Riley Oakes served in the United States Marines four years before he was medically discharged for a rare skin disease in February.
Oakes and his family were left scrambling with only seven days to pack, find a home to live in and move from San Diego to Texas.
“COVID-19 kind of had the medical so backed up. One day, the flood gates opened up and all these cases started pouring out,” Oakes said. “I was called and told that I needed to be packing my house up as we spoke.”
Oakes, his wife, Kourtney Oakes, and their 2-year-old son Austin Oakes received a “transitional home” in Crowley in mid-February and will live rent-free thanks to Operation Homefront, a San Antonio-founded non-profit organization that helps medically discharged veterans and their families readjust to civilian life.
The Oakes family is expecting a newborn in August.
“It’s great for our family. We have a two-year-old son right now and then we have another one on the way in August, so not only are we growing as a family, but my grandparents live five minutes down the road in the same builders’ developments,” Oakes said. “We are just ready to be a part of this Texas community again.”
“The transition is so difficult and a lot of the families we work with intended to have a career in the military, so maybe medical retirement or something like that. So, that makes it difficult when you haven’t prepared right?” Erin Burgy, the senior director of integrated public relations at Operation Homefront, said. “The goal is to buy a home when you’re done with the program.”
The Oakes family publicly received a key to the house at a ’Welcome to the Community’ ceremony on April 30. The Oakes home is the third home given to military families in the Metroplex through Operation Homefront’s Transitional Home for Veterans Program.
The program is expected to be two to three years long per family, but may vary depending on the family’s situation, Burgy said.
Candace Jules, the housing caseworker of transitional homes for Operation Homefront, handles the Oakes case. She provides knowledge on the home buying process while helping families work to improve credit scores, pay off debt, start savings and establish community ties.
“Too many military families struggle to realize the dream to own their own home,” Jules said. “I work very closely with the families as they transition to home ownership, preparing them for civilian life, something that is very natural to me as I am also a veteran. Transitioning from military life back into civilian life can be quite challenging.”
Through a partnership between Operation Homefront and Pillsbury, four homes were funded and built for military families. Since the Transitional Home for Veterans Program launched in 2018, Pillbury has donated over $5.5 million to further the nonprofit’s goal of helping military families.
In attendance at the ‘Welcome to the Community’ ceremony was the Best family, the first family to receive a transitional home in the neighborhood — where three transitional homes are located — in mid-2021.
Max Best, a Navy veteran, Jada Best, and two children Avery Best and Ava Best moved into their home a month before the Ajayi family, the second family to receive a home in the neighborhood.
Readjusting to civilian life after being in the armed forces is not easy. Jada Best and her family have been through the struggle.
“The best advice I would give them is to just listen. Take the financial advice,” Jada Best said. “It may seem like a lot at first but honestly it’s helped us a lot. We’re all here to help. It definitely takes a village.”
The Best family received free diapers for three months when they started the program. Max Best works as a code compliance officer for the city of Cedar Hill, and Jada Best works in the hospitality industry. They are in the process of looking for their next home.
The Transitional Home for Veterans Program families live rent free in the homes for about three years. During that time, the families pay a monthly fee that is refunded to them upon “graduation” that can be used for a down payment on a home.
Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email 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.