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Four-year-old Jaxon Crouse ran from room to room of his family’s new home pointing out his favorite features.

“Look, the refrigerator has a water thingy!”

“There’s another closet!”

Jaxon, everyone would come to learn, really likes closets.

Jaxon, really likes closets.

Jaxon really likes closets.

He and his family were seeing the house for the first time during Operation Homefront’s “Welcome to the Community” ceremony in Helotes, Texas held on Thursday, May 30, as part of the organization’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration program.

As part of the program, the Crouse family—retired Army Sgt. Michael, his wife Michelle, and their three children, Jaxon, daughter Penelope, 6, and newborn son Greyson River—will live in the newly built, rent-free house for two to three years as they work with financial counselors and caseworkers to build savings, reduce debt, and develop a strong transition plan so when they leave the program they can buy their own home.

Operation Homefront launched THCR in August 2018. Made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others, the program was designed as a gateway for stability to help veteran families remain strong, stable and secure as they transition from military service. The program will soon have eight properties in five states.

The THCR program is made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others.

Operation Homefront Chief Operation Officer and retired Brig. Gen. Bob Thomas thanked donors like Centex Homes, Inc. a division of PulteGroup, and spoke of the importance of stable housing for families leaving the military. “Housing is a center of gravity,” he said. “It is an enabler. We want [the families] to get involved in their community and help ease their transition.”

“Housing is a center of gravity”-Bob Thomas, Operation Homefront Chief Operating Officer, Brig. Gen., USAF (Ret.)

Having grown up in a military family, this is Michael’s first house that has not been a rental. He is looking forward to learning more about maintaining the property, paying off debt and adding to their savings. He also will be closer to his job at Wells Fargo, although he does hope to switch careers after getting his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UTSA. Michelle wants to enroll at UTSA after she gets her associate degree in early childhood education. She has been home-schooling Penelope and Jaxon, but they are now signed up in Northside Independent School District.

Last year, the family found themselves scrambling when an unexpected medical diagnosis forced Michael to retire from the Army after nearly 15 years of service. They were told the separation process from the military would take six to eight months and were shocked when after only four months they received notice around the Christmas holiday in 2018 that Michael would no longer be in the military.

Michelle was pregnant with Greyson and the family was worried and anxious. They did not have savings and had not had the opportunity to line up housing. They found relief through Operation Homefront’s transitional housing programs—first moving into the San Antonio Village and then being accepted into the longer-term THCR.

“It’s really life changing,” Michelle said about the programs Operation Homefront’s donors support. “It’s not just about writing a check. You are really changing our family’s lives for the better. And even setting up our children for success because if we’re successful we pass that on to them. And it’s not just debt. It’s very exciting and very touching to us.”

“You are really changing our family’s lives for the better”-Michelle Crouse

They knew they wanted to come back to the San Antonio area because that is where Michelle was born and raised. Her family attended the ceremony and in true San Antonio fashion, Michelle’s sister Emily brought homemade cookies and their mom, Janie, brought tres leches cake.

Janie and Michelle’s dad Daniel both said they were eager to have their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren closer to them. They live about 15 minutes away from the Helotes house.

“We get to see Greyson as a little baby,” Janie said. “We didn’t see Jaxon or Penelope as newborn babies. I think Penelope was six months and Jaxon maybe three or four months. Now they can have our help and we can babysit.”

“And they can do grandparents day at school,” she added.

Little Greyson and his brother and sister will be able to visit with their grandparents more, which is priceless.

As everyone filtered through the house, Penelope caught her brother’s closet-fever and invited her aunts and uncles into the upstairs room she declared as hers. “Look at this closet it’s so big,” she could be heard telling her family. Both Janie and Michelle’s sister Emily joked that with the spacious kitchen and big backyard, it was now Michelle and Michael’s turn to host the family get-togethers and holiday meals. Michelle and Michael were all on board.

“We’re extremely grateful and happy,” Michael added. “We want to thank Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation. This is an amazing opportunity for us.”

“We can’t wait for everyone to see us in three years; in two to three years and see everything we accomplished,” Michelle added. “We won’t let you all down.”

Learn more about our Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration programApplications are currently being accepted for a THCR home in Weeki Watchee FL.

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by John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.), Operation Homefront

May is Military Appreciation Month – an important opportunity for Americans to take a moment to reflect on all our military community has done and continues to do for all of us. From celebrating spouses on Military Spouse Appreciation Day and recognizing all service branches on Armed Forces Day, to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, May is truly a special month to highlight an exceptional group of our fellow citizens.

While we typically celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our active duty members and veterans, I think we must also include those who have sustained their service – their families – as they have served alongside their loved ones.

Military service is a noble calling, but it has many demands and many costs. One of those costs is foregoing time with family.

