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Posts Tagged ‘veterans’

mason-on-deck

The Masons were one of 750 military families invited to attend “Honor. Family. Fun.” hosted by Carnival Cruise Lines in New York City. The event featured a special concert by Carrie Underwood and a naming ceremony for the newest ship in their fleet, the Carnival Vista. See more pictures here

Shay Mason served in the military as an Army Counterintelligence Agent and as a Russian linguist…and then she completed her active duty service in 1989.

Shay met Gary while at Howard University and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Print Journalism. They fell in love, got married and then Gary decided to join the military.

Gary enlisted in the Army for a number of reasons: a better life, travel, opportunity, future stability for his family, and to serve his country. Shay and Gary agreed that Gary would serve, hoping to make the Army a career. During his years of service, they welcomed four children into their family.

As an infantry officer, Gary was deployed three times to the Middle East. His first deployment was to Iraq in 2008. His second and third were to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. The last two missions were Special Forces and after serving for fifteen years, Gary had to retire in 2015.

He medically retired with an honorable discharge due to injuries he sustained from his last deployment. He suffered from back and ankle injuries and battles the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shay became his full-time primary caregiver.

While Gary was transitioning out of the military, the condominium they were renting received serious water damage that made it uninhabitable. They had no place to call home and were forced to stay at a local hotel. Their financial situation became dire, causing additional stress for the family of six.

While living at a local hotel, they heard about Operation Homefront Villages and the rent-free transitional housing program in Gaithersburg, Maryland. They applied and were accepted and still currently reside there.

The Village provides them with a furnished apartment with all rent and utilities covered. In addition, families who stay at the Village get financial counseling and attend support groups with other wounded veteran families to help them make a successful transition to civilian life.

“Living at Operation Homefront’s Village is an opportunity – a tremendous blessing and stress relief,” said Gary. “We can save money, repair our credit, and restablize our children and focus on getting healthier as a family.”

So far, as a result of being at the Village, they have saved $14,000, and paid off $6,000 in debt.

The Masons are definitely on their way to a strong, stable future. Two of their kids are attending college and the two younger children are doing well in their respective schools.

“We have had a great time living there, there are other military families living at the Village and we bonded,” said Gary. “We are in communication with them and we hang out. There is a sense of community and it makes it easy for us…there is so much veteran support.”

Gary and Shay have started a family business to create media support kits. They will use these to help other military families navigate the unique challenges of military life, using their past experience to benefit others.

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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walmartblog1

By Emily Schmid
Director, Walmart Digital Communications
November 11, 2016
(reprinted with permission. Original article can be found here.)

Twelve years ago, Michael del Rosario was a Captain in the U.S. Army looking to make the transition back to civilian life. He loved the military, but wanted to focus on starting a new chapter with his family.

An officer with years of experience, Michael had no shortage of job prospects in the private sector and it wasn’t long before he had a decision to make. But after a series of interviews with Walmart, Michael knew he had found the perfect place.

So in 2004, Michael began his new career as an Operations Manager in Tobyhannah, Pennsylvania. It was a big change at first, but the support from his fellow associates helped.

“There were some prior service veterans that I had the good fortune to be reporting to, and they would sit down with me and make me feel that I had all the time in the world to talk about any of the struggles that we all have,” he said.

Drawing on his military leadership experience, Michael brought a unique perspective to his new role. Today, he is General Transportation Manager at a Walmart distribution center in Woodland, Pennsylvania, where he oversees everything from maintenance of vehicles to the safety department that ensures the well-being of his team.

Once he finally felt established in his new life as a private citizen, Michael started thinking about how to give back.

“I figured it was my turn to reach backwards and pull somebody else up,” he said.

So he volunteered to join the Walmart Foundation State Advisory Council, which is comprised of managers across each state who help support local communities. Once onboard, he noticed that despite the strong veteran presence in Pennsylvania, no veterans’ organizations were applying for grants. That’s when he found Operation Homefront, an organization that provides financial assistance to military families and veterans.

He brought the organization to the council’s attention, and soon Michael was off to deliver a check himself. He and the organization’s regional director instantly connected over their shared passion. So well, in fact, that before he left that day, the director asked Michael to join Operation Homefront’s advisory board.

