Episode 383 Bob Thomas Operation Homefront: Strength, Stability, and Secure Futures Transcript

This transcript is from episode 383 with guest Bob Thomas.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today my guest is Robert Thomas. Uh, Robert is a distinguished Air Force veteran and a key member of the Operation Homefront executive team. With nearly 31 years of service in the Air Force, he brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his role in supporting military families through Operation Homefront, uh, to help them build strong, stable, and secure, uh, military families so that they can thrive.

And not just get by, um, we’re going to talk a little bit more about Operation Homefront in just a second here, but first I want to welcome you to the show, uh, Robert, uh, [00:01:00] really glad to have you here.

Robert Thomas: Well, Scott, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, you bet. And, um, you know, first off, uh, you know, I’m, I’m super, uh, impressed with anytime, uh, people hit that 20 year mark, uh, you know, you know, get to that retirement mark and then. You know, I see your, your bio come through and, and 31 years in, in the military. So there’s gotta be some stories there, uh, you know, through your military career.

Uh, can you tell us a little bit about your, your career in the military and some of the experiences and missions that you were involved in during your time, uh, in the air force?

Robert Thomas: Yeah, I did a lot of fun stuff, just like everyone who’s been in the military. Like you said, you know, the guy who’s been in 10 years, the guy who’s been in 20 may have twice as many stories, you know, but, uh, I love my time in the military and to be honest, I would still be in the Air Force if I could, I just got too old and so they said it was time to move on, but you know, I started out, uh, was devastated.

I wanted to fly a fast movers. And ended up in heavies, which I thought was the end of the [00:02:00] world, but I was completely wrong about that. Um, Uh, flying C 141s and then C 5s and tankers, uh, later on. Wonderful mission, wonderful airplanes. Um, and so, uh, back in the Cold War days, while my fighter buddies were still flying around the flagpole and at their training bases, uh, I found myself in 1989, uh, over Panama with the 82nd Airborne Division, I was number six in the assault on General Omar Torrijos International, dropping parachute Paratroopers at 500 feet AGL, which is the minimum, uh, on a combat drop, uh, then went on and, uh, flew quite a few missions in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, um, flew a mission supporting the, the guys in Somalia, uh, in the Balkans, uh, then back, uh, Uh, for Operation Iraqi Freedom, uh, Enduring Freedom, uh, spend some time at the United Nations as the only American officer.

I run an, uh, ops for, uh, the Air Ops for [00:03:00] Peacekeeping Mission Support, uh, but my, uh, best assignment, hands down. Far and away was with the Joint Special Operations Command out of Fort Bragg. I mean, what a great group of men and women, great mission, great leaders, and, uh, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

It was just absolutely fantastic. So, uh, I really was lucky. I had so many So many great experiences. I really enjoyed my time. Every single assignment was fantastic.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, it’s, it sounds like, um, you definitely got to travel the world, see, see a bunch of places. Um, granted maybe sometimes, you know, from the sky, but you got to see some, some, uh, you know, places that, uh, you know, a lot of us probably don’t get the opportunity to see. Um, and, and that’s, that’s pretty cool.

And, and a lot of, uh, important missions that you’re a part of and, um, and help support the, the troops that need to, uh, get from A to B and get. And sometimes you’re, you’re, uh, dropping them [00:04:00] right off, uh, you know, right over the, the, uh, their mission, um, and just drop them right there. So, um, that, that’s pretty, pretty awesome.

Um, now after your military career, you got out, um, you know, unfortunately they, they have those pesky age requirements and they, they, they got you out, right, um, but you transitioned to the executive team of Operation Home Front, which, uh, briefly mentioned in the intro, um, What inspired you to get involved with this organization in particular?

And, and how, um, has your military background kind of influenced the work that you’re doing in supporting the military families through Operation Homefront?

Robert Thomas: Well, uh, you talked about our mission is to help build strong, stable, secure families so they thrive. Not simply struggle to get by, but thrive in those communities, our communities they’ve worked so hard to protect. Um, and the big difference between Operation Homefront and some other, uh, veteran serving organizations is we very much focus on the family.[00:05:00]

Now, mom or dad, or mom and dad, are members of the military, but we serve, we focus on the whole family. And so I came from a military family. My father was an air force pilot. So of course, when I turned 18, I wanted to be like that. And so the mission resonates with me. We serve families. I came from a family.

