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Last year for Mother’s Day, Air Force mom La Toya Wall received four “crazy looking birdhouses” that each of her children made at a Home Depot workshop in Anchorage, Alaska. The workshop was among many La Toya took her kids to on weekends while her husband, Blake Jacob, was deployed to Kuwait during the first half of 2016.

m2h operation homefront mother military WallJacobFam“It actually helped pass the time while he was deployed,” she said. “It put me on a schedule, knowing that they had these events” to occupy Sidney, 11; Khloee, 10; Khodee, 4; and Storee, 3. Blake also has a 9-year-old daughter, Ryleigh, who lives in Arizona with her mother. “It was awesome,” said LaToya, who compared the workshops to Scouting because Home Depot gives the kids aprons, achievement certificates, and patches or pins for their aprons. “It helped out a lot.”

Creative solutions are one of the things La Toya is known for at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where the family has been stationed since 2013. She also wows her friends as a cook, baker, seamstress, decorator and multi-family game night coordinator.

“We’re a nerdy family,” she said. “We have a lot of game nights,” lip synching karaoke battles and Iron-Chef-style competitions, even sending guests home with to-go boxes because she was tired of all her Tupperware disappearing.

La Toya’s family will celebrate her this Mother’s Day — Blake will cook breakfast and dinner, and take the family hiking — for many of the same qualities that military moms across the world are honored, including self-reliance, resilience and a can-do attitude.

“You don’t necessarily depend on other people,” she said. “Moving here has definitely helped me into allowing other people to help. I’m used to just doing things. You don’t just wait for someone to do it for you.”

For her part, La Toya is thankful that the military exposes her and her family to diversity, “getting to meet people from different nationalities and cultures … I love that.”

m2h operation homefront military mom WallJacobFam2La Toya wouldn’t have known about the Home Depot workshops, where she made friends with other families who introduced her to a hiking group, if she hadn’t attended an Operation Homefront Back-to-School Brigade event in 2015. Home Depot, an OH donor, and other organizations that serve military families often provide information at OH events. At BTSB, her children and many others received backpacks filled with money-saving school supplies. “I’m always helping other people, so it was nice to be on the receiving side,” La Toya said. OH has distributed more than 250,000 backpacks to military children since the program began in 2008.

In 2016, La Toya and Blake participated again in BTSB, and also in Holiday Meals for Military at Thanksgiving and the Holiday Toy Drive at Christmas. La Toya particularly enjoyed the social atmosphere, like a church potluck, at the Holiday Toy Drive event, which included a cookie exchange. Each child receives a gift, and Santa is there to take pictures with families, something La Toya had been having trouble finding time to do, especially since Blake had been working nights.

When La Toya first heard about Operation Homefront from a friend, she wondered if it was only for needy families. “I’m pretty sure there’s someone that needs it more than I do,” she said, adding she didn’t want to take away from another family. But after learning more about who can qualify for some Operation Homefront programs, she realized, “This is for everybody.”

The families at the toy drive also received children’s passes to the local indoor waterpark, which La Toya has been putting off visiting because of the expense.

Under the Holiday Meals program, military families receive groceries or gift cards to buy food. The defrayed grocery costs allowed La Toya to buy ingredients to bake extra treats for her daughter’s birthday, which is on Christmas Day. “The day she came, I just couldn’t imagine not having her or any of them. I like the crazy smiles that I get sometimes.”

La Toya comes from a large family, the oldest with 15 siblings, at least seven of whom lived together in Texas. “My [step] mom would have a full household of all of us kids at any given time,” she said. Stressful babysitting and elder care responsibilities for her siblings and grandparents often fell to La Toya before she was 18. Even after she married the first time, she would sometimes travel home to cook Thanksgiving dinner.

“Cooking is the only way I can get everyone together. Food is like my family’s binder.” Over the last several years, La Toya has come to better understand her family’s dynamics, but has also welcomed the opportunity to shift from caring for her extended family to herself and her nuclear family.

