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Archive for the ‘Operation Homefront’ Category

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 Course

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 ale 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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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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Ravin Woodard stood at the corner of the kitchen island and took a quiet moment to herself among the hustle and bustle surrounding her. Her smile never wavered as she looked around the newly-built, three-bedroom, two-bath house.

For Ravin, everything felt a bit unreal.

woodard-thcr-operation-homefront-houston-rent-free-housing-veterans

“It’s overwhelming. It’s like, it feels like it’s mine but at the same time, it doesn’t. I don’t know if that makes sense,” Ravin said, slightly shaking her head. “It’s just, it’s a lot.”

Overwhelming became the word of the day for Ravin and her husband, medically retired Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Woodard, as they toured their new home during a March 26 “Welcome to the Community” ceremony held by Operation Homefront as part of the Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration program.

“It’s really beautiful,” Joshua said about the Katy, Texas house built by Meritage Homes. “I didn’t expect this.”

Through the THCR program, Joshua, Ravin, and their two sons, Elijah, 2, and Samuel, 8 months, will live in the house rent-free for two to three years. The couple will work with financial counselors and caseworkers to build savings, reduce debt, and develop a strong transition plan.

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.

Operation Homefront Chief Operating Officer Brig. Gen. (ret.) Robert Thomas welcomed the Woodard family to the neighborhood. Bob, family and plaque

“You can find the perfect school…find a wonderful job opportunity, but until you have safe, secure housing, none of those dreams can come true,” Bob said as he addressed those who gathered for the event. “Our veterans and their families often feel overwhelmed as they transition out of the military and our program will help ensure their success.”

Joshua said the years he will live in the home align perfectly with his schooling at Houston Community College to become a dental hygienist. Ravin hopes to become a middle school math teacher and is currently taking classes toward an associate degree. Being accepted into the program means they can also strengthen their family bonds, Ravin said.

“It definitely gives us more time to focus, not just on our financial obstacles, (but) on our boys and watching them grow instead of being stressed all the time.”

Joshua had hoped to make the Coast Guard his career after joining in 2011. He had to change his plans after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Following a 2014 surgery, a doctor recommended he see a cardiologist who determined Joshua’s heart was not functioning correctly. The Coast Guard assigned him to light duty and began the medical board process. He medically retired in January.

The couple and their two children were living in a small apartment. The worry about bills became a constant companion, especially after Joshua estimated that they would have about $3 left in their account each month. The fact that the program combines a stable home and provides financial education made it even more appealing, he said. He looks forward to learning how to budget better and to creating a strong foundation to buy their own home in the future.

That kind of support is imperative, said Rufus Guebara III, a veteran career advisor for the Texas Veterans Commission, who was in attendance at the ceremony. It was the first time he had heard about the THCR program.

“I love the whole idea,” he said. “We always look for service organizations that are not giving just a hand out but a hand up.”

Volunteers from Home Depot and HEB, as well as representatives from Meritage Homes, JPMorgan Chase, the Guill Family Foundation, and VFW Honor Guard Post 9182 also attended the event.

As the family walked through the house for the first time, Elijah pushed as many buttons as he could on the new washer and dryer and tried to use the pantry (with shelves completely stocked, courtesy of HEB) as a secret hideaway. And then he saw the backyard. Joshua Woodard and son Elijah

Elijah, always up for an adventure, heard a dog barking next door, grabbed his dad’s hand and tried to pull him toward the fence. “The backyard is what he was most excited about,” Joshua said. “That’s all he wants to do any time we talk about (our new home.) He finds a rock and he’s happy.”

Though both of their extended families live in Mississippi, they want to stay in the Houston area for the job opportunities and their children’s education. Over the last two years, they have become very involved in their church. Joshua has a brother and sister who live about 45 minutes away and the THCR home will make putting down roots in the community easier.

“It’s absolutely beautiful for sure, all the people who came out (today), it’s just amazing really,” Joshua said. “Most people won’t ever really know what this means to us, it’s beyond what we expected.”

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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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Operation Homefront is thrilled to announce the 96 semifinalists for the 2019 Military Child of the Year® (MCOY) Award.