I was born on a military base, served as long as I could. And then they told me it was time to go. Um, and so in many cases I’m serving with the same. Men and women that I did on active duty. Uh, there was one, uh, airman, former airman that we matched to a home with down in Tampa. Um, I was a wing commander there at MacDill Air Force Base.

Uh, 3, 500 personnel. So there was no way I could have met everyone in the wing, especially because we were all coming and going. I deployed downrange during part of my command time. But, you know, after it was all said and done, he said, you know, uh, He goes, sir, you know, you were my commander when I was at MacDill. [00:06:00] And so I said, well, you know, uh, we’re all veterans now. And, uh, and, and we’re, we’re taking care of each other. So we’re not wearing uniforms anymore, but we still know you’re out there. And, and, uh, and. So the programs that we provide are, I’m really doing the same thing. You know, if you, if you think about what an NCO does or what officers do at various levels, the good ones will always focus on taking care of their people, take care of soldiers, taking care of airmen, sailors.

And so I’ve all, I always did that when I was on active duty. And so now really in a lot of ways, I’m doing exactly what I did when I served on active duty. I’m taking care of, uh, uh, my fellow airmen, soldiers, and we’re just all wearing, uh, civilian clothes. And, you know, every unit, every, uh, squadron, um, has some, a few members that need a little extra help.

They’re going through some really difficult times. I mean, some of the stories I get in this job, I was like, I don’t even know how I would make it. If I was this, [00:07:00] uh, this young person with all these challenges. So we help them get through the difficult spots and off to a brighter future. So, uh, so the, the mission really, uh, hits home with me.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I definitely agree with what you just said there about, Um, you know, here’s some of these stories about folks who are going through tough times and, um, trying to just figure out like, what would I do in that, that situation? And it, it’s heartbreaking sometimes when you hear these stories and, and try to figure out like, how, first off, how do they get there?

And second off, more importantly, I think is how do we help them get out of that place and how do we, how do we get them back on their feet? And again, like you said, not just. Getting by and, you know, kind of muddling, muddling their way through life, but you know, getting, getting past that point and then using that and thriving.

Um, so, so that’s, you know, a great mission that you guys have. Um, and, and you’ve [00:08:00] been, uh, providing all sorts of relief and, and family support programs and things like that. Can you tell us more about like the, uh, the mission, like how, How are you, uh, approaching this? And I know probably each case is going to be a little bit different depending on the needs of the families and things like that, but are there any specific programs and things that you guys have that, um, that, that are in place that, that is how you service the military community?

Robert Thomas: Right. So, uh, you can go to our website, operationhomefront. org. And get their low down on all of our programs and you can apply for the programs right now, it’s one stop shopping. So if you, if, uh, if a listener takes one thing away from today, it would be how to apply for assistance with Operation Homefront.

The majority of the people go to our website to apply for assistance. So we have a couple of flagship programs and, and perhaps our biggest one is our critical financial assistance. So this is where we help, uh, we help, uh, [00:09:00] military families that are just in a tough spot. And, um, there’s a couple of things to know about our program.

Our, first of all, if you can pay your own bills, you should. So if you have an auto repair and you need help with it, and if you haven’t had that unexpected auto repair, you’re going to have one, I mean, sooner or later it comes in, it’s not cheap. So imagine you’re living paycheck to paycheck with no savings.

And then you take your car in and it’s 2, 800 bucks. I mean, that’s tough. So the first thing we do is, uh, it’s all, um, needs based. So we do ask for some financial documents up front. And in that case, if you can pay for your own auto repair, you should, because we want to hold the money back for those military families who just don’t have any other option.

The other thing is all of our programs. Uh, we pay, in this case, we pay, we would pay the mechanic directly. So we don’t pay cash to anyone. So if you need help with your rent, we’re going to pay your landlord. If you need help with your mortgage, we’re going to pay your mortgage servicer. So we, [00:10:00] uh, we don’t exchange cash with any of the people that apply for assistance, with the exception of food cards.

