at age 32.

Sgt. Hipsley’s mother, Jane, was in attendance as it was announced that a puppy would carry on the memory of her son by helping others.  Over the next 2 years, Hipsley and the other purpose-bred Golden and Labrador Retrievers will each empower 60 returning wounded combat Veterans. After this period, Hipsley will be permanently assigned.

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Margi Kirst, Chief Development Officer for Operation Homefront with the newest member of the military family.

 

“The beauty behind this is the connection between the community and donors who take the initiative to get involved, and the collaboration between non-profits.  It is the community coming together,” said Vivian Dietrich, Regional Director. “And at the end of the day, our mission of building strong stable and secure military families will be realized through the work of Hipsley with the Fort Belvoir families.”

Cyndi Lucas, Communications Outreach Leader for Operation Homefront Mid-Atlantic added, “It was unique opportunity to capture the passion of this group of volunteers. (Hipsley) will touch so many lives”

 

“We are extremely grateful to the enthusiastic group of volunteers from Operation Homefront’s Mid-Atlantic region who dedicated so much time and energy to raise the funds to train Hipsley at Fort Belvoir,” said Rick Yount, WCC founder and executive director. “In our work to serve more than 3,700 Veterans since WCC started, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy in combating symptoms of PTS and TBI.  We are fortunate to have partners, like Operation Homefront, who are equally committed to supporting our nation’s Veterans and their families.”

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Working together to make a difference: Operation Homefront National and MidAtlantic staff with the “REDS” team volunteers.

About Warrior Canine Connection: Warrior Canine Connection is a pioneering organization that utilizes a Mission Based Trauma Recovery model to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. Based on the concept of Warriors helping Warriors, WCC’s therapeutic service dog training program is designed to mitigate symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and other challenges, while giving injured combat Veterans a sense of purpose, help in reintegrating back into their families and communities, and a potential career path as a service dog trainer.  For more information, go to www.warriorcanineconnection.org.

Guest blog from Bob McGowan, current member of our Board of Directors, and active volunteer for our Back-to-School Brigade

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Bob McGowan, current member of our Board of Directors, and active volunteer for our Back-to-School Brigade.

I am a former Marine who served for a few years at the tail end of the Vietnam War.  My Dad was a World War II Marine who was severely wounded in the battle of Okinawa. Both of my grandfathers served in World War I.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s, it seemed like every family had someone who had fought in WWII, Korea or was headed to Vietnam. As such, everyone knew a little about the price that had to be paid so we could enjoy our way of life.

Most of us have heard how so many on the “homefront” supported the war effort and our troops during WWII through bond drives, scrap collections, Victory gardens and USO events.  In fact, when I used to hear the word “homefront,” I would think of that era and how our nation rallied to support our troops.

Now when I think of that word, I think of Operation Homefront. Operation Homefront gives us an opportunity to connect with our troops and their families to show them that we really do appreciate what they do for us.

These days, with less than one half of one percent of our population serving in the Armed Services, I believe most Americans have lost touch with our troops and what hardships they endure.  Most Americans can’t imagine a six-week work project in a foreign land, let alone a six-month tour of duty with someone shooting at you!

McGowanBlog2I first got involved with Operation Homefront in 2008 when I worked for the company Airgas in Pittsburgh.  Airgas chose them as their Corporate Charity and encouraged all employees to get involved at the local level.  This was exactly what I was looking for, so I joined the Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey field office as a volunteer where I could help out during the Back-To-School Brigade events and anything else that came our way.

The Back-to-School Brigade, where we provide free school supplies to military kids, is such a great time for volunteers to get personally involved and to get the opportunity to meet some of our service members and their families.  Dollar Tree has been a tremendous partner for many years and anyone who visits one of their stores will see posters about Operation Homefront displayed prominently.  I’ve picked up school supplies at many stores over the years and I always thank the managers and their staff for supporting our troops.

Helping to pack the backpacks or handing them to the kids while their parents look on is a heartwarming experience that will stay with you a long time.  Those families have more than enough going on in their lives. You can see the gratitude in their eyes.  I love to see when the parents encourage their kids to come up to the volunteers and thank them personally while the parents look on.  You can bet that every time they look at that backpack, they will remember where it came from.

I’m so proud to volunteer for Operation Homefront and love to see all the great things that we’ve done for military families over the years.  I have been very blessed to be a part of this organization and I am extremely proud of all the volunteers that have pitched in along the way.

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About 1Military 1Family: Back-to-School Brigade: 1Military 1Family is a national initiative that focuses on building stronger communities by welcoming new families and helping them successfully integrate into the neighborhoods, schools and businesses in their area. Learn more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.operationhomefront.net/1Mil1Fam

 

Fourth of July IS America’s family reunion. From our largest metropolis to our smallest hamlet, Americans gather to share meals, talk with neighbors, play games, and enjoy a day of unity and carefree fun that is too often in short supply these days. For one day, we are one family.

For those of us who serve, have served, or know someone who is serving, we know that our military is like one big family.  We call ourselves brothers and sisters, and the support we give each other is often as strong as those from the families of our birth.

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At Operation Homefront, we strive every day to honor that bond, and we believe wholeheartedly that strong and stable families help build stronger and better communities. This summer, we invite you to become part of our One Military One Family Back-To-School Brigade initiative.

Over the next 6 weeks, Operation Homefront will welcome thousands of military families into communities across the county through our Back-to-School Brigade, collecting and distributing backpacks and other school supplies.  Now in its ninth year, Back to School Brigade has become one of our favorite events of the year.

It’s our family reunion.

Want to join the fun? Here are some ways:

  • Follow us on Facebook where we will be sharing great moments around the country from our BTSB events and supply drives as well as words of welcome to new families into the community.

We wish you all a Happy Fourth of July and look forward to carrying forward the spirit of America with you in the coming weeks.

One America. One Military. One Family.

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“The fear of the unknown is kind of like the fog of war, we just didn’t know what was gonna happen or where we were going to end up,” Hector Perez, current resident at one of Operation Homefront’s rent-free transitional housing villages.

When an injured service member transitions out of military life, the unknown lies before them and it can be overwhelming. Complications from combat-related injuries, including physical wounds, Traumatic Brain Injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can add to the stress of the transition to civilian life. But there is help to be found.

Operation Homefront Villages provide rent-free housing in a supportive environment for transitioning military families that helps relieve financial stress and provide a comprehensive package of individualized family support and financial planning services. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have helped 453 families, which includes 724 military children, make the transition.

Listen to Hector Perez tell his  story about his family’s experience at our Village in San Diego. His own words  may  encourage others , while battling the effects of their injuries, to know that a better life can be found.

Hector has one message for his fellow  veterans: it’s okay to ask for help. “I would say that no matter how lonely you feel, how depressed you are or how bad things are now, to stop and think for a just one second. Remind yourself… that you are still in the fight. You have overcome many battles but now is the time to dig deep and bring out the warrior mentality and continue to fight for you, for your loved ones, for your family. (All) it takes (is) a phone call, a text, an email to reach out and realize you are not alone!”

Operation Homefront has Villages in three locations: Gaithersburg, Maryland; San Diego, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Since opening our first Village in March 2008, we have transitioned 453 families, which includes 724 military children.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. The National Center for PTSD provides valuable educational resources online for not only the person who battles PTSD but also for those family and friends that want to find more ways to support them. We encourage anyone with questions to use this resource to find more information and get the help you need.

Thank you to our friends at the Genentech Foundation for making this video possible.

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