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Archive for July, 2018

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:

 

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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!

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