And if you need food assistance, we’ll give you a gift card at the grocery store. Um, and the final thing I’d say is it’s all conditions based. So, um, Eventually, I mean, we can’t be there for indefinitely. So, uh, each, uh, veteran can apply and receive assistance on five applications. Now, uh, each application, you’d have multiple, uh, requests.

So let’s say you’re in between jobs, most Americans, my number one bill every month is rent or mortgage. Okay, so that’s going to be on there. They’ll probably be, uh, utilities are on there. My car payment’s going to be on there. I might need some food assistance. So that one application might have five or six components to it.

But it’s conditional. And the condition’s really pretty straightforward, which is Okay, if, uh, if we provide you this assistance, if you want to come back a second time, you’ve got to take this online budgeting course and [00:11:00] come back with a family budget. You know, a lot of people, they have the ability to support their bills, but they don’t have a budget.

And so we’ll say, and as you come back for the, uh, third, fourth, fifth time, the conditions will start to get a little more stringent. And then on the high end of that, we’ll have you sit down one on one with a certified financial counselor and do the standard financial counselor thing. Hey, let’s get all your bills on the table.

Let’s get all your expenses on the table. Let’s build a plan. So we want to help families get through this time on their own, as opposed to building this, this, uh, a program that, that drives. Dependence, lifelong dependency, because we just can’t be there forever. Um,

Scott DeLuzio: Right.

Robert Thomas: those are the key components of the program.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And I, I like how you guys approach that because, um, you know, in, in that immediate need, uh, situation like that, the, the car repair, like you said, it’s, you know, a few thousand dollars. And if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, [00:12:00] that’s, that’s tough to come up with that money. Um, and when you, you have those sudden needs, it’s like, okay, let’s get you through that.

Tough time right now. Let’s, let’s, let’s get you through that first. Um, and then, you know, hopefully everything’s fine after that. Like, hopefully it’s just a one off case and, and you’re, you’re good to go. Um, but if there’s, there’s the next thing and then the next thing, again, you don’t want to just create that dependency.

You’re, you’re looking to now say, okay. This is more of a recurring problem because it’s not just the one time. Now let’s, let’s try to help you understand where is your money going to? Let’s, let’s get a budget together and, and figure out how to be responsible with the money. Because I mean, sometimes you, you may not even realize that you’re spending money on things that you don’t need to be spending it on.

Um, you know, you have, you know, a. Recurring, you know, Netflix or something like that. And, you know, not that that’s a huge amount, but you might have that going on and you may not even [00:13:00] use it anymore. And it’s like, okay, well, let’s, let’s focus on, you know, uh, you know, eliminating some of those expenses that you don’t need.

Um, and, and there, there may be other things, uh, you know, along the way too, that you, you can probably cut out and, um, you know, just. get a better grip on where your money is going. And then you may not even be in these situations because now you’re in a better place financially, um, where now you don’t need anybody else to help you out with that because you’ve, you’ve, uh, you, you figured out how to responsibly manage that, that money.

So that’s kind of the, I guess the goal right there is to, um, kind of push them in the right direction. Um, yeah, help them out when they need it, but, but get them to the right Um, on the right path with their, their money. Right.

Robert Thomas: Right, we want everyone to be sustainable. And sometimes the conversations get a little tougher, like, hey, maybe you can’t afford to drive a high end car. Or, or, [00:14:00] uh, you know, you just got to come up with a plan that works. And so that’s our critical financial assistance program. We have a whole portfolio of programs.

We have four different housing programs. Housing is a big deal. It’s a big deal for everyone in this country. Certainly, uh, veterans are no different than everyone else. So, uh, we have, uh, uh, various housing programs with slightly different criteria. But the bottom line is we want, To provide safe, stable, and secure housing.

You know, as a military guy, I would say it’s a foundational capability. Right, okay, if you don’t have safe, stable, and secure housing, how can you do all the other things you want to do? You know, how can you go to school and get that degree or technical credential? Uh, how can you get the medical care you and your family need?

How can you get that good job if you don’t know where you’re going to be living? So housing is a big deal. And so we’ve got four programs to help address that. We have, um, recurring family support programs that are focused on our junior enlisted families. So that pay grades E1 to E6. [00:15:00] You know why? Because they got the smallest paychecks, they tend to have young children in the house, and things are very expensive.