“My kids have never really had traditional grandparents, and I have never had traditional parents,” said La Toya, who has not had a relationship with her biological mother since she was 5. “I don’t ever want to miss a moment with my kids,” she said, adding that she volunteers to chaperone almost every field trip.

Her stepmother, as a Jehovah’s Witness, does not celebrate holidays, so La Toya typically would simply call to tell her “I really appreciate that you stepped up when you didn’t have to.”

La Toya has been further shaped by miscarrying a baby at two months, and twins at 6 months, her three “angel babies.”

La Toya and Blake will move their family soon to Colorado, where Blake, a staff sergeant in logistics, will support the Air Force band. La Toya is considering starting a baking business or some other creative line of work, but is concerned making it a profession might take the fun out of hobbies she enjoys. “It’s very therapeutic,” she said of baking.

Their journey will be another adventure, traveling by ferry for four days to Washington and then driving through Idaho and Wyoming. Blake wanted to surprise La Toya because she loves lighthouses and he knew they would see several at ferry stops. But she’s not a fan of surprises, and was resisting taking the ferry, so he told her.

Remembering the two-week drive to Anchorage from Texas, passing through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Canada including the Yukon Territory with three kids and pregnant, and a couple flat tires along the way, La Toya and Blake happily “found out we like being married to each other,” she joked.

It’s Military Appreciation Month! Consider joining us on our Mission2Honor military and veteran families throughout the month of May. No matter how you choose to honor service members and their families, don’t let this month pass by without doing something to show your appreciation.

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teamdepotblog1Mission. It is something that comes up almost immediately when we talk about what we do here at Operation Homefront.

In deeper discussions, many of us in the non-profit community will bring up another word. Calling. Most all of us in the Operation Homefront community have met one or more military or veteran families that have had a profound impact on us individually. Sometimes, fate, or destiny, brings that message home in away that moves us deeply and reminds us that there is a greater purpose to our existence. The time when being in the right place at the right time changed a life.

Last month on our blog, we wrote about how a chance meeting between a weary traveler and a soldier on Thanksgiving Eve led to thousands of holiday meals being distributed to families ever since through our Holiday Meals for Military program. Recently, the right place at the right time for one struggling veteran family was the plumbing aisle of Home Depot in Hiram GA.

A caring employee at the store finds a woman sobbing while surveying plumbing fixtures, clearly at her wit’s end. The employee could have walked on by. But he didn’t. What poured forth from the woman was heart-breaking: her husband was a veteran with severe PTSD and physical injuries. They had four children, one with special needs. She was struggling to handle it all in a home seemingly falling down around them.

teamdepotblog2The “we-help-veterans” ethos in Home Depot stores is imbued in every staff member, so he brought her to the store’s Pro Desk to see what could be done.

Fast forward a few months. Operation Homefront, along with partners Home Depot Foundation and ServPro, came to the rescue to remediate mold, repair rain-damaged drywall, install a new water heater, replace hole-laden and uneven flooring, and install new and working cabinetry.

Together, we were able to make their house not just “livable”, but love-able.

teamdepotblog3These repairs won’t fix everything that troubles this family, true. It doesn’t fix the service member’s health issues. It doesn’t address the special needs of this woman’s fourth child. There is still much ahead for this family to tackle. But now the family has a safe, clean place in which to live so they can move on and up to a stable and secure future.

Thank you to our friends at The Home Depot Foundation for seeing that this family deserved more and making it happen.

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The best gift at the holidays is to be surrounded by family and friends. In many ways, our military is one big family, and we are grateful to have some small part in making the holidays special for them. This year, we were able to bring joy to hundreds of military families at our Holiday Toy Drive and Holiday Meals for Military events across the country.

Like us, we hope that by the end of this blog, you will believe in the magic of Christmas and the spirit of the season and the special ties that bind the military community together:

Things may be humming ‘round the clock at the North Pole, but Santa is a huge fan of our military families, and makes sure to visit as many of our holiday events as he can.’

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We are pretty sure that this was actually Santa who swung by to hang out with our military and our Nevada Field Office.