Ever since, Michael has made it his mission to make a difference in the lives of military families. Last year, Michael received the Walmart Logistics Community Champion Award for his work with Operation Homefront, which under his leadership, coordinated the efforts of more than 170 volunteers, 6,500 volunteer hours, and fundraising efforts that raised more than $350,000 for veterans in 2015.

Through his work with Operation Homefront, Michael also began working with Penn State University’s Military Appreciation Committee. Together they organize events like Seats for Service Members, which donates free Penn State football tickets to military families. Every year at a Military Appreciation Day football game, Michael assembles the volunteer forces of Operation Homefront, Walmart, and Penn State to throw a massive cookout for current and active service members and their families.

Earlier this month, 500 Walmart volunteers converged on State College to serve food to nearly 10,000 military families before the game.

“It’s just great to be able to show them that we have their backs, and that we haven’t forgotten what they’ve been through, and most of all, that we truly appreciate what they’ve done for our country,” he said.

Michael has received multiple honors for his support for veterans, but he’ll be the first to tell you that the recognition is the result of the teamwork from his fellow Walmart volunteers.

“It’s not just me,” he insisted. “It’s the teammates I’ve got around me.”

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Former Marine Sayku Dudley describes his childhood in Atlanta, Georgia, as rough. As a kid, Sayku was motivated to find a better life for himself.

Sayku started going to softball games and barbeques hosted by local military recruiters and became good friends with one of them.

“As things became worse in my environment,” said Sayku, “I decided to … join the military. As I was deciding which branch of service to go into, I thought the Marines looked the toughest and the fittest. I went into the Marines because I wanted to look like that guy who stood out from the rest.”

dudleyAfter basic training at Paris Island, South Carolina, Sayku was stationed at Twenty-nine Palms, the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California.  He spent time in Japan and Mexico before returning to Atlanta to join the Marine Reserves.

After 9/11, Sayku deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.  “I was almost killed,” said Sayku. “But I recovered.” Eventually he came back to Georgia. “My career was cut short at the end,” said Sayku. “I am fighting for medical retirement. I have had multiple personal problems. I have lost stripes. Since 2009, I have been going through the storm of my life.”

Sayku struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. His financial situation was bleak and he faced having his lights and utilities shut off. He first turned to Wounded Warrior Project for help, and in turn, they referred him to Operation Homefront.  Operation Homefront was able to provide   the financial assistance he needed during a difficult financial time.

Sakyu request was just one of over 1,700 military families we’ve helped so far this year, and one of 11,000 since our inception in 2012.  89.4% of our 2016 clients surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that OH’s Emergency Assistance Program helps build strong, stable, and secure military families.

Sayku is thankful that things are better now than they were last year. “I was in a mental state that I didn’t know I was in or how to get out. After I left the military, I had problems and haven’t been able to do. This is not where I ever thought I would be.”

To those who donate to OH, Sayku said, “There are not a lot of words. I would rather do than say. I am so very thankful. I am glad that you (OH) was able to help me. Asking for help really checks your pride. I am very thankful for the help, and I am on a new path and thanks to you I can do for now. I definitely know what it’s like to not have. It’s very humbling to be where I am.”

Sayku recently began work at Home Depot part-time. “I haven’t been in the work world for a while,” said Sayku. “This is a new start. I have been on a rocky road filled with debts and family problems. But now I am in a different place and keep remembering how far I came. I am starting over new. This time I am going to succeed either by working multiple jobs or going back to school.”

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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hector-perez-alternate-picHector Perez is a California native – growing up just a few miles from Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. Like many young men and women, Hector was compelled to serve after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

With the influence of a high school recruiter, he enlisted in the Marines in 2002.

During his service, Hector deployed to the middle east many times. While in Afganistan, Perez recalls how a road side bomb detonated and hit his vehicle.

Hector was injured severely. “Spinal cord injuries, neural damage to my left leg and left eye, and some TBI and PTSD as well,” were all side effects of his accident. He received a Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for all his years of active duty service and, more specifically, for his outstanding service during his four deployments to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan.

No one is prepared for the effects of war, and, like too many of his comrades, these injuries caused Perez to medically retire in 2015.

Soon he was back in California but, this time, things were a little different.

Like many in his situation, Hector was caught off guard and struggled to make ends meet during his transition out of the military. “I had to realize wasn’t going to be able to spend 20 years, a full career, in the Marine Corps,” he said.