Below are the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award semifinalists by service branch along with the semifinalists for the 2019 Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation:

Air Force

Shaylee Barber, 16, Ewa Beach, Hawaii
Madeline Bland, 17, Alton, Illinois
Audrey Camper, 14, Talofofo, Guam
Jakob Fick, 15, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Jaidyn Fountain, 13, Wichita Falls, Texas
Diana Fudge, 13, Kathleen, Georgia
Salysia Jimenez, 15, New Bern, North Carolina
Joshua Kelly, 14, Italy
Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii *
Isabella Mollison, 18, Japan
Benjamin Rawald, 16, Del Rio, Texas
Skyler Roper, 14, Helotes, Texas
Michaela-Katherine Taylor, 17, Germany*
Jonathan Thomas, 17, Germany
Brian Thompson, 16, Bel Air, Maryland

*Brandon Mammano and Michaela-Katherine Taylor are also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Army

Gregory Davis, 17, Tampa, Florida
Abigail Faust, 16, Cadiz, Kentucky
Isaac Gonzalez, 18, Universal City, Texas
Jason Herlick, 17, Adams, Tennessee
Hunter Hotaling, 17, Lansing, Kansas
Peter Leffler, 14, Fairfax, Virginia
Elisabeth Polleys, 16, Macomb, Michigan
Elisa Rich, 16, Clemmons, North Carolina
Catherine Roller, 18, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Sarah Schaefer, 17, Stafford, Virginia
Obadiah Scroggins, 13, Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Noah Sylvia, 18, Fort Hood, Texas
Anna Torres, 15, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland
Marisol Wentling, 14, Fort Benning, Georgia
Katherine Wilton, 17, Dupont, Washington

Coast Guard

Kailey Aponte, 14, Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
Giovanni Beltran, 14, Slidell, Louisiana
Shannon Campbell, 17, Saint Johns, Florida
Emma Fike, 17, Fairhaven, Massachusetts
Joshua Fisher, 13, Bluffton, South Carolina
Mackenzie Godfrey, 14, Corpus Christi, Texas
Mattie Gross, 17, Kodiak, Alaska
Emily Light, 17, Port Angeles, Washington
Hennessy Martinez, 16, San Diego, California
Kylie McGuire, 17, Hamilton, New Jersey
Hazel Romero, 14, Madisonville, Louisiana
Tyler Schultz, 16, Forestdale, Massachusetts
Tyler Shiflett, 17, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
Erin Tabor, 13, Summerville, South Carolina
Sarah Williams, 16, Macclenny, Florida

Marine Corps

William Butler, 17, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Jaidah Davis, 17, Okinawa, Japan
Sofia Gibson, 16, Chesapeake, Virginia
Logan Harrell, 17, Stafford, Virginia
Jaxson Jordan, 13, Tarawa Terrace, North Carolina
Elvine Katanga, 16, Jacksonville, North Carolina
Elizabeth Kellum, 17, Jacksonville, North Carolina
Ethan Ley, 13, Highland Park, Illinois
Julia Livingston, 17, Okinawa, Japan*
Karina Maciel, 15, Kailua, Hawaii
William Moseley, 18, Okinawa, Japan
Connor Salcido, 17, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Haes Shake, 17, Hubert, North Carolina
Briana Torres, 18, San Marcos, California
Jacob Woodall, 14, Crestview, Florida

*Julia Livingston is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

National Guard

Brennan Palani Buccat, 18, Waipahu, Hawaii
Katja Grisham, 17, Auburn, Alabama
Caleb Johnson, 17, Bakersfield, California
Cameron Lantagne, 16, Vancouver, Washington
Jack Leipertz, 17, Powhatan, Virginia
Maycie Madsen, 18, Richfield, Utah
Lauren McKenna, 17, Meridian, Idaho*
Campbell Miller, 17, Ontario, Ohio
Clayton Miller, 15, Petersburg, Illinois
Kaley Mulligan, 13, Haven, Kansas
Matthew Ospina, 17, Marysville, Washington
Koralys Rodriguez, 18, Statesville, North Carolina
Dakota Scott, 15, Fort Greely, Alaska
Carlos Vega, 17, Leavenworth, Kansas
Rachel Warner, 17, Roosevelt, New Jersey

