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In a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families.

Today, we host guest blogger, Clifford Cho, Bank of America Senior Vice President /Business Banking Market Executive.

San Diego is home to nearly 100,000 active service members and more than 240,000 veterans living and working right here – one of the highest such populations anywhere in the United States. While we owe a debt of gratitude for the service of veterans and their families, we also owe it to ourselves to recognize how integral they are—and will be—to our lives every day. Here in San Diego, for example, these men and women are inextricably linked to the $45 billion that the military generates for our local economy.

The need for greater financial education among veterans and military families is as great as it’s ever been. A 2015 study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling found that service members carry higher credit card debt and unsecured debt balances than their civilian counterparts. And in a survey from Blue Star Families last year, financial issues rated among the top concerns for service members, veterans and their families. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that financial readiness training should be more tailored to fit specific family needs.

Statistics aside, many simply struggle navigating the complex system of benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, and figuring out credit, lending, savings and mortgage options can be daunting for those who are facing them for the first time.

BofABlogCliffordCho

It was our honor to participate for the 6th straight year in Operation Homefront’s Back-To-Brigade.

Recently, I joined other Bank of America employees at a volunteer event for Operation Homefront called “Back-To-School Brigade” in San Diego. During the event, over 1,000 deserving military children were each given a new backpack filled with school supplies. Nationwide, the Back-To-School Brigade served over 20,000 military children, ensuring they had all of the tools they need to be successful in school. It was our 6th straight year of participating in this event and we all witnessed first-hand how appreciative the military members were of our support. Our team has also supported Operation Homefront holiday programs with drives and volunteers.

In addition to Operation Homefront, Bank of America also works with many other military organizations. One of those groups, REBOOT San Diego and its veteran’s transition program that provides job skills and career education to returning service men and women. To date, REBOOT has helped over 1,450 transitioning service members and veterans maintain a steady 97% success rate in completion of their various workshops, attainment of a stated goal of education or employment and retention in the REBOOT program after their initial year. We’ve also been able to fund additional monthly workshops in North San Diego County to help Marines from Camp Pendleton and area veterans.

Proper financial education can make a massive difference for all of us and for military families in particular. It can help to relieve financial stress—one of the major causes of tension in service members’ relationships—and it can improve the lives of entire families. For some, it can even be the difference between homelessness and gainful employment in a fulfilling career.

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It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed.

In addition, through BetterMoneyHabits.com —a financial education resource that Bank of America developed with education innovator Sal Khan and Khan Academy—we recently launched new content specifically geared toward veterans and military families. The new content offers transitioning service members guidance on issues like navigating the complexities of the GI Bill, a tutorial on how VA home loans work and a primer on buying a car.  The publication Military Times partnered with us to discuss these topics along with financial readiness as part of a free webinar available online.

It has never been more urgent to ensure our community’s veterans have the financial education they need to succeed. More importantly, as citizens and members of the community, we each have a responsibility to use our unique skills and gifts to help unlock the potential of the veterans and military families we encounter every day. We do this through financial literacy. How can your company help grow the skills and strengths of our nation’s veterans?

Bank of America has been a steadfast supporter of Operation Homefront programs and events across the country, such as our Back-to-School Brigade and the Holiday Toy Drive programs.   We look forward to continuing to work with them to build strong, stable and secure military families.

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What an exciting time. Last week, we celebrated the 500th family to find that special place to call home thanks to our Homes on the Homefront program and our partners Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Meritage Homes.

IMG959296Moving around is part of military life. Blooming where you are planted becomes a way of life. But when service to country is coming to a close, many families begin to dream of planting roots and creating their forever home.

Last Friday, the dream came true for Andrew and his family after years of uncertainty.

Andrew, a Navy veteran, deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and served one year in combat. In 2014, he was honorably discharged and suffers from post-traumatic stress. Since their transition into civilian life, the family has moved three times. It has been unpleasant and unstable for Andrew and his family. Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Andrew, who was raised in Atlanta, received a mortgage-free home in Bethlehem, Georgia.

Andrew and his family have come home.

BethlehemGAhomeEach family we have been honored to meet and support through our Homes on the Homefront program is unique. They were born and raised in large cities and small towns. Many have served in combat and still carry the seen and unseen wounds of war. What they share in common is the call to serve and then find their place when that service is over.