Hector heard about the Operation Homefront Villages, that provide rent-free transitional housing, from his recovery care coordinator and applied. He was accepted into the program and moved into the new Operation Homefront Village in San Diego. There, he found relief and a way to get back on track with his life.

“We were able to focus on stabilizing our income,” added Hector. “In addition, we brought our current debt down to a minimum and live in a safe environment with others in the same position and continue care for disabilities.”

While at Village, Hector and his family were able to reduce their total debt by more than $5,000. His wife graduated from college and they were able to establish stability. In addition, the family has been able to put over $15,000 into their savings and on average are able to contribute an additional $2,000 into their savings each month.

“It’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s near all the VA (offices) I need,” said Hector. “Being a part of this community will help our family transition from active duty to retired tremendously.”

We’re glad he’s safe and back home where he belongs.

Meet the Perez family

 

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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devin-peterson-pic-2Yvette Peterson was nervous when she and her husband, Devin, decided to move. They had been living in her hometown of El Paso, Texas, and she had never lived far from her family. However, she and Devin both felt that it was time to move to Devin’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“I was excited to be near his family and near my sister in Raleigh, but I was scared to live so far away from Texas,” Yvette said. “We were all scared. My kids didn’t want to leave their friends.”

On top of the emotional anxieties surrounding the move, Devin and Yvette were really worried about finding a place in Fayetteville once they got there. They were also struggling to meet their hefty car payments, all the while caring for their three children.

Devin served in the Army for nine years and was deployed to Iraq twice. Because of injuries he sustained while he was serving, he was medically retired from the military and no longer works.

With all of this looming over their heads and Devin unable to get a job, Yvette started to do some research. She happened to stumble across Operation Homefront (OH) and the Emergency Assistance Program, which she realized could provide them with some financial help for their move.

While she was going through the process of applying for the financial assistance, she found out about the Homes on the Homefront (HOTH) program. HOTH provides mortgage-free housing to military veterans and their families. She applied for a home in North Carolina. “I was just thinking that there was no way we were going to get this house. There was no way,” he said, laughing.

Much to Devin’s surprise, though, the Peterson’s were awarded the house before they even moved to North Carolina. Knowing that they were going to have a safe and comfortable home to live in once they got to North Carolina helped ease a lot of the stress of moving.

“The move was exciting but it was nerve-wracking at the same time,” Yvette said. “We were really excited that we would be receiving the HOTH home.”

The Peterson’s moved into their HOTH home on October 10, 2013, and have been deeply involved in Operation Homefront ever since. For the past two years, their kids have participated in the Back-to-School Brigade and received school supplies and new backpacks, giving Devin and Yvette a welcome break from the stress of provided for three young children.

Perhaps even more important than the financial relief OH has provided the Peterson’s is the emotional support that Yvette has found among the other military spouses. Last year, Yvette got to attend the Homefront Celebration, which gives military spouses an elegant night out, complete with a nice dinner and a guest speaker. Mainly, though, it gives military spouses the opportunity to get to know one another and to realize that they are not alone. Being a military spouse comes with a wide range of issues and difficulties, so attending this event gave Yvette the chance to make new friends who understand what it means to be married to a veteran.

Yvette has also found a more intimate support system among the women involved in her local Hearts of Valor group, which provides support for the family of injured veterans.

“The ladies in my group are amazing,” she said. “We’re really good friends. We’ll get together outside of the program and go get lunch or just spend time together. We had a couponing trip a couple of weeks ago!”

Just recently, Yvette actually became a peer group facilitator to help give other people the support they need to be a caregiver to an injured veteran.

Both Devin and Yvette know that without the help of Operation Homefront—between the mortgage-free home, the school supplies, and the emotional support—their lives would be very different. Because of that, they always want to give back.

“For me, personally, it’s important to show how grateful I am for receiving our HOTH home, and it’s a lot of fun,” Yvette said.

Yvette and her family volunteer for as many programs and events as they can get involved in. She also brings her oldest child, Amory, along to volunteer with her to instill in her the importance of being grateful and giving back.

“[Volunteering] also shows my kids, especially my oldest, that I give back, you know, not to be selfish, to volunteer your time and energy,” Yvette said.