When I look at my family photos, I find I am not in many of them. I wish the reason was I was the one taking them. Sadly, the real reason is I was not there. I was doing something important to serve my country. I understood I was the one who raised my hand and swore an oath to protect our country. I also fully understood my family, because of my service, had their hands raised too.

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John I. Pray, Jr., President & CEO, Brig Gen, USAF (Ret.)

That is why I am honored to serve America’s military families as the President and CEO of Operation Homefront. We have 120 employees and over 4,000 volunteers, along with many caring donors and partners, who are dedicated to meeting the needs of military families while they are serving and as they transition back to the civilian communities they have worked so hard to protect. Our relief, resiliency and recurring support programs touch over one hundred thousand family members each year… giving them the support they need to make ends meet and, just as important, letting them know that America is behind them.

This Armed Forces Day, when you thank and honor those who put on the uniform, I would ask you to remember the family members whose sacrifice may be less visible, but just as worthy.

I invite you to join Operation Homefront in our #Mission2Honor military families by sending a message of thanks to those families who serve and help protect the freedoms we enjoy daily. It will mean the world to them: OperationHomefront.org/mission2honor

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Every Mother’s Day, I take a moment to look at my life and reflect on how great it is. It’s been over 15 years since I lost my leg to a roadside bomb in Iraq and I can honestly say my life is better now than it has ever been. I am a proud mother, wife, Veteran, elite athlete and motivational speaker. F46181FD-8D91-491A-B0F6-C34D4B1791CF

Being a mom is my favorite. It’s both the best and the hardest job and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s hard not to tear up a little when I think about the love I have for my kids.

My happiest moments and best days are when I’m with my family; playing, walking, dancing or doing anything as long as we are together. I often think about the sacrifice that military families make due to service to our country. Deployments, relocations, training exercise.  All of these mean missed time with family members.

I would not be where I am today, without the support system I had to get me through the transitions I had in life. From a military spouse, to losing my leg, being medically retired from the Army and a new mom. I was so grateful to have organizations out there to help me when I needed them along with my support team of my family and friends. I’ve learned from experience, that us moms need all the help we can get!

I believe that moms are the heart and soul of the family, (dads are pretty important too!)  from the day we know that little one is in our belly! There is a special bond between moms, as if we can give each other a ‘we’ve got this’ head nod as we walk by with our strollers and sometimes screaming kids. We are, after all, all in this together. We have the strength, resilience, to push through whatever comes our way.

My children give me the motivation to dream big and I hope that one day they will have big dreams of their own. I will always be their biggest cheerleader.    45774282-7C31-45CE-8AA0-F79B6AB5D1E2

Coming up on May 19th, I have the opportunity to meet some expecting military moms (and new moms as well) at the Operation Homefront Star Spangled Baby Shower event in Colorado Springs. I cannot wait to meet you all.

So, to all the moms and the soon-to-be moms out there – cherish this day and love on those little, or not so little ones, in your life. I hope you all have a wonderful Mother’s Day! #Mission2Honor  #MilitaryMoms.
Melissa Stockwell
1LT, Ret.
Proud mom of 2

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The Start Strong, Stay Strong campaign offers 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.
Through the online community, StartStrongPG.com, military moms can access the information they need wherever they live, all year long. They will discover things to do, find local resources in their community, unlock savings, explore an online marketplace, and much more.

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Operation Homefront understands the sacrifices our military families make and the challenges they face throughout their service, which is why every day we seek to build strong, stable, and secure military families so that they can thrive – not simply struggle to get by – in the communities they have worked so hard to protect.

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During Military Appreciation Month, you can join Operation Homefront in recognizing our military families and thanking them for their service. Join us and honor those who have served and are continuing to serve our communities across the country.

Support: Help Operation Homefront support military families

The simple act of giving can change the lives of our military families. Your donation could ensure that power is kept on for wounded warriors who need medical equipment for survival or help feed a military family.  Donate today to help us reach our goal of supporting 15 families.

usa_graphicHonor: Send a message of support

Operation Homefront invites Americans who care about military families to publicly recognize, honor, and thank them for their service and support in our communities. Send in your message of thanks and help us turn our map red, white, and blue.

Serve: Get Involved

With the help of our volunteer reserves, Operation Homefront delivers valued programs and services to military families that offer relief through critical financial assistance and rent-free transitional housing, resiliency through mortgage-free homes and caregiver support programs, and recurring family support through holiday meals, school supplies, baby bundles, holiday toys and other resources for military spouses and children.   Visit our website to find out more about how you can become a volunteer with Operation Homefront!

To learn more about the Operation Homefront “Always Serving” campaign and Mission2Honor, visit www.OperationHomefront.org/Mission2Honor.

