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Archive for the ‘Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration’ Category

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.

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“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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Deidrick Caesar, who exited the Air Force in late 2017 after 15 years of service and five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer worries about providing a home for his wife, 12-year-old daughter and new baby due this month.

Deidrick, his wife, Lissette, and daughter, Lianna, were one of the first families to move into a new home constructed under Operation Homefront’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration (THCR) program. The new program, made possible by the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation, was designed as a gateway for stability so veteran families can remain strong, stable and secure after their military service.

During his Air Force career, Deidrick served as a medical technician. He enlisted in 2002, first deployed in 2005, and deployed for the last time in 2014. His experiences range from working in the intense, trying environment of the emergency room or intensive care unit at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to being the noncommissioned officer in charge at the neonatal intensive care unit at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

As Deidrick prepared to leave the Air Force on short notice after narrowly missing promotion requirements to E-6, he and Lissette were concerned about transitioning, particularly affording housing after losing steady income. Due to his experience downrange, Deidrick receives compensation for a 50-percent Veterans Affairs disability rating for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But with a baby boy on the way, and Deidrick needing to finish his degree before changing careers, they weren’t sure how to find their way forward. Thanks to THCR, they now feel reassured they won’t lose their footing. “It’s kind of a big deal … that a paycheck won’t be coming in,” he said. “It’s … a struggle just to come to terms with what am I going to do now. How are we going to survive?”

While living in the roughly 2,000-square-foot home in the Helotes area of San Antonio, technically rent-free, they will pay utilities and make an additional monthly payment. OH will refund them the total amount of the additional monthly payments when they graduate in two to three years from the program, which also provides financial counseling to assist families with saving, paying off debt and improving credit. The Caesars can use that refund for a down payment on a home or other needs.

The Caesars are grateful that Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation are a major part of the solution that will lead to self-sufficiency. “This is probably the biggest blessing so far,” Deidrick said. “It’s a great feeling. That’s what everyone dreams of, being able to … buy a house … having a place we can call home.”

Deidrick acknowledges that working in trauma care took its toll over time. “Most of my deployments were rough,” Deidrick said. “I’ve seen all the soldiers and the coalition forces and even detainees come through with massive injuries.”

He also endured a health scare of his own that led to a major surgery in 2016. While imaging a blood clot found in 2015, doctors discovered a mass that was growing. Fearing it might be cancerous, they removed it, which required a 56-centimeter incision in his back and gluteus and 72 staples. The mass was benign but doctors continue to monitor Deidrick, who was a patient at the same hospital where he used to work. He could not walk for about six weeks and needed six months of physical therapy at Brook Army Medical Center’s Center for the Intrepid.

Deidrick was anxious while waiting to find out if the mass was cancerous because both of his parents died of cancer about 13 years apart in the 2000s.

Through it all, Deidrick has maintained a positive attitude and outlook. He sees a mental health care provider regularly for problems sleeping. He also stays active, working out, running 5K and 10K races, hiking and volunteering when he can.

“Always, I’m that type to look on the bright side. In my eyes, I always feel like I can overcome anything. … My wife, on the other hand, she might not have seen it that way. To be able to ease her mind, especially with a baby on the way, it makes me that much more happy that we have this opportunity to get help and to better ourselves for the future.”

Deidrick could work as an emergency medical technician, but after witnessing so much death and serious injury, he would like to shift focus and become an athletic trainer, working to prevent injuries or rehabilitate those who have been hurt. As a sports fan, particularly for teams from his hometown area of New Orleans, his dream job would be working for a professional sports team, but he is open to helping anywhere he can, including possibly supporting the military.

Using his post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, Deidrick is taking classes toward his associate degree at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. He would then like to transfer to University of Texas at San Antonio for kinesiology, the science of body movement.

Deidrick, who had hoped to stay in the Air Force until he was eligible to retire, said it “hurt at the time,” when he had to get out, making the adjustment to civilian life difficult. The Air Force was all he had known since he was 19. “It becomes you,” he said. Still, he believes “everything happens for a reason.” “Maybe … it’s time for me to do something different.”

Someday when the family is more settled, Lissette would like to finish her bachelor’s degree, started at University of Miami, where she also worked as a pharmacy technician. She now works as a business analyst for a health care company.

Lissette heard about THCR on the local evening news on channel 4, NBC affiliate WOAI. Deidrick said they hardly ever watch the news, and it was a “stroke of a good luck” that Lissette happened to be home and tuned in at that time. Ordinarily, she would have accompanied Deidrick to the gym at that time of day, he said. When Deidrick returned home, she told him about the program, and they felt it was meant to be. They decided to “go for it.”

The Caesars feel fortunate to be moving into a home that is larger than their apartment, with more space to spread out, which will make everyone more comfortable once the baby arrives.

Operation Homefront “definitely helps … open doors and gives families an opportunity to get on their feet … to set them up for success after the military,” Deidrick said. People may think they don’t have anywhere to turn, “but with organizations like Operation Homefront, you always have help … to stop you from falling too far to where you feel like you’re hopeless.”

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