What a gift it is to be able to feel the joy and wonder of the season through the eyes of children

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Baby’s First Christmas!

 

HTDMississippi

Future Hall of Famer.

 

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Definitely on the nice list.

 

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That moment when a child meets Santa…magic. (picture from PhillyDotCom of our PA/DE/NJ Field Office event)

 

 

Even the big ones

 

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Self proclaimed “toy tester”…riiiiight.

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Aloha!

 

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Gingerbread aprons bring the kid out in all of us.

We’d bet our volunteers would give any veteran elf a run for their money. Along with the joy of meeting so many of our military families, our holiday events give us the opportunity to see up front and personal all of the good in the world. They are the living testament to “be the light or the mirror that reflects it”.

HomeDepotViolsSalem

Team Depot supports our mission in so many ways, and bring the fun whenever they volunteer.

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Terrific group of ladies from Wells Faro who have partnered with us in our Homes on the Homefront program, awarding mortgage free home to our military and veteran families.

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Walmart is contributed cash and in-kind donations worth $250,000 to the 2014 Holiday Meals for Military program and Walmart associates also offered their help to package holiday meal kits. Here, they are visiting with our Carolinas Field Office and soldiers at Ft Bragg

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Who needs snow when you have palm trees and spirit? (w/ our Florida Field Office)

 

Without the support of so many generous supporters throughout the year, we would not be able to have the impact we do on our military families. And as we look forward to 2015, we know that while our mission will continue to be critical for many years to come, with your support, we will always be there to answer the call.

The staff, volunteers and families of Operation Homefront wish you all a holiday season full of light, laughter and love.

 Merry Christmas to all…

And to all, a good night!

All tuckered out in California.

All tuckered out in California.

If you would like to answer the call of our military and their families when they need it the most visit

Answer The Call

or learn about some of the families we are currently helping at

Current Needs

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Stephen Comeau isn’t afraid of a challenge. When he felt the call to service, he chose the Marines because, in his view, they were “the hardest”.

operation-homefront-veteran-comeauHis time with the Marines would call on all of his courage and determination. As part of the First Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Stephen deployed three times. One of those deployments was defined by the Battle of Fallujah, which the U.S. Military called “some of the heaviest urban combat U.S. Marines have been involved in since the Battle of Huế City in Vietnam in 1968.”

Stephen would return stateside and become an instructor of mountain warfare training in California.  After three years as an instructor, he joined another battalion at Twentynine Palms, Calif. and was deployed to Afghanistan and Jordan.

Jordan would be Stephen’s fifth and last deployment.

One day while at work, Stephen was showing someone how to do knots when he could not remember what he was doing. Stephen had been involved in several blast incidents and a Humvee accident over his five deployments. It was determined that he battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and an undiagnosed Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). In June 2013, Stephen was medically retired from the Marine Corps.

Stephen wanted to move somewhere quiet with trees and warm weather. They found what seemed like the “perfect house”, located in a quiet cul de sac in a town in Arizona, and purchased the home. Excited, Melissa and Stephen and their son moved, looking forward to healing and moving forward with life after the military. However, shortly after moving in, they realized the previous owner had remodeled and the downstairs areas had four different types of flooring. Some of the seams in the floor were a hazard for Stephen, who had gait issues as a result of his TBI.

Not long after moving in, Melissa attended a caregiver event in Washington, D.C., and in a conversation with one of our Operation Homefront representatives, learned about programs that help wounded warriors—one of which assisted with home repairs. That meeting was a turning point, as soon after Melissa returned home, Stephen fell and landed on his hip while walking in the downstairs area of their home. Melissa knew something had to be done. They could not afford to fix the floors, and they did not want to move. But Stephen needed to be safe in their home, and something had to be done. She remembered the conversation she had at the caregiver event about our home repair program. Melissa filed an application for assistance with us, which was approved.Vets-Day_blog_icontact

Thanks to the generous support of our partner, Home Depot, we were able to remodel the floors in the Comeau home and make it safe for Stephen. Just as Stephen answered the call to serve his country, Home Depot and Operation Homefront answered the call when he needed help.