*Lauren McKenna is also one of 10 semifinalists for the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Navy

Avery Alfonzo, 14, San Diego, California
Zaira Alvarez, 17, Pensacola, Florida
Danielle Bilotta, 16, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Mahlon Catalina, 17, Hanford, California
James Cosman, 14, Joint-Base Andrews, Maryland
Ronald Eytchison, 17, Huron, Ohio
Declan Fletcher, 17, Virginia Beach, Virginia
Sawyer Getschman, 16, Germany
Payton Godlewski, 17, Germany
Jack Lund, 18, Gulf Breeze, Florida
Elisabeth Lundgren, 18, Chula Vista, California
Celine Maharaj, 17, Norfolk, Virginia
Mary McLellan, 17, England
Nickolas Moncilovich, 16, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania
Isabella White, 14, Jacksonville, Florida

Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation

Jordan Daugherty, 17, Staten Island, New York, Army
Megan Green, 16, Whispering Pines, North Carolina, Air Force
Julia Livingston, 17, Okinawa, Marine Corps
Brandon Mammano, 18, Mililani, Hawaii, Air Force
Troy Mills Marin, 17, Brownsville, Texas, Coast Guard
Lauren McKenna, 17, Meridian, Idaho, Army
Yohanna Torres Sanchez, 17, Orlando, Florida, Army
Michaela-Katherine Taylor, 17, Germany, Air Force
Jessica Vanstory, 17, Maple Hill, Kansas, National Guard
Sophie Williams, 17, Japan, Navy

2019 marks the 11th anniversary of this special event — the nation’s premier celebration of the achievements of our military children.

The final seven award recipients will be selected by a panel of judges and announced in March. They will travel to Washington, D.C., to be recognized at a gala on April 18 , 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.

Six Military Child of the Year® Award recipients will represent each branch of the armed forces — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard — for their scholarship, volunteerism, leadership, extracurricular involvement, and other criteria while facing the challenges of military family life.

The seventh award is the Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation presented by global technology and consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. This award goes to a military child who has designed a bold and creative solution to address a local, regional or global challenge.The Military Child of the Year® Award for Innovation 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.

More information about the Military Child of the Year® Awards is available at www.militarychildoftheyear.org

Read the full press release.

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by Cathy McCarthy

All of us here at Operation Homefront hope that you get to enjoy family time together on Thanksgiving this year. But, we also know that many military families will not be with their loved ones. That is just part of military life, and one of the prices paid in service to country.  You are not alone. Many military spouses and families have been there, done that, and can completely understand how you are feeling.

With my husband who was away for long periods of time on a submarine, I celebrated many different kinds of Thanksgivings. You might see yourself in one of these “styles.”

 

  • Style 1: Family Is What You Make It: In all our years as a Navy family, we were never closer than 5 or 6 hour’s drive from family, and most of the time, no closer than 1,000 miles. I have hosted families who could not make it home and gathered spouses and children of my husband’s shipmates when the submarine was deployed. On one occasion, we had 12 people hanging out in a 900 square foot military housing unit (shout out to Jackson Park)!  Never thought I could have so much fun crammed into a tiny kitchen peeling 20 pounds of potatoes. I was blessed to spend time with so many amazing military families from all over the country, each with unique stories but united in our support for each other (despite their unfortunate choices in NFL teams – Go G-men!).

That’s two units on the second floor there, folks.

 

  • Style 2: Hit The Road Solo: I decided one year when my husband was deployed on Thanksgiving to take to the air and go see extended family. My parents and brothers were literally on another continent at the time, so I went to see my grandma, cousins, aunts, uncles and in-laws. A three-day whirlwind tour, pregnant, with toddler in tow.  Many military families are familiar with the “short time, long list of places to be” tour. In hindsight, I might have scaled it back a bit. It was great to see family, but a bit exhausting by the end. That is how I found myself at SFO crying to “I’ll be home for Christmas” at 10PM at night. But I also met a young soldier on a layover who was flying home to see his little girl, having been deployed to Korea for the previous six months.  I still have the coin he gave my 2-year-old daughter in my jewelry box.