And so the programs target times where families are under a lot of financial stress. I just got back from Baltimore at a baby shower. Now you think, okay, baby shower. No, this was a huge thing at the C& O Railway Museum, sponsored by CSX. A hundred moms were there from all across the bases in Maryland. But bringing a new family member on board is expensive.

And so the items that we gave the families are all the new, new mom kind of items, strollers. Playpens, all the, you know, the baby things. And so it’s a way to provide some economic relief to those families. Same with our back to school program. Uh, extremely expensive time for families, especially when you’ve got multiple kids.

Uh, a lot of school districts are cutting back and they’re saying, Okay, you’ve got to Provide all these things that school district used to provide. And so, uh, we partnered with Dollar Tree, [00:16:00] uh, last year. We, uh, our volunteers collected, uh, school supply items provided by shoppers at Dollar Tree. There’s a donation box from over 7, 900 Dollar Tree stores.

We aggregate all the supplies, we get them in a backpack and we get that backpack in the hands of a military kid. If we have any extra supplies, we’ll give them to the local school district or the family readiness center or, uh, FRG, you know, whatever, uh, we just want the supplies to be in the hands of kids.

We don’t want to have to, we don’t want to store anything because that costs money. And then we have a holiday meal program. Uh, we, we, uh, host events all year, but most of our events are around the Thanksgiving timeframe. So we never want a military family who’s worked so hard. To have to make a decision between, am I going to put something under the tree for the kids on Christmas morning?

Are we going to have a little bit of a special meal here around the holidays? So we want to help those junior enlisted families, uh, have the meal, holiday meal that they deserve.

Scott DeLuzio: That, [00:17:00] yeah, that’s definitely a choice that you don’t want any, uh, you don’t want any families to make, but you don’t, especially the military families who are, you know, out there, um, sacrificing so much to protect and defend us, um, you don’t want them to have to, you know, just barely scrape by through the holidays.

That doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth. And, um, you know, it shouldn’t as, as, as Americans, we shouldn’t be looking at that, like, Oh yeah, that should just be a normal thing. Like that, that’s not, uh, the way we want our military families to be. Um, but you were talking about the, the. The baby shower and all the stuff that goes with it for anyone out there who doesn’t have kids.

They are expensive. They are, they are definitely, uh, you know, a drain on the finances. Not, I’m not saying that in a bad way. Love, love my kids. Uh, you know, wouldn’t, wouldn’t trade any of the, any of that for the world, but, um, you know, things like a stroller, you look at that, like it’s, it’s just a simple thing, but those things are expensive.[00:18:00]

Um, you know, car seats and, uh, all the. Things that go along with a kid that, uh, you, you may not realize until you get to that point in life and you’re like, Oh my gosh, I need all this stuff. Um, and, and yeah, so it’s, it is. It is pretty expensive. And especially like you said, for those lower enlisted, uh, folks who are just aren’t making as much money, um, that’s, that’s going to be a huge hit to their finances.

Um, so having, uh, you know, Operation Homefront and the, the organizations that are out there, you know, uh, donating and, uh, providing those resources, even the school supplies, all that kind of stuff. I know, uh, when my kids were, uh, were in, in school here, they, they had Sent home a list with all the supplies that the school needed, um, you know, for the classroom and, you know, it was paper and pens and markers and scissors and all, all these things that they needed.

And that was on us. And we had [00:19:00] to go out and buy the stuff and bring it in and, um, you know, all that kind of stuff. And it, it, that was expensive too, you know, that, and, and especially when you have multiple kids now, now you’re, Multiplying that by however many kids you have, that could be a pretty significant burden.


Robert Thomas: Yeah, sure is.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, so it’s great that you guys are doing that type of stuff. Um, so You, you mentioned before, you know, quite a few of those Dollar Tree stores. So I’m imagining Operation Homefront, uh, the services are basically being offered, uh, across the country. Is that right? Or is there specific areas that you guys are focused on?

Robert Thomas: We, uh, we, uh, operate all across the country to include Hawaii and Alaska. Um, we have 22 total offices. Um, so we’re all, if I, if I said, hey, where do you think we should put our offices? I guarantee you’d be 95%. You know, so we got one in, in Seattle. Why? Because Joint Base Lewis McChord’s there. Got one in