At Friday’s ceremony, Chief Operating Officer Robert Thomas spoke of the driving force behind the Homes on the Homefront program. “At Operation Homefront, we believe that owning a home is part of the American dream,” said Thomas. “After helping to secure the freedoms all Americans enjoy, we want to help our service members and their families realize their own American dreams.”

“We want to thank Operation Homefront and Chase for this opportunity,” said Andrew. “I wanted to do this for my wife because she moved around the country and dealt with my military enlistment. I thank them for making this possible, providing a stable home, and that we don’t have to worry about making the next rent payment – now we have a roof over our head.”

Those of us who work in the military and veteran community are acutely aware that stability and strong social support when transitioning out of the military can make a difference and help avoid the roadblocks and challenges that contribute to the still concerning number of homeless veterans. Today, more than 500 families are making memories and providing stable and secure futures for themselves in every state in America.

Total HOTH Homes Jan 2016

Along with our emergency assistance programs that offer assistance with rent and mortgages and our transitional housing at Operation Homefront Villages, the Homes on the Homefront program is having a life-changing impact for these families at a critical time.

And that is a reason to celebrate.

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View more pictures from the event.

Part of the American dream always has been owning a home. After helping to secure the freedoms all Americans enjoy, we want to help our warriors and their families realize their own American dreams. Through a partnership with Chase, Bank of American and Wells Fargo, Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program awards mortgage-free homes to veteran and military families.  Click here to view a list of currently available homes.

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Military families learn early on that home is where the heart is, as they move across the country, or across the sea, and back again.

They learn that their foundation is not made of cement but it is built upon memories with other military families they cross paths with along the way. Most agree that, while it’s a great experience to see other states and cultures, it’s nice when you can finally settle in one place and put down some roots.

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U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Brian Lynch and his family were recently awarded a mortgage-free from Chase, through our Homes on the Homefront program.

Our Homes on the Homefront program gives military and veteran families a chance to do that. Since 2012, we’ve awarded more than 400 homes to military and veteran families. Whether the key is handed over at a ceremony with VIPs and celebrities in attendance, or whether it’s a quiet event with a few pictures at the front doorstep, the impact is still huge.

These families, who have sacrificed so much in their lives, are now living mortgage-free.

That means that the dollars that were once used for rent can go to earning a degree or can be put away so a child can go to college later. It means they can pay off a car faster…or buy a newer one. It means that they have more freedom, choices and control over their future.

For one family, it means they can pay their medical bills.

U.S. Army National Guard Sergeant Brian Lynch joined the National Guard because he knew it would help him grow as an individual and add discipline to his life. In 2008, he enlisted in his hometown of Rockford, Minnesota and recently reenlisted for another seven years. In 2013, he served a tour in Afghanistan.

Brian married his childhood sweetheart, Michelle, and they have two children. Michelle has needed multiple surgeries due to a medical issue she was born with. Their finances have been stretched under the weight of significant medical expenses and monthly rent.

While they’ve tried to set aside money for a home, it hasn’t been enough. Brian heard about the Homes on Homefront program and applied for a home that was near his family.

Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Brian was awarded a mortgage-free home in Zimmerman, Minnesota.

“It means the world to us,” said Brian, “now we don’t have to move from place to place.” He is looking forward to watching his kids grow up. He and Michelle have relatives living nearby and look forward to spending the holidays together.

“I would like to say thanks and that we are very grateful,” added Brian. “I was gone for a year, but now if I go again, my family is able to do things without me being there.”

They can now settle in and place their heart and their home in one spot.

eckrich-operation-homefront-cmt-hot-20-countdown-randy-houserThe Lynch family were featured on the CMT Hot 20 Countdown episode today. As part of their home giveaway surprise at Country Thunder in late July, they got to meet country music star Randy Houser, enjoy a great cookout with Eckrich and learn that they were also going to receive free groceries for a year from Walmart.

To find out more about our Homes on the Homefront program and see available homes across the U.S., go to www.homesonthehomefront.org. Thanks to our partners Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Meritage Homes for donating homes to this program.

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HOTH_home_CallForEntriesAlbanyGAThrough our Homes on the Homefront program, mortgage-free homes, like this one in Albany, GA, are currently open for application. We also currently have open homes in CA, CT, FL, IL, MD and TX. While we don’t know when homes will open in  a particular state, if you are eligible and fill out an application, you will be notified via email when new homes open for application. Find out more at www.homesonthehomefront.org.

