The joy of turning the key and opening the door for the first time to your first home is special.
It’s even more special when more than four dozen relatives, friends and community members come to see you do it.
“It's way more than a blessing,” said Misty Ewing, 31, a former U.S. Army specialist.
Misty and Terance Ewing, 30, received the keys to their new home Sunday afternoon in Saginaw from Operation FINALLY HOME.
The nonprofit organization based out of New Braunfels provides homes and home modifications to America’s military heroes and widows of fallen soldiers. They partnered with Royal Crest Custom Homes and the Eagles View Church, where Terance and Misty are members, to help them move into their first home, free of charge.
But while Misty mingled with guests, showing them around the home with their 10-year-old son, Bruce, Terance couldn’t be found among the crowd.
Quietly, he sat in the bedroom of his 3-year-old daughter, Ivory, with pink and light blue pastel walls and a mid-sized piece of wall art that read, "Love," reading a Disney’s "Little Mermaid" book aloud to her.
“She ran in here and she saw this book and said, ‘Daddy can you read this to me,'” said Terance. “I was like, ‘I could mingle or I could read her this story.’ This is what I do and I’m limited by some of the things I can do with her but I do like to sit down with my daughter or my son and read them stories.”
Terance, a former U.S. Army sergeant and Fort Worth native, served for seven years with two overseas combat tours in Iraq beginning in 2007. In his role as a photographer, he captured war images and witnessed a number of horrific incidents.
He ended up with multiple mental and physical injuries, including PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and knee, neck and spinal injuries. Once he was diagnosed with PTSD in 2015, he decided to leave the Army.
“This is what a father is supposed to do,” said Terance. “And I am still able to do it and I love it.”
Misty walked in the room and smiled when she noticed what was going on. It’s a far cry from the sights she endured while becoming a 10-year veteran in Iraq.
She worked in the Combat Support Hospital in Iraq where she was subjected to a daily barrage of casualties, amputations, severe burns, gunshot wounds and suicides. She also prepared identifying information for deceased soldiers so their families could be notified. Now, she too suffers from PTSD, along with thoracic degenerative disease, Graves’ disease and other ailments.
The couple met in Kuwait during Terance’s first deployment and were married in 2010. Both have received medals for their service to the United States, and now they’ve received a huge helping hand from Operation FINALLY HOME.
Dream coming true?
The road to their new home started inside the VA North Texas Healthcare System building, with help from a Wounded Warrior advocate, according to Misty.
“She gave us a list of programs that we could apply to,” Misty said. “They said it would be six months before we’d hear anything. Six months went by and we didn’t hear anything.”
Around February 2017, the couple thought they had not been selected for the program and were moving forward with trying to get a home of their own.
“We started and just looking is stressful,” said Misty. “If you go to Trulia or Zillow it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh this house is amazing, but look at the price.' Or the neighborhood is bad.”
While they they loved their apartment in east Fort Worth, they really wanted to become homeowners.
“We wanted more time to spend with the kids,” said Misty. “They didn’t want to be cramped up in an apartment anymore. They want to be able to go outside and run around and play and be kids. Instead of Army kids stuck in an apartment, you know.”
Little did they know, the funding and all of the nuts and bolts that go into securing a home were falling into place, according to Ronnie Lyles, a project manager with Operation FINALLY HOME.
“Most of the folks are recommended for a home. Generally it’s about a year from when they do that to what we’re doing today,” Lyles said.
First, Operation FINALLY HOME will find a builder and a lot where a home can be built. Applicants must list their preference of where they want to live, then put together a house plan.
“That not only fits the lot, but also fits the special needs of each veteran that we select,” Lyles said.
Next, they’ll organize five town hall style events to vet out subcontractors and other various details to finalize the funding. The organization, which covers more than 30 states, can on average get a $300,000 home built for about $100,000. Little said that 80 percent of the funding comes through donations, while the other 20 percent comes from corporate sponsors.
The remaining balance for the home is covered by funds directly from the organization.
Now comes the good part, which happened on July 2, 2017.
Operation home delivery
The Ewings had a meeting with their VA social worker, which ended up being the groundbreaking of their home in the Ranch at Eagle Mountain subdivision.
“We’ve never had a dinner table. We never had a back yard. We were in the military and we moved around,” said Terance. “And now not only do we have that; people gave this to us for all the sacrifices that we had to endure and people love and care for us and welcomed us into their community. It’s just amazing to see people giving back in such a grand way.”
And giving back in a grand way might have been a bit of a modest statement.
Rustic-style lighting hung from the vaulted ceilings, plush neutral-colored rugs covered areas of the carpet and four iron-backed bar stools sat perfectly placed around the island countertop in the kitchen.
Terance couldn’t hold back his tears as his family walked through the house for the first time.
“It was overwhelming. I ain’t even gonna lie. I cried,” he said. “It’s so much more to me than a house.”
Misty had picked out a lot of the furnishings, from the lighting to the doorknobs, with the help of her mom and her mother-in-law. But on Sunday it was her first time seeing it all together.
“It was so overwhelming now,” Misty said. “It wasn’t just a few colors to pick from, it was like, ‘Here’s a whole book of colors, now pick one.’ There were tiles and different carpets it was a lot.”
Now, as disabled veterans they spend their days volunteering at Eagles View Church and spending as much time with their children as possible.
“We’re very happy people today,” Misty said. “It’s like a big weight off of our shoulders. It’s more than a blessing.”