Actual coin given to my then 2-year-old daughter by a soldier on his way home to see his daughter. I’ve kept this coin for 20 years.

 

  • Style 3: Dinner at the Command Because You or Your Spouse Has Duty: Not many can say they have had Thanksgiving on a submarine (the boat, not the ship…don’t ever call it a ship). Hubby had duty and we were invited to come have dinner with him. After all these years, I have never stopped marveling at how the guys (gals, too, now) could handle life undersea for so long in those tiny spaces. I’ve had walk-in closets bigger than the mess deck on one of those things. I have also had Thanksgiving at the dining hall when I wore the uniform. And while it may not be Momma’s cooking, our shipmates do a pretty darn good job.

 

  • Style 4: Eat Somewhere That Is Open on Thanksgiving: Because they’re in 12-hour shift work and you have a whopping 10 hours to do anything, including sleep.

 

  • Style 5: Pick Your Own Day to Celebrate: I once had homecoming shortly AFTER Thanksgiving, so many of the division families got together and had Thanksgiving in early December, potluck style. Thanksgivings can be the day before, day after, or week later. I bet someone has had it in October…any day but actual Thanksgiving.

We are very sorry but we are unable to accommodate your Thanksgiving plans this year. Can we touch base in April?

 

Which is why that year on actual Thanksgiving Day I resorted to …

 

  • Style 6: I’m Over It: Turkey sandwich. Early bedtime. Enough said. But seriously, sometimes, it is okay to just give yourself an out and take a pass on festivities.  Quiet and rest is often vastly underestimated.

TOTALLY NOT an accurate representation of the sandwich I actually had. Think less lettuce, tomato, cheese and more tears.

 

And finally, last but not least…

  • Style 7: Overcompensating: And, when my husband was FINALLY home for the holidays, I busted out the Bon Appetit, Southern Cooking, Food and Wine and found the most complicated cookie, cakes and side dish recipes, created an over-the-top centerpiece, and decorated like our home was getting photographed for Town and Country. For me, him and two toddlers. Because we had not had a Thanksgiving together in a long time and I was going to knock it out of the park and create the best memories ever! I recovered in enough time for Christmas, which believe me, was much more low-key.

Did I bake enough desserts for 4 people? I don’t know…better make three more pies!

 

But in all seriousness, as tough as it can be for families, in our hearts, we know it is so much tougher for our service member.

The challenges we can face as military families at the holidays is one reason why I love Operation Homefront’s annual Holiday Meals for Military program so much.  It is such a nice way to meet the military families in our communities and let them know we appreciate all they go through and that we are thinking of them. Most of the time, I bring my kids along to volunteer, and we always have an amazing time. We’ll be distributing over 7,000 meals in November and December this year in cities across the USA. That’s a lot of holiday cheer, and this year, we will be serving a holiday meal to our 400,000th family member since the program was born from a chance encounter between a Beam Suntory executive (one of our sponsors) and a young military family in a supermarket in Utica, New York, near Fort Drum.

If you would like to provide some holiday cheer for a military family this year, please consider donating to our Current Need fund for holiday meals.  You can also join us in our Raise Your Hand or Giving Strength campaigns or volunteer at one of our upcoming Holiday Meals for Military events.

For military families interested in receiving a holiday meal, you can find our list of events and links to register here.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Operation Homefront!

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To honor our Nation’s veterans, Operation Homefront would like to share the stories of the veterans who have touched our lives through our programs.  Please join us every day as we feature a new veteran in our #11Days11Stories series leading up to Veterans Day 2019.

Arlacee and Thien Luu are a power couple, though they might laugh at the description.  But anyone reading their story can see the power of their courage to never give up and have faith.