Amory helps out with picking up school supplies from the local Dollar Trees and stuffing backpacks with the other volunteers for the Back-to-School Brigade.

“[Operation Homefront] is a really good organization that does great things for vets,” Devin said. “We help out with as much as we can. Everything we have we owe to Operation Homefront, so we try our best to give back as much as we can.”

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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michael-figueroa-picIt was a day that shook our country to its core. It also motivated thousands of young American men and women to step forward to serve in the military.

Michael Figueroa is no exception.

Born in Miami, Florida, Michael wanted to make a difference after witnessing the attacks of September 11. He enlisted in the Marines a few years later and served for almost 11 years before his medical retirement.

During his time in the Marine Corps, Figueroa was deployed on two separate occasions to Fallujah, Iraq.  As with many of his fellow veterans, the wounds were not visible and took time to surface. Once back in the United States, Figueroa began to suffer from the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a Traumatic Brain Injury.

It hasn’t been an easy transition for Figueroa and his family. Figueroa’s illness has caused him to be placed in a military medical treatment facility for three separate occasions causing separation from his wife, Melissa, and daughter, Olivia.

“Due to my illness, I was being medically retired prematurely,” said Figueroa. “Also because of my illness, I have cognitive problems and have to rely strongly on my wife.”

Thanks to Operation Homefront, Figueroa and his family were able to be placed in one of our rent-free transitional apartments at the Operation Homefront Village in San Diego. The villages provide a furnished apartment, financial counseling and a network of resident military families to connect with. Being at the Village served to alleviate some of the family’s transitional and financial stress.

“Receiving an apartment helped us relieve the burden of possible homelessness which in turn helps our mental and financial well-being,” said Figueroa. “In periods of extreme stress, my mind cannot handle it at times, so this has helped me and my family keep our mental stability through this transition.”

Michael was able to save $16,000 and reduce his overall debt by $5,000. He and Melissa were able to accomplish several of their financial goals and educational benefits. Their future plans are to move to Oceanside and stay actively involved in the military community. Michael is studying computer science and hopes to finish his degree at Mira Costa College.

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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When Senior Airman Lakisha Williams was living in San Diego, California, with her mom, it seemed to her like everyone in her family was having problems. Lakisha was not where she wanted to be in life .

Lakisha was inspired by family members who had gone before and saw their legacy of military service. Lakisha’s mom, dad, uncle, and several cousins had all served in the military. Their service inspired Lakisha to join the military too and signed up for the Air Force.

During her Air Force career, Lakisha was stationed in San Antonio, Texas, and at F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Lakisha was seriously injured and processed out of the military with a 90 percent rating from the Veterans Administration.

“I was improperly prepared to leave the military,” said Lakisha. “things were rough. The military was the best part of my life. I moved back to San Diego. I ended up being homeless for a time. My life was very sad. I was in a really bad marriage: we ended up divorced.”

lakishawilliams1But Lakisha would not give up. She started working for the local VA and becoming an advocate for other veterans. Eventually, she was offered a new job in Arizona with a significant pay raise. “I had to take the opportunity. The raise was really good and would allow me and my kids to get off assistance.”

But the move was more expensive that Lakisha had planned. She faced unexpected security deposits and advance rent payments. She first called Wounded Warrior Project to see if they could help. She was referred to Operation Homefront.

Thanks  to Operation Homefront, Lakisha and her children have settled  into their new apartment and she’s successfully working at her new job.

“When I was helping veterans to get jobs, it was hard to see veterans having to compromise, lie, or lose everything to qualify for help. I like that Operation Homefront is different and wants to know that you have a plan for the future and can move forward.”

Operation Homefront assists military families during difficult financial times by providing food assistance, auto and home repair, vision care, travel and transportation, moving assistance, essential home items, and rent-free transitional housing for wounded veterans and their families.

“I am so happy that I moved away from San Diego,” said Lakisha. She had to return for a bankruptcy hearing  and she commented, “being back today is a good reminder of why I left the area, and I can’t wait to get back to my home in Arizona.”

“Operation Homefront was able to help me quickly,” said Lakisha. “The help was much appreciated,  and I am really glad that things like this are available. Although there are lots of programs out there, like the VA, they don’t really help to prevent homelessness. Operation Homefront is the middle man—you step in where others can’t.”

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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