Melissa and Stephen now have one less worry as they begin moving forward. Melissa expressed the couple’s thoughts: “Thank you for thinking of the home life and making it safer. I appreciate that someone is out there making the home better for veterans with challenges; people want to stay in their own homes which you recognize. Our home now feels brand new, and it is our dream home.”

Melissa wrote about her experience with Operation Homefront on an Elizabeth Dole blog http://elizabethdolefoundation.org/hiddenheroes-blog/#sthash.WNxqJPRC.i8f0d3iA.dpbs

Learn more about Operation Homefront’s effort to increase support for veterans by visiting www.operationhomefront.net/answerthecall.

 

 

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Still not a Poet Laureate (see Part I of our series-linked),but that’s okay, because still more bloggers have written about their time as ambassadors of cheer with the Home Depot Foundation, Operation Homefront, and some special families who had their homes decked out in holiday cheer as part of Celebration of Service 2012.

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Team Depot with Decor Chick blogger, Emily, and J&R family

With a handle of DécorChick!, you knew our families would be in good hands with blogger Emily Allison.  How incredible is that her time with Celebration of Service, which she calls “life changing” ends with a holiday visit to give back to those who give so much to protect our country?

Who here would be surprised that a military family you came to say “Thank You” to would send you away with homemade hot chocolate and marshmallows as a thank you to you.

We aren’t.  That’s just how they roll, isn’t it?

homedepotinmyownstylePADE

“In My Own Style” blogger Diane Henkler and Home Depot visited with Air Force Captain Marion R. and kids as part of a special Celebration of Service event. (Operation Homefront PA/DE)

I let out a squeal of delight when I saw that the elves made a stop in MY home state of Pennsylvania (If you haven’t had a chance to visit Bethlehem at Christmas Time, put it on your bucket list.  Trust me).

“In My Own Style” blogger Diane Henkler wrote of her visit with Air Force Captain Marion R. and kids , “You are what makes this country and our Military strong”….and we couldn’t agree more.  Marion has been in the service for 27 years, enlisting back in 1985.  She’s also Mom to three amazing kids who understand that sometimes, Mom can’t be there for those special days.

But not this day, and thanks to Diane, the Home Depot Foundation, and our fabulous PA/DE Field Office, they’ll have a wonderful memory to share for years to come.  Check out Diane’s slideshow of her visit.  It is sure to put you in the Christmas spirit.

homedepotlovelycraftyhome2Meanwhile, down in North Carolina, even the family dogs were excited to see “ Lovely Craft Home” blogger  Rachael Evans and the Home Depot/Operation Homefront crew .
Look, doggie kisses:

How timely that they arrived just as the family had returned from a Christmas parade?

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After a whirlwind of lights, ornaments and wreaths, the perfect moment of a family around the tree (including wrangled dogs):

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We’ll be back with Part III and even more stories of giving back to those who give so much to us, our military and veteran families.  In the meantime, check out the incredible initiative and commitment of the Home Depot Foundation to our nations veterans.

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Twas the weeks before Christmas

And all through the land

Home Depot Elves were ready

To give MilFamilies a hand…

Well, I tried…

Instead, let’s hear from some much more erudite folks who joined Team Home Depot over the last couple of weeks as they visited military families and veterans around the country draped in tinsel and garland and spirit galore as part of The Home Depot Foundation’s Celebration of Service 2012.  We hope their stories touch you as much as their visits touched our families.

Deja "was mesmerized by the glittery ornaments and all the lights on the tree"

Deja “was mesmerized by the glittery ornaments and all the lights on the tree”

The best part for Army Wife and author of “The New Normal” blog Kris Ligenfelter of her visit with Army Specialist Shamika Pliars and family? 

“…watching the family together put the finishing touch on the tree…the star at the top. This is always my favorite moment in decorating our tree at home and we have such a tradition surrounding it, so I loved watching this family make their own tradition of placing their star on top.”