In addition, three of the homes come to us from our friends at Meritage Homes who have renewed their partnership with Operation Homefront to provide three more brand new Meritage homes to the Homes on the Homefront program.

Meritage Homes plans to build and donate a home in each of the following three Meritage communities: Winter Springs, Florida; Lincoln, California; and Houston, Texas. Find out more about our amazing partnership and how to apply.

In order to qualify for the Homes on the Homefront Program, the following requirements must be met:

— Must have an honorable discharge if a Veteran. This includes dual Military/Veteran couples; each Military Veteran must have an honorable discharge in order to qualify for the program.

— Cannot be a current home owner or mortgage holder. This includes any household member that would be residing in the home.

— Cannot have a felony criminal conviction. This includes all adult household members that would  reside in the home.

— Must have supporting documentation such as proof of income, VA paperwork, DD214 (member 2, 4, 7 or 8), Military ID and or government issued picture ID in order to process your application.

— If you or a member of your immediate family (parents, spouse etc.) are employed by Chase, Wells Fargo, or Bank of America you may not be eligible for homes donated by that banking institution, and we ask for full disclosure of the employment in that case.

And stay tuned… for the first time, we’ll have a residence in the Aloha State very soon!

 

 

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mantheveteransblogAs we near the end of our 11 stories series, we meet a wounded warrior who focused on gaining stability for himself and his family. That quest took him all over the world and eventually back home to Wisconsin.

Army Specialist Ben Manthe was born and raised in Spencer, Wis. He always wanted to do something bigger with his life. He wanted to make a difference. Ben went to college right after high school and got a degree. He was working in his degree field, but was not really enjoying what he was doing. He wanted to do something that he felt mattered.

He and his wife Kristal also had two children to provide for, so they were looking for more stability in pay and benefits. One evening the couple was watching television when an Army commercial came on. Ben and Kristal each looked at each other and the discussion began. Shortly after that evening in 2010, Ben enlisted in the Army.

Ben was stationed at Ft. Polk, La. and deployed to Afghanistan. While deployed, he suffered multiple injuries that would lead to his medical retirement. The injuries would also land him in San Antonio, Texas for treatment and recovery. He and Kristal have made the best of their time in the city, but missed being close to friends and family. Kristal was from a small town called Seymour, Wis., about two hours away from Ben’s hometown.

Early in 2013, the family heard about Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program and immediately applied for a mortgage-free home in Kenosha, Wis. A few months later, the couple received word that they would be awarded the home, enabling them to move closer to family and their support system as  Ben made his transition from the military.

“We weren’t having the most secure time financially, and Ben’s joining the Army became a great help to us,” said Kristal. “It was a stable life and stability is such an important thing. When that stability is taken from you, it can be very tough. “

“I am still pinching myself to wake up from this dream,” said Ben. “I am at a loss for words. This is going to help us so much to put down roots and recreate that stability for our family. We are very excited to actually have a place to call home.”

To date, our Homes on the Homefront program has matched more than 200 homes with very deserving veteran families. And there are nearly 100 more homes in process. We are grateful to have partners like Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and recently, Meritage Homes, who join us in awarding mortgage-free homes to veterans.

Join in the conversation with us as we celebrate those veterans among us, by sharing stories of your own. Through Facebook or Twitter, please use the hashtag #11days11stories to share your own inspirational story of a veteran in your life.

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marknewberry-airforceMark Newberry, Air Force

Mark moved for the 10th time, from Virginia to Washington state, the summer before his senior year.  He carries a 4.25 GPA with a course load of Advanced Placement statistics, anatomy, physiology, European history and literature.   Mark earned three varsity letters in cross-country and placed third with his team at the state championship.  He earned the prestigious rank of Eagle in Boy Scouts at just 13 years old.  Mark teaches Sunday school, visits shut-ins every other weekend and volunteers at the local VA thrift store and elderly village.  His school principal, John McSmith wrote, “Mark is a person of character who always does the right thing.  He is thoughtful and considerate to everyone, willing to help and work for the success of the team.”  He participated in the Duke University TIP Program for clinical psychology and shadowed a surgeon for 20 hours for his senior honors project, all in pursuit of a career in medicine.  Mark will study pre-med and has been accepted to the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Michigan and Baylor University and awaiting to hear back from Air Force ROTC and a few other universities.  He is the son of Jill and Brian Newberry.

