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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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:

Veterans like Nataly Morales and Joshua Virola embody the can-do spirit found in so many other former service members, who volunteer, on average, more hours than nonveterans.

While the rate of volunteering among all Americans, 25.5 percent of the population, is comparable to the volunteering rate for veterans, veterans put in an average of 43 more hours per year for a total of 169 hours, according to a 2016 study, the Veterans Civic Health Index.

Nataly, a Marine from 2002 through 2004, and her husband, Joshua, who served 15 years and deployed three times on active duty and as a reservist with the Marine Corps, received gifts from Operation Homefront’s Holiday Toy Drive in 2014 for their children, Carisma, 14; Faith, 9; and Isaiah, 7. After that, the whole family became regular volunteers for Operation Homefront over the next two years, until right before they moved to Texas at the end of 2016, when Joshua got out of the Marines as an E-5.

“They immediately asked how they could give back and started volunteering for every event,” said Vivian Dietrich, an Operation Homefront regional director.

Even though Nataly and Joshua were busy preparing for their move from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to Grand Prairie, Texas, they helped OH bag and transport the P&G products, including cleaning supplies and tissues, that were given away at the 2016 Thanksgiving Holiday Meals for Military event. First, they drove their car, while an OH staff member drove her vehicle, over two hours away to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to pick up the stored goods and bring them to a storage facility in Jacksonville, North Carolina, closer to Camp Lejeune. Later, Nataly and Joshua retrieved the products, and brought them to the event site at a school, using the U-Haul truck they had rented for their move to Texas. They also helped fill the reusable Thirty-One tote bags with groceries provided by Walmart.

Their children helped at OH events too, organizing supplies or handing out refreshments. “I’ve always tried to teach them to help, and they love it,” Nataly said. “It’s really cute to see them work.”

For Nataly and people like her, helping others is a form of sustenance. “We made the time,” she said. “It felt good.”

“We would have people over to our house on a daily basis because they didn’t have food,” Nataly said. Their dinner company included a lance corporal, his wife and their two young kids, and a sergeant, his wife and their two children.

“Usually, we’re the givers and we never take,” said Nataly, adding that’s why they were so appreciative of OH’s assistance. “Anytime that we receive anything from any kind of program, I cry because we’ve had some really rough times,” she said. “The kids have seen and have felt the rough times that we’ve had. To have people that actually care and they donate things, it breaks my heart. That meant a lot.”

In keeping with their giving nature, Nataly and Joshua chose where to live after he left the Corps, based on where they are needed the most.

Having met while both were on active duty, they each have family in their respective home states — Texas for Nataly and New York for Joshua. They chose Texas partly because of its lower cost of living, but mainly so they can help Nataly’s family. Her mom is sick with lupus and other health conditions; one sister is a single mom of three kids; and another sister has a child with special needs. “There’s a lot more need here,” she said. Her brother, a Marine Corps master sergeant stationed in Virginia, has kids who also live in north Texas. The third weekend of every month, Nataly cares for his kids, and takes them to their soccer games.

The family continues its volunteering with The Miracle League Dallas Fort Worth, for children with disabilities who want to play baseball, including Nataly’s niece.

Joshua works as a crane mechanic. He and Nataly hope his latest transition to civilian life goes better than a previous attempt. “We tried the civilian world for a little bit,” said Nataly, referring to the earlier stint in 2008, in between Josh’s active-duty and reservist periods. “It didn’t work out.”

Joshua first served four years on active duty, got out, and deployed to Iraq as a reservist for six months in 2006. During his 2008 stint as a civilian, he had found work as a warehouse manager. The company moved them to Mohave Valley, Arizona, “one of the hottest places I’ve ever lived,” and laid him off six months later, Nataly said. “We were stuck there. We had no money to move back home.” The only income was from Nataly working from home as a flooring estimator for her dad. “We were able to pay the rent, but we were behind on the cars,” she said. “We had a hard time with food. It was the worst year.”

Joshua was gone a lot after being laid off, trying to get back into the Marine Corps. After returning to active duty in early 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2010. Another year-long deployment to Afghanistan followed in 2011 and 2012.

Nataly works as a pregnancy educator at the American Pregnancy Association. She also takes classes at both Tarrant County College and University of Texas at Arlington. She expects to complete her associate degree in December, and will apply for UTA’s social work program in the spring. She wants to work with veterans, using what she has learned and experienced to assist others going through trying times. “I want them to get the help that they need,” she said. “I want to be that one person who makes a difference. If anybody understands them, it’s another veteran.”

We are grateful for our veterans, those who chose to raise their hand when they pledged to defend our country. Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate veterans among 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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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:

A young Richard Irwin looked at his future and it didn’t include college. As he considered his options, the military looked like an interesting choice. “I wasn’t the greatest student and had no desire to go to college, but I was a hard worker,” he said. He eventually chose to join the Navy.

Irwin served in the Navy for five years. “I spent most of my time in Long Beach, CA stationed on a ship, and then as an instructor in the naval reserve center.”

Irwin said he felt a connection with his fellow service members. “They become part of your family because you are far away from family.” As his time progressed in the Navy, he saw that his opportunities for advancement were limited without a college degree.

“I was always trying to improve my skills (and) I was cutting myself off for advancement because I didn’t have degree. (The military experience) benefitted me and made me realize what I wanted in life.” So Irwin left the military to pursue an accounting career.

Irwin moved back to Texas and built up an impressive resume working for accounting firms and large corporations in Houston and Dallas.

“Today my current title is data manager for Maverick Capital. I taught myself programming because there was a need to manage massive amounts of data.”

Although Irwin left the military, the experience never left him. “I always knew I wanted to give (back) and felt bad for those who served and ended up in a bad circumstance that was not their fault.” This compelled him to find an organization he could support that made a real difference for military families.
“About 10 years ago, I was doing pretty well. Charity Navigator pointed me to Operation Homefront. The ratings were good. (Seeing that most of my) money was going to the mission (was) extremely important to me. I felt like I was playing a part. I felt like I was giving money directly to people,” said Irwin.

He began by donating to the current needs on the Operation Homefront website. “I would knock off several Current Needs. I was giving close to $5000 a year. I felt like I was helping families directly.”
Since then, Irwin has been a steadfast supporter of Operation Homefront.

“I still go and look (at the needs). I try to give locally (Texas). But sometimes I look at it and do my best to figure out where it’s more needed. The stories that hit me are the people who are waiting on VA or benefits are delayed because they are disabled.”

Irwin feels it’s important to support our military. “Even though I am a veteran and served my time, I was never in war time. I was never in battle. There is a distinction between me and current veterans. Some people come out and they have problems. I have friends who are disabled veterans. I do what I can to help those people. They deserve more of the recognition than I do and (need to be) taken care of.”
“Operation Homefront serves a great purpose and it’s helping people that need help now. The money is going to the people that need it.”

We are grateful for supporters like Richard Irwin, who not only felt the call to serve but who are the reason we’ve been able to serve thousands of military and veteran families, helping them build a stronger, more stable and secure future.

We are grateful for our veterans, those who chose to raise their hand when they pledged to defend our country. Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate veterans among 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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