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Last week, Operation Homefront hosted our 2019 Military Child of the Year® recipients, our Magnificent Seven, and their families in Washington, D.C. for a three-day celebration.  Let’s take a look at their activity packed time in our Nation’s capital.

But before we do, it bears repeating how incredible these kids are! This year’s seven honorees have experienced a cumulative 31 moves and 187 months of parental deployments. But they also gave over 1,800 hours of volunteer time just in the year before they were nominated – among their many other accomplishments including stellar academic achievements, overcoming health challenges, becoming Eagle Scouts, being competitive in swimming and other sports. You can read more about each of them here. 

 

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How innovative can we be? The festivities kicked off Tuesday with Brandon Mammano , our Innovation Award recipient, touring the Innovation Center at Booz Allen Hamilton, who sponsored the award. After a tour, Brandon and his family brainstormed with the Booz Allen Hamilton project team on how to use technology to create a student sponsor program for military kids to welcome them when they move to a new community. Brandon told us, “It’s touching to me, how my tiny little idea can be turned into something ginormous.”

 

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Welcome to D.C.! On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. John I. Pray, Jr., Air Force (Ret.), President and CEO of Operation Homefront, welcomed all seven recipients at a welcome lunch before the kids, their families, and OH staff departed for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  The kids enjoyed a behind the scenes tour where they got within feet of some beautiful male lions and seals (top secret – no pics allowed!) Afterwards, recipients, their families, and OH staff shared a delicious dinner before heading back to the hotel.

 

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Headed to the Pentagon! After a delicious breakfast with the staff and our National Board of Directors, the group headed off for a driving tour of the monuments and a tour of the Pentagon.

 

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The Main Event! After a few hours to relax back at the hotel, it was time for the main event.  John Heald, Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Line, served as the emcee, and America’s Beloved Tenor, Daniel Rodriguez, sang the national anthem during the Presentation of Colors by JROTC cadets from T.C. Williams High School from Alexandria, Virginia.

 

MCOY 2019-43 (1)The Spotlight is on … the kids! John Pray started the program recognizing service members, veterans, and our military family members. Of the MCOY recipients, John said: “Each one possesses something very special — a driving force – a spirit of service and of serving others.  Individually, they shined as they dealt with parental deployments, relocations, and the many other challenges that often characterize military family life.  Along their journey, they have developed an inner compass that inspires them to give back, to lead, to volunteer, to advocate, and to care for others in their communities.”

 

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Multi-national supergroup King Calaway wows the audience! Musical guest, King Calaway, entertained our guests with two of their hit singles and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Daniel J. O’Donohue, director for joint force development for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, inspired guests with his keynote address. “Their parents couldn’t have continued to serve unless these children decided that they would fall in, that honor, courage, and commitment was part of their life,” said O’Donohue.

 

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All Branches Represented. VIP officers from each branch presented the awards to our honorees and paid proper tribute to their achievements and tenacity in spite of challenges of the military lifestyle. For the third consecutive year, Carnival Cruise Line surprised the MCOY recipients and their families with a free family cruise.

 

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One Last Musical Note. Before the evening ended, there was one more surprise in store for the Magnificent Seven.  CMT, country music artist Brantley Gilbert, and Peavey gave each of our seven honorees a fabulous Peavey guitar autographed by Brantley himself!

 

As we close out another year of celebrating military kids, we hope you will make plans to join us on April 2, 2020, for our 12th MCOY Gala.

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Special thanks to United Technologies Corporation, our presenting sponsor for the 2019 Military Child of the Year Awards Gala. Other gala sponsors were Booz Allen Hamilton, Procter & Gamble, Carnival Cruise Lines, Military Times, La Quinta by Wyndham, PNC, MidAtlanticBroadband, and Nike.

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Elisabeth McCallum Polleys’ passion for acting has exposed her to diverse roles, giving her insight into different eras, ways of thinking, and styles of interacting. Her love for theater is among the many facets of Elisabeth’s life that have made her an informed, well-rounded person, attributes that helped her become the 2019 Army Military Child of the Year®.

Elisabeth attends two schools in Michigan – L’Anse Creuse High School North for core courses in science, math and history and the Frederick V. Pankow Center for classes in performing arts and English, which requires an audition for admission. In her first year of high school, Elisabeth, now a junior, was selected for best debut performance for portraying Ginette in “Almost, Maine,” an uncommon honor for a freshman to have played a lead role. She landed the part in her first audition after moving to Michigan from Hawaii when her mother, an Army major, was reassigned.

Elisabeh McCallum Polleys Job's Daughters

Initially, Elisabeth was uncertain about immersing herself in teenager Ginette’s character because it’s a love story, and she was afraid it would be awkward playing opposite her friend, another freshman, in the role of Pete. But looking back on it now, she is proud of her performance.