nicolemariedaly-armyNicole Marie Daly, Army

Nicole, age 16, has moved 9 times and so far, attended 3 high schools.  Despite these constant changes, Nicole is ranked near the top of her class with a 4.7 GPA, a weighted score based on her coursework of Honors and Advanced Placement classes.  She has earned varsity letters in both cross-country and track, and runs half-marathons with her father.  Nicole served as the Military Child Education Representative for Fort Lee on a panel determining ways to help military children transition between schools.  Nicole also volunteers with a Family Readiness Group, the Fort Lee Spouse’s Club, and spends weekends visiting National Guard and Reserve units to teach soldiers and dependents about their education benefits.  Nicole was nominated by her school counselor, Tara Bauman-Seely, who wrote, “She is truly an example of a well-rounded student and immediately embraced her new environment and involved herself with extra-curricular activities.  She certainly stands out to me as a role model for military students!”  Nicole is the daughter of Cathy and Edward Daly.

amandawimmerberg-coastguardAmanda Wimmersberg, Coast Guard

Amanda is a gifted and talented senior with a 4.0 GPA and is captain of the varsity soccer team and track team.  She is a member of the Peer Leadership program which helps freshman acclimate to their new school by providing an older student to talk to about problems and make sure they aren’t getting bullied.  Amanda was the Teen Panel member of the Military Family Action Planning Committee and volunteers with her soccer team, student council and National Honor Society to organize beach cleanups and fundraisers.  She conducts senior citizen home visits with her church youth group.  Amanda is Red Cross CPR and First Aid certified and works as a lifeguard at the local community college.  Amanda was nominated by her school counselor, Kelly Reising, who wrote, “Frequent moves have always been a part of her life and so Amanda adapted quickly to her new environment. From the beginning, it was clear that Amanda was resilient, hard-working and intelligent.”  Amanda will begin college at the University of Central Florida where she will study to be a physical therapist.  Amanda is the daughter of Christina and Richard Schultz.

abigailmaryroseperdew-marinecorpsAbigail MaryRose Perdew, Marine Corps

Abigail is student council president and captain of the cross-country team and track and field team.  She carries a 4.1 GPA as a full International Baccalaureate (IB) senior with advanced placement courses in economics, calculus, European history and physics.  She has volunteered over 200 hours this year including math tutoring and as president of Student 2 Student, has grown the outreach of this group which helps new students acclimate to their new school and host country culture.  Linda Berger, the IB Coordinator for Bahrain School, wrote, “In my nearly thirty years as a secondary school educator, I regard Abigail as one of my top students.  She is intelligent, talented, highly motivated and positive.”    Abigail has earned an appointment to the United States Naval Academy and plans to study development economics and Arabic.  She would like to work as an attaché or Foreign Area Officer and in the long term, as a diplomat or run for public office.  Abigail is the daughter of Jessica and Jason Perdew.

alexanderrayburch-navyAlexander Ray Burch, Navy

Born at 25 weeks and 1.5lbs, Alexander Ray Burch was not expected to survive the night.  He pulled through but at age four, doctors discovered he was hearing impaired and would continue to lose his hearing with age.  Instead of limiting him, Alexander excels in doing for others.  While living in Guam, then nine-year old Alexander collected food and water and delivered supplies to villagers who lost their homes in a devastating typhoon.  Since then, he has grown into an honors student and chess enthusiast who immerses himself in volunteering, over 400 hours this past year including producing a video for an Anti-Bullying Campaign.  He is a member of the golf team and on homecoming court.  Dawn Thompson, Director of Youth Programs at Grand Forks Air Force Base wrote, “There is nothing he will not do and ‘no’ does not appear to be in his vocabulary.  He is an inspiration for all kids and many adults.”  While his hearing disability prevents Alexander from pursuing his dream of a Navy career, he plans to study at the University of North Dakota for a career in government supporting the military.  Alexander is the son of Joanne and David Burch.

United Technologies Corporation (UTC) is the presenting sponsor for the Military Child of the Year® Award. UTC, based in Hartford, Conn., is a diversified company that provides high technology products and services to the building and aerospace industries.

Additional event sponsors include: Wounded Warrior ProjectMilitary Times, Soldiers’ AngelsVeterans United FoundationBank of AmericaExpress ScriptsTeenCentralLaQuinta Inn & HotelsFlextronics, and Northrop Grumman.