Arlacee, now an Army reservist, originally enlisted in the Army – and proudly served – to earn the education benefits and for the challenge. “A lot of people … did not think I could accomplish basic training, much less complete my contract,” Arlacee said. “I chose the Army because I wanted to accomplish my dream of joining the military and to prove that I am capable of anything.” In the Army, Arlacee, an E-4 specialist, was a surveyor and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist. Her platoon worked on nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles.

Thien, her husband, served in the Army from 2007-11, including a 2009 Iraq deployment. He was medically retired after sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an IED blast.

Even these challenges did not shake them.  Then came their transition from service.

Arlacee and Thein had no idea how to afford a place of their own and they ended up staying with family when they first left military service. This allowed them to save a little and prioritize their spending to care for their baby’s special needs.

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Arlacee’s and Thien Luu’s 1-year-old son, Derek, was born without ears, and with a heart condition that required surgery to correct. He can hear with hearing aids, but because of his hearing impairment, Arlacee would like to enroll him in a school for the deaf. She acknowledges that caring for Derek, who is “beating the odds,” has been a lot of work for them, not only going to doctors’ appointments but also accepting his limitations.

On top of the childcare needs, they felt financially stymied trying to address their career goals, which required them to further their education. Arlacee’s wants to go to graduate school, and possibly work part time as an intern with the university’s geology department. She received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2012 from New Mexico State University and will attend University of New Mexico in Albuquerque to pursue advanced degrees in geoscience, using her post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits. She would like to become a geoscientist, perhaps supporting the military or working for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Luckily, Arlacee remembered Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program. While they were stationed in Hawaii, an Operation Homefront (OH) employee described how JPMorgan Chase and other partners donated mortgage-free homes across the country to award to eligible military families.  Once families are accepted into Homes on the Homefront (HOTH), they receive financial counseling to assist with saving, paying down debt and improving credit. Homes are deeded to those who successfully complete the program in two to three years.

A home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, caught her eye. Arlacee grew up on and near the Navajo reservation. She and her parents, who still live in New Mexico, are part of the Navajo Nation, and Arlacee missed the “remarkable” desert and mountainous landscapes, colorful scenery and clean air. Though she feared HOTH was too good to be true, she applied and was accepted for an Albuquerque home.

“We never, in a million years, thought we would be matched with a home,” Arlacee said. Using the Navajo word for thank you, she added, “Ahéhee’ for your generous donations.”

“We are extremely grateful, you have made a huge impact on our lives. This house is a true blessing, allowing Thien and I the opportunity to provide for our son and to continue our education. We are determined to make an impact and share our generosity with others, as you have done for us.” Arlacee said she also looks forward to the financial counseling that comes with HOTH because it will reinforce budgeting and the importance of saving, and hold them accountable. “It’s a push in the right direction,” she said.

Living in the HOTH home without the pressure of a mortgage is “such a relief,” Arlacee said. “It’s … a heavy burden off our shoulders …(and) we can focus on our child.”“Veterans go through different trials and different situations” such as injuries that sometimes require them to take things slower, Arlacee continued. “It makes life a little bit harder in different scenarios, compared to my coworkers … we face different challenges. [Operation Homefront] is a good organization to help alleviate some of these issues that we face.”

“I’m so grateful that … it’s not a too-good-to-be-true situation. We’re grateful to the donors.”

There are many families who still need our help. Check out our Current Needs page and you can help us serve America’s military families today.

Operation Homefront is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to build strong, stable, and secure military

Just as these veterans raised their hand to swear an oath to serve their country, you, too, can join in committing to support them through Operation Homefront’s #RaiseYourHand campaign. Learn more at operationhomefront.org/RaiseYourHand

families so they can thrive — not simply struggle to get by — in the communities they have worked so hard to protect. For over fifteen years, we have provided programs that offer: RELIEF (through Critical Financial Assistance and transitional housing programs), RESILIENCY (through permanent housing and caregiver support services) and RECURRING FAMILY SUPPORT programs and services throughout the year that help military families overcome the short-term bumps in the road so they don’t become long-term chronic problems. Please visit us at www.operationhomefront.org to learn more or support our mission.

 

 

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