Elisabeth also was inducted into Pankow’s Thespian Troupe 7494, another rare honor for a ninth grader. She earns her place not just by acting but by helping with fundraising, working back stage or in the box office, ushering, building sets, and helping with costumes, makeup and hair. As a member of the troupe’s executive council, she and other students work hard to raise money because otherwise, they cannot produce performances. Serving also gives her the chance to mentor younger actors.

 

 

 

In 2018, Elisabeth played a wildly different role, a mother in 1917 England, in “The Light Burns Blue.” Again, it took time for her to embrace the role she initially could not relate to – a wife and parent to a teenager during World War I. The character evolves into “being that strong, independent woman that doesn’t need to just follow what her husband says,” Elisabeth said, which was easier to identify with. She said she channeled her own mother because she’s a good role model, raising Elisabeth as a single mom, with help from Elisabeth’s grandparents, while also serving in a demanding military job as a command judge advocate at Detroit Arsenal.

That same year, Elisabeth and two other actors received second place in a group acting competition at the Michigan Thespian Festival for a scene from “Crimes of the Heart.” Elisabeth portrayed Meg, a 27-year-old singer, sister and one-time mental health patient.

“I love acting so much,” said Elisabeth, agreeing that it’s fun but also a growing experience. “It’s opening my eyes to different perspectives. I’m opening my mind.” Being involved in all aspects of theater has led to her positive attitude. “It won’t be a show unless we have all the help we need. Everyone plays a part. We’re taught that you can’t have an ego because being an actor, you’re just one part of the whole play or musical. Everyone chips in.” 11. Elisabeth McCallum Polleys theatre performance (2018)

Maintaining a good attitude has not always been easy for Elisabeth because as a military child, she has endured multiple moves for her mother’s career and missed her mother during extended absences. She empathizes with other military children, especially those who don’t live near bases with other kids who understand their challenges and sacrifices.

“I learned Hawaiian history in seventh grade, not Michigan history, but I am tested on that now,” Elisabeth said, citing one small example of the trials military kids face. “My mom travels all the time. My mom went to Afghanistan. My friends do not know what it is like to have your mom fighting in a war. My mom has missed so much of my life. She has missed so much because she was deployed or is always [traveling for work]. Military kids do not get to choose this life.”

Still, she feels patriotic having a mother in uniform. “I feel that I am a part of this country’s success because my mom is fighting for our freedoms and our rights. Without people like her, this country would not be as great as it is. People have fought and died for this country. I am proud to say that I am an American and that my mom is a part of making this country the best in the world.”

Elisabeth is also happy to represent military children as a MCOY recipient. The process “helped me realize how the military has blessed me with many opportunities,” she said. “If it was not for the Army, I would not be who I am today. I really think I am stronger because of my life as a military child.”

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A champion swimmer, two Eagle Scouts and a Princeton University research assistant are just a few of the outstanding characteristics of the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award winners recently announced by Operation Homefront.

The winners also include an aspiring actress, a middle school fundraising phenom and an advocate for new-to-school military students. Recipients are selected for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life.

“These seven award recipients are truly exceptional young people who have absolutely shined in terms of academic achievement and service to others – positive representatives of the larger community of extraordinary military kids,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront.  “Each of our over 350 nominees for our 11th annual Military Child of the Year® Awards personified resiliency, leadership, achievement, and strength of character.  Their families and their communities can be justifiably proud of them – and we are too.”

Each year, an independent panel of volunteer judges choose six MCOY® winners to represent each branch of service in which their parents currently serve or have served. A seventh recipient is named in the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation, presented by Booz Hamilton.

The award recipients will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at the April 18th gala, during which senior leaders of each branch of service will present the awards. They also will each receive $10,000, a laptop computer, and other donated gifts. The innovation award recipient will work directly with a Booz Allen Hamilton team to develop a plan to help scale the recipient’s project — drawing on technology and strategic thinking as a part of the corporation’s competitive Summer Games.

The 2019 recipients are as follows:

Army: Elisabeth McCallum Polleys, 16, Macomb, Michigan, L’Anse Creuse High School-North

Marine Corps: Jaxson Jordan, 13, Tarawa Terrace, North Carolina, Brewster Middle School

Navy: Elisabeth Lundgren, 18, Chula Vista, California, University of California

Air Force: Benjamin Rawald, 16, Del Rio, Texas, Brackett High School

Coast Guard: Kylie McGuire, 17, Hamilton, New Jersey, Nottingham Hamilton High School North

National Guard: Campbell Miller, 17, Ontario, Ohio, Mansfield Christian School

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation: Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii, Hanalani Schools

Check back here in the coming weeks, and on our social media, as we highlight each winner in the days leading up to the gala. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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