This Thanksgiving, Max and Jada Best are thankful for more than just food and family.
The married couple and their 1-year-old son, Avery, and 4-year-old daughter, Ava, are spending the holiday in Fort Worth’s first rent-free, transitional home for military families provided by Operation Homefront.
The home is one of three houses in the metroplex that Operation Homefront purchased through a partnership with Pillsbury Co.
Operation Homefront, founded in 2002, focuses on supporting strong and stable military families. The nonprofit organization created its Transitional Homes for Veterans program in 2018 and has since provided 20 transitional homes to military families, said Gracie Broll, vice president of transitional and permanent housing. The organization is on track to have at least 14 additional homes by 2028.
The nonprofit partnered with Pillsbury in 2019, and the company provided funding to purchase Operation Homefront’s first transitional home, which is located in Georgia. This year, Pillsbury funded the purchase of three transitional homes in Fort Worth, one of which is the Best family’s new home.
Max, 26, and Jada, 25, never thought they would get lucky enough to be selected to live in the home following Max’s honorable discharge from the Navy. They were skeptical, but decided to apply right before the deadline.
“When we finished signing up, we both looked at each other like, ‘None of us ever win anything,’” Max, a petty officer second class, said.
They moved in Oct. 5.
The family is still settling in, Jada said, but it’s amazing to have a brand new home and a sense of stability during the transition to civilian life after Max’s discharge on Oct. 4.
“It’s giving our children something to come home to,” she said. “It’s really amazing right now.”
When Operation Homefront purchases a house for its transitional homes program, the organization expects to have that home for about 15 to 20 years. During that time frame, at least five military families will be cycled through the home, Broll said.
To be selected to live in an Operation Homefront transitional home, families must have had a member honorably discharged from the military within 12 months. The organization also selects families that have a connection to the area where the home is located and are willing to permanently settle down there.
“We want to make sure that we’re putting military families in neighborhoods where they can afford to purchase a home of their own upon program graduation,” Broll said. “Knowing that, Fort Worth is where we are putting most of our homes.”
Because Jada and the children lived in a Fort Worth home during Max’s military service, the family wanted to stay in the area. Jada also has a stable job working as a Hampton Inn manager.
Max said he and Jada were initially drawn to Fort Worth because it was the perfect middle ground between his home state of California and Jada’s native Delaware. But they were also attracted to the friendly residents and growing economy in the area.
Operation Homefront purchases the homes in neighborhoods with good school districts, low crime rates and high employment opportunities conducive to raising a family, Broll said.
“Military kids, they go from place to place to place, and this is all about keeping them strong, stable and secure.”Gracie Broll, vice president of transitional and permanent housing at Operation Homefront
“Military kids, they go from place to place to place, and this is all about keeping them strong, stable and secure. Putting them in the community and letting them put their roots in that community and being able to grow in that community,” she said.
Veterans often face common challenges when re-adjusting to civilian life, such as reconnecting with family and finding structure. Max said the resources provided by Operation Homefront in addition to the obvious boon of the home, made that adjustment much easier for him.
Common challenges during re-adjustment to civilian life
- Relating to people who do not know or understand what military personnel have experienced
- Reconnecting with family and re-establishing a role in the family
- Joining or creating a community
- Preparing to enter the workforce
- Returning to a job
- Creating structure
- Adjusting to providing basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing
- Adjusting to a different pace of life and work
- Establishing benefits and services previously provided by the military
Operation Homefront usually gives military families two to three years to stay in their transitional home as they become financially stable and secure employment, Broll said. During that time, Operation Homefront provides them financial counseling and helps connect the military member and their spouse with jobs in career fields that they’re interested in. To do this, the organization partners with Hire Heroes USA, a California-based nonprofit dedicated to helping military members, veterans and their spouses find careers.
Broll said it’s important to help veterans find jobs because they sometimes struggle to re-enter the workforce after leaving the military. As of Nov. 5, the veteran unemployment rate was 4.2%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
With his military background, Max said, he’s interested in pursuing work in local government. He’s currently applying for jobs but hasn’t nailed down any concrete plans yet.
In the meantime, the Best family plans to host a small Thanksgiving party with close friends and family. This will be their third Thanksgiving spent together as a family, but they’re looking forward to celebrating this one in their own home with space to entertain.
They’re also already looking ahead to December, as this will be their first Christmas spent together as a family. During previous years, Max was on duty, and Jada had to visit him on the military base.
As they settle into their new home and continue learning about the different resources available to veterans and their families, Jada and Max plan to continue referring all their military friends to Operation Homefront. They said it’s important to them to promote the organization, knowing what a difference it can make in a military family’s life.
Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.