Four-year-old Jaxon Crouse ran from room to room of his family’s new home pointing out his favorite features.
“Look, the refrigerator has a water thingy!”
“There’s another closet!”
Jaxon, everyone would come to learn, really likes closets.
He and his family were seeing the house for the first time during Operation Homefront’s “Welcome to the Community” ceremony in Helotes, Texas held on Thursday, May 30, as part of the organization’s Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration program.
As part of the program, the Crouse family—retired Army Sgt. Michael, his wife Michelle, and their three children, Jaxon, daughter Penelope, 6, and newborn son Greyson River—will live in the newly built, rent-free house for two to three years as they work with financial counselors and caseworkers to build savings, reduce debt, and develop a strong transition plan so when they leave the program they can buy their own home.
Operation Homefront launched THCR in August 2018. Made possible by a generous investment from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation and support from The Home Depot Foundation and others, the program was designed as a gateway for stability to help veteran families remain strong, stable and secure as they transition from military service. The program will soon have eight properties in five states.
“Housing is a center of gravity,” Operation Homefront Chief Operation Officer and retired Brig. Gen. Bob Thomas thanked donors like Centex Homes, Inc. a division of PulteGroup, and spoke of the importance of stable housing for families leaving the military. “Housing is a center of gravity,” he said. “It is an enabler. We want [the families] to get involved in their community and help ease their transition.”
Having grown up in a military family, this is Michael’s first house that has not been a rental. He is looking forward to learning more about maintaining the property, paying off debt and adding to their savings. He also will be closer to his job at Wells Fargo, although he does hope to switch careers after getting his bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UTSA. Michelle wants to enroll at UTSA after she gets her associate degree in early childhood education. She has been home-schooling Penelope and Jaxon, but they are now signed up in Northside Independent School District.
Last year, the family found themselves scrambling when an unexpected medical diagnosis forced Michael to retire from the Army after nearly 15 years of service. They were told the separation process from the military would take six to eight months and were shocked when after only four months they received notice around the Christmas holiday in 2018 that Michael would no longer be in the military.
Michelle was pregnant with Greyson and the family was worried and anxious. They did not have savings and had not had the opportunity to line up housing. They found relief through Operation Homefront’s transitional housing programs—first moving into the San Antonio Village and then being accepted into the longer-term THCR.
“It’s really life changing,” Michelle said about the programs Operation Homefront’s donors support. “It’s not just about writing a check. You are really changing our family’s lives for the better. And even setting up our children for success because if we’re successful we pass that on to them. And it’s not just debt. It’s very exciting and very touching to us.”
They knew they wanted to come back to the San Antonio area because that is where Michelle was born and raised. Her family attended the ceremony and in true San Antonio fashion, Michelle’s sister Emily brought homemade cookies and their mom, Janie, brought tres leches cake.
Janie and Michelle’s dad Daniel both said they were eager to have their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren closer to them. They live about 15 minutes away from the Helotes house.
“We get to see Greyson as a little baby,” Janie said. “We didn’t see Jaxon or Penelope as newborn babies. I think Penelope was six months and Jaxon maybe three or four months. Now they can have our help and we can babysit.”
“And they can do grandparents day at school,” she added.
As everyone filtered through the house, Penelope caught her brother’s closet-fever and invited her aunts and uncles into the upstairs room she declared as hers. “Look at this closet it’s so big,” she could be heard telling her family. Both Janie and Michelle’s sister Emily joked that with the spacious kitchen and big backyard, it was now Michelle and Michael’s turn to host the family get-togethers and holiday meals. Michelle and Michael were all on board.
“We’re extremely grateful and happy,” Michael added. “We want to thank Operation Homefront and the Clark Foundation. This is an amazing opportunity for us.”
“We can’t wait for everyone to see us in three years; in two to three years and see everything we accomplished,” Michelle added. “We won’t let you all down.”