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The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on many military families. Army Veteran Nicole Walcott and her new business were significantly impacted during this time.

For the past three years, Army veteran Nicole Walcott has been building up her alternative health and wellness business in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The business was born due to a back injury she endured after a Humvee accident as a specialist, while stationed in South Korea. She and her husband, Joshua, had met in basic training, and both were in Korea when the accident occurred. They eventually were stationed in Fayetteville, where both were honorably discharged as service-disabled veterans in 2014.

Joshua became a police officer and Nicole began working in economics, which was her background before entering the service. But after having her two children, she learned that she had degenerative arthritis in her spine, likely the result of the accident. She lived daily with debilitating pain.

She was at a retreat to get yoga teacher certification for first responders when she discovered float therapy.

“I got out of the tank and I told one of the officers who had come with me for the certification ‘I literally was like I have to get this back to Fayetteville. I did research and there was nothing within 90 miles of us and my business brain turns on. As quickly as I could, I got together some of my own capital, I found a private investor and we opened our doors in December of 2017.”

Called Shanti Wellness, Nicole’s business paid for 90 percent of the family’s bills. She was expanding with military contracts and she and her partners planned on adding cryotherapy. But in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused shut-downs of businesses nationwide, especially service-related ones like Shanti Wellness, Nicole’s family was left without the majority of their income.

”Things like this you can’t see coming,” Nicole said. “You can’t prepare for this. We aren’t even three years old. I told my husband I could understand a 30 percent revenue but we were at a 95% revenue drop overnight. It was insane, I couldn’t believe it.”

She read about Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program during a search for grants and loans to help businesses and veterans. She applied for assistance in both April and May. Thanks to generous donors, Operation Homefront was able to help Nicole pay more than $2,100 for food assistance, utilities, and car payments in April. In May, her family received $1,400 for rent assistance.

“We were so thankful because now that those bills were taken care of for April, we didn’t have to worry about how we would pay all these other business bills,” she said. “That’s one of the problems. There’s help for individuals and personal bills, nothing for businesses and business bills and we still have all of that to pay for. Honestly, (Operation Homefront) was the biggest help to us. It was a huge financial burden lifted.”

Nicole said she was worried about being able to keep the utilities on for her business to be able to open in June, if restrictions were lifted. Not having the business is not just a financial burden, but there are all those clients who will be without their pain relief.

The fact that she was able to get the help in funding she needed, spurred her and other small business owners to start a GoFundMe account for owners who could not get help. So far, they have helped raise $500 for two owners. The goal is to make sure all Fayetteville businesses have a shot of staying open, something she sees could be a ripple effect stemming from Operation Homefront helping her business.

“If we survive that’s fantastic,” Nicole said. “But it’s going to be a long road. If we’re the only business standing downtown, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has to make it.”

 


We are grateful to the following partners who support our Critical Financial Assistance program and help military families get through their short-term, financial struggles so they do not become long-term chronic challenges:

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Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient Troy Wesley watched as circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic diminished his family’s income and left him wondering how to stretch the family budget to feed his family of five.

Troy was furloughed from his job as a security guard when the bank where he worked closed its lobby to the public. His wife, LaQuanna, was also furloughed from her job as a police officer in Greenville, Mississippi, because of budget shortfalls after the city’s main business, a casino, was forced to close because of the pandemic.

Troy also had to shutter his barbecue catering business when supplies became unavailable.

The family’s expenses had increased with their three children –a 14-year-old son and 17-year-old twins –home schooling, and Troy stressed about how to stretch his VA disability pay cover all the family’s expenses.

“It was tough times,” he said. “I do everything I can for my family, and it feels bad when I can’t provide.”

In May, Troy applied for Operation Homefront’s Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program, and thanks to generous donors, the family received a $250 gift card to buy food. He felt relieved and thankful.

“I’m grateful for what Operation Homefront has done for me and my family,” he said.

He explained that Operation Homefront (OH) assisted with home-repair expenses three years ago when the family’s home needed a new roof.

Clockwise from bottom left: Troy Wesley; wife LaQuanna; son Tyler Moore, 14; and twins Kaleb and Kalan Lockett, 17.

“My oldest son had passed away, and I was in a dark place at that time,” Troy recalled. “The help from Operation Homefront lifted me.”

Troy joined the Army ROTC when he was in college at Mississippi Valley State University. “A lot of people I admired had served, and I was inspired by the different world they had.”

He served 20 years and worked as a military police commander, earning the rank of major. He was deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2005 in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He earned a Bronze Star for his service there as a commander of soldiers who patrolled 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Troy lives with PTSD and the effects of a leg injury he suffered in Iraq when he was run over by a piece of equipment.