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A military family writes openly about their move into their new mortgage-free home in Macon, GA, provided by our Homes on the Homefront program. The following includes excerpts from their blog Biddle Buzz. You can read the full version here. At Operation Homefront, we are proud to partner with Chase, Tim McGraw, American Signature Furniture and Tyson to make the American dream of owning a home come true for so many military families, like the Biddle family.

As we pulled onto our new street, camera men from CNN were at our house and filming every move from us parking, to getting out of our vehicles, to us walking through the house. The Biddles in front of their new home with Andrea Kephart from Operation Homefront.

When we pulled up, to say emotions flew everywhere would be an understatement. Our house is bigger than it looks in photos. It is GORGEOUS inside and out! We finally all have room to live and be ourselves. Our girls have their own rooms!!! That alone is AMAZING.

As soon as we pulled up to our house, I instantly felt overpowered by emotions and became very shaky as I got out of the car and walked to the yard. Of course, as soon as I was standing in front of our house I started with some tears. I actually did very well in containing myself as we walked through.

This whole experience has been above and beyond amazing. Quite honestly, it still a bit surreal and we are trying to process things and adjust. Andrea from Operation Homefront, Rusty from Chase, Joe and American Signature, Tim McGraw, our contractors and everyone else that has been involved in this amazing experience, we cannot say Thank You enough. Truthfully, saying thank you doesn’t seem sufficient enough. There is no way to repay all that we have been blessed with.

We talked outside for a few minutes then entered our house for the tour… WOW! As we entered the house, there was a plant in the foyer (yes, I have actually been watering it!).  As we walked up the stairs, Andrea grabbed my hand and told us we had to close our eyes because we would love what is at the top of the steps.

When she told us to open them, we were in awe. Our bedroom greets anyone that goes upstairs with french doors and a big room. We walked into our room and just stood there in shock.The Biddles master bedroom.

From there we looked at the kids rooms, which they had already claimed.

Some of our furniture came from American Signature in Lithonia, GA. (They) sent us a voucher to furnish some of our house. Ask for the manager, Joe Lane and tell him we sent you. No, we do not get any type of reward/incentive for sending you. We just REALLY love the store and the people in it. We could not have asked for a better company and people!

When we walked into the store, we were warmly greeted by a group of people that work there and were expecting us. Joe walked out with flowers. They led us to the office area, where there was a table set up with fruits, juice, coffee, and breakfast type pastries. Following the time in the office, we all headed out to look at the furniture. I think everyone took off in different directions during this time! Joe headed out with me and helped me find things that fit our house perfectly! We managed to find all that we need to fill our house and absolutely LOVE every piece of furniture.

Joe Lane, manager of the American Signature Furniture store in Lithonia, GA welcomes the Biddles’ son to the store.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank each and every one of you that have played a part in this journey and made dreams come true. You are bringing hope back to combat veterans and their families and giving them a “reason” again. You are enabling us and families like us to give back in ways that we couldn’t before without the stresses that many of us face. Not only can we now give back more, but this also gives us the opportunity to focus more on Kevin’s injuries and find more stability in life for him, it allows each of us to have better medical care. It allows Kevin and I to do more for and with our children that before we couldn’t. Such as taking a day and allowing them to see the ocean for the very first time just days after moving in. It allows us to find who we are now in life and for that one thing and everything else we are forever grateful for this.

For the first time I feel like a weight has been lifted off of us and that things are finally beginning to look up. For years now, we have had so many obstacles thrown our way and we have fought so many battles to overcome them, together. With this positive turn, we can now look forward to our future.

Thank you family and friends for supporting us and standing beside us before the move, during, and now as we slowly transition.

The beautiful home provided, mortgage-free, to the Biddle family as part of Operation Homefront’s Homes on the Homefront program.

We also want to thank Tyson who joined us recently and is providing a year’s supply of Tyson products to families, including the Biddles, who receive homes through our Homes on the Homefront program. In addition, Bank of America and Wells Fargo have also started providing homes and support to our program and we are deeply grateful.

As part of the giveaway experience, the Biddles got to meet Tim McGraw and hear him in concert this summer.

As part of their giveaway experience, the Biddles got to meet Tim McGraw and hear him in concert this summer.

All members of the family get comfortable in the new home.

All members of the family get comfortable in the new home.

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