You can’t put a price on sharing a moment like that!

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Blogger Stacy Risenmay and kids with the Bennett Family in Utah.

Stacy Risenmay is definitely “Not Just A Housewife”.  She has volunteered with the Home Depot Foundation quite a bit, but was thrilled to hear that a project was coming to her hometown in Utah.   Not only that, but the veteran she was bringing Christmas cheer to?  A high school classmate!  Talk about providence!

You have to head over to her blog to see the cards her sons made for their visit with the “real life soldier”.  Too precious.

Can we get some of these?

Can we get some of these?

We want to know the “Witty Little Secret” behind the Ginger Molasses cookies blogger and military wife Lori Volkman brought with her on the Team Depot visit to SSgt Jimmy McEwing and his family of Vancouver WA.   See the pic? Tell us you don’t want to know either.

Grab some nog and cookies and settle in to hear not just a Christmas story, but a bonus love story too.  Hint: a care package, a note, and destiny.

Come back for Part II and more through next week.  Special thanks to Lori Volkman of Witty Little SecretKris Ligenfelter of The New Normal, and Stacy Risenmay of Not Just a Housewife for your service to our country, to your communities, and to our military and veteran families. You can see more photos from their visits on our Pinterest Board.

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Today I threw caution to the wind. After seeing a really cool Home Depot video, I decided to assemble my own backyard chandelier because I am a big fan of ambience and lighting fires (controlled, of course).

No fingers were harmed during production.

Three primary challenges faced me…my Kindergarten-age son, the inclusion of glass and freshly applied solar nails. In my favor were my 8-year-old daughter (some days she is more responsible than I am) and the assembly was fool-proof (no power tools, hot glue or counted cross-stitch required).

The project was simple…take a hanging planter, some glass jars, twine, a hook and votive candles…do some fancy-schmancy tying and “voila” … an intimate Parisian café in your backyard.

Right Over Left, and a bunny through a hole somewhere

Judges Score: Adorable Factor 10.0, Technical 4.5.

All starts well. However, the plot thickens when my son is unable to tie a simple knot around the jar using the twine. One would think a Kindergartener would know how to tie simple knots. But this is South Texas. Most kids can’t tie their shoes simply because common footwear is either flip flops, cowboy boots or shoes that fasten with Velcro (my son had each of these on at least once today). Asking a young child to tie his shoes here is like expecting a Hawaiian to know how to shovel snow. It’s just not a skill that is practiced frequently.

So, he quickly loses interest and instead focuses on the “clanking” sound made by banging two jars together. Intervention! I quickly suggest he go look for bugs under the deck. The diversion succeeds and my daughter and I continue the work.

I got this Mom!

All goes smoothly until I must slide one end of twine under the piece fastened around the jar. My nails have never been pretty but always functional. But this past week, I splurged for some sparkly solar nails. They look great. But they render my hands useless for fine motor activity (including writing this blog…thank God for grammar and spell check).

So when all is said and done, my daughter takes over and finishes hanging the jars. I might as well go dig for bugs with my son…maybe my bling claws would be useful for that!

It was for a good cause, big guy! #flipflopnation

Ultimately, the chandelier really turns out nice. And the best part…just for posting one of these pictures to the Home Depot Doing  Nation page, they gave a $100 donation to Operation Homefront. If you are so inclined and don’t have solar nails to impede your progress, check out the six DIY projects from Home Depot. Your backyard will benefit and so will Operation Homefront!

And, tonight, we practice tying shoes!

 FYI: Home Depot suggests a hanging planter in their video but you can get creative with this project. I actually bought one of their plant stands and just hung it upside-down. In addition, they sell beautiful, inexpensive globes you can use for lighting. We just happened to use small jars we had on hand. And you can choose real or battery-powered votives. The project in general will cost about $35 – 50 and takes about 45 minutes to complete. Good luck!

Susan Miller is Operation Homefront’s fantastic Director of Online Communications, a Mom, and now a Doing Nation veteran.

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