Ravin Woodard stood at the corner of the kitchen island and took a quiet moment to herself among the hustle and bustle surrounding her. Her smile never wavered as she looked around the newly-built, three-bedroom, two-bath house.
For Ravin, everything felt a bit unreal.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s like, it feels like it’s mine but at the same time, it doesn’t. I don’t know if that makes sense,” Ravin said, slightly shaking her head. “It’s just, it’s a lot.”
Overwhelming became the word of the day for Ravin and her husband, medically retired Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Woodard, as they toured their new home during a March 26 “Welcome to the Community” ceremony held by Operation Homefront as part of the Transitional Homes for Community Reintegration program.
“It’s really beautiful,” Joshua said about the Katy, Texas house built by Meritage Homes. “I didn’t expect this.”
Through the THCR program, Joshua, Ravin, and their two sons, Elijah, 2, and Samuel, 8 months, will live in the house rent-free for two to three years. The couple will work with financial counselors and caseworkers to build savings, reduce debt, and develop a strong transition plan.
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.
Operation Homefront Chief Operating Officer Brig. Gen. (ret.) Robert Thomas welcomed the Woodard family to the neighborhood.
“You can find the perfect school…find a wonderful job opportunity, but until you have safe, secure housing, none of those dreams can come true,” Bob said as he addressed those who gathered for the event. “Our veterans and their families often feel overwhelmed as they transition out of the military and our program will help ensure their success.”
Joshua said the years he will live in the home align perfectly with his schooling at Houston Community College to become a dental hygienist. Ravin hopes to become a middle school math teacher and is currently taking classes toward an associate degree. Being accepted into the program means they can also strengthen their family bonds, Ravin said.
“It definitely gives us more time to focus, not just on our financial obstacles, (but) on our boys and watching them grow instead of being stressed all the time.”
Joshua had hoped to make the Coast Guard his career after joining in 2011. He had to change his plans after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Following a 2014 surgery, a doctor recommended he see a cardiologist who determined Joshua’s heart was not functioning correctly. The Coast Guard assigned him to light duty and began the medical board process. He medically retired in January.
The couple and their two children were living in a small apartment. The worry about bills became a constant companion, especially after Joshua estimated that they would have about $3 left in their account each month. The fact that the program combines a stable home and provides financial education made it even more appealing, he said. He looks forward to learning how to budget better and to creating a strong foundation to buy their own home in the future.
That kind of support is imperative, said Rufus Guebara III, a veteran career advisor for the Texas Veterans Commission, who was in attendance at the ceremony. It was the first time he had heard about the THCR program.
“I love the whole idea,” he said. “We always look for service organizations that are not giving just a hand out but a hand up.”
Volunteers from Home Depot and HEB, as well as representatives from Meritage Homes, JPMorgan Chase, the Guill Family Foundation, and VFW Honor Guard Post 9182 also attended the event.
As the family walked through the house for the first time, Elijah pushed as many buttons as he could on the new washer and dryer and tried to use the pantry (with shelves completely stocked, courtesy of HEB) as a secret hideaway. And then he saw the backyard.
Elijah, always up for an adventure, heard a dog barking next door, grabbed his dad’s hand and tried to pull him toward the fence. “The backyard is what he was most excited about,” Joshua said. “That’s all he wants to do any time we talk about (our new home.) He finds a rock and he’s happy.”
Though both of their extended families live in Mississippi, they want to stay in the Houston area for the job opportunities and their children’s education. Over the last two years, they have become very involved in their church. Joshua has a brother and sister who live about 45 minutes away and the THCR home will make putting down roots in the community easier.
“It’s absolutely beautiful for sure, all the people who came out (today), it’s just amazing really,” Joshua said. “Most people won’t ever really know what this means to us, it’s beyond what we expected.”