He appreciates Operation Homefront and its donors for honoring and helping service members.

“The help (Operation Homefront) provides is important to my family and all other service members who have served this great country,” he said. “The donors who make this help possible are true patriots.”

 


We are grateful to the following partners who support our Critical Financial Assistance program and help military families get through their short-term, financial struggles so they do not become long-term chronic challenges:

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Response to our 2019 Back-to-School® Brigade program was phenomenal. Read about how we are making a difference in the lives of military families, all thanks to our partners, volunteers and supporters like you:

Nearly 30 minutes before the start of Operation Homefront’s Back-to-School® Brigade (BTSB) event in San Antonio, a line of families started at the gym doors inside a local YMCA and snaked all the way out of the building.

Meanwhile, an army of volunteers, Operation Homefront employees and partners like Chobani and H-E-B made the necessary last-minute checks. The face painters were ready, the photo booth filled with props and more than 500 backpacks were stacked and ready to go.

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

 

Volunteers from H-E-B helped make the day special for military families. Operation Homefront is proud to partner with H-E-B for BTSB as well as our Holiday Meal for Military program.

 

We were excited to host the team from Chobani at our San Antonio BTSB event. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families via Operation Homefront, and also matching donations—up to an additional $250,000!

Once the doors opened, the families filed through the gymnasium, gathering information on various resources from all the different booths and of course picking out a purple, pink, or clear backpack before leaving with smiling faces.

Good times!

 

 

The San Antonio event, which provided 500 backpacks, was one of nearly 100 BTSB events held across the nation throughout the summer. With the help of our corporate partners, donors and legions of volunteers, the events were estimated to provide over 40,000 kids with backpacks.

Sailor Natalie Larenas attended the event for the first time, bringing her two sons, one in fourth grade and the other a freshman in high school.

“I had no idea there would be so much stuff here,” she said. “There was a lot of things the kids could learn about, like PTSD and education resources.”

Having been in the Navy for the past 14 years, Natalie said she appreciates that there are donors who give to Operation Homefront to help military families.

“Thank you!” Natalie said. “The families who serve sacrifice a lot and when there is something like this, we feel appreciated. It’s really nice. I really appreciate this, especially with three kids. I get emotional because I have served so many years and sacrificed time, just being away from my family. That’s why this is so nice. It tells me that we are appreciated too.”

From L-R, clockwise: An OH volunteer and service member at the BTSB event in Colorado Springs, CO; OH CEO John Pray (second from left) volunteers at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN; A soldier fills a backpack at the BTSB event at Camp Murray, Tacoma, WA; A boy gets his face painted at the BTSB event in Clarksville, TN.

Since BTSB began in 2008, more than 375,000 military children have been provided with backpacks filled with supplies, helping them have the tools they need to succeed for the school year. You can see photos from our events on our Flickr page.

Operation Homefront Program Coordinator Rebekah Reyes said the Alamo City event could not have happened without the volunteers and partners. “I want to thank all of our donors and our volunteers who came out to support”,” Rebekah said. “(At the event), we had about 150 volunteers help us from the set up to clean up. They really helped make the event run smoothly.”

Team work makes the dream work.

Cathy Toyoda was one of those volunteers. She’s been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years, currently in the donations department but has helped at several BTSB events.

“You know, military families, most of them, are on a tight budget, and buying school supplies is very costly,” she said. “It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event by giving all the school supplies and the back packs and it’s really wonderful to give them away to people who need them.”

Cathy Toyoda has been volunteering with Operation Homefront for more than two years. It’s wonderful that people donate to this (Back-to-School Brigade) event.”

Talia Farrell was at BTSB for the first time. She and her husband Troy, who is in the Air Force, brought their two kids, Jordan and Jayda, in kindergarten and third grade respectively. She said the kids had a great time and the family was surprised at all the goodies. She hopes to return in the future.

This was Talia’s family’s first time at BTSB. This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.”

“This is a great opportunity for military families,” Talia said. “This is beyond our wildest dreams. We truly appreciate it. This is something we all benefit from and it’s very, very necessary.

Back-to-School Brigade 2019 has concluded, but we have many more opportunities for military families in the coming months. Keep an eye on our events page for when registrations open.  If you would like to get involved as a volunteer, this page has everything you need to get started,

Chobani has been an incredible supporter of Operation Homefront’s mission. Chobani is donating $500,000 to help provide food for veterans and their families. And for every dollar you donate, Chobani will match your donation—up to an additional $250,000.

Finally, a special thanks to our national sponsors, Dollar Tree and SAIC, for their ongoing support of Back-to-School Brigade and many other Operation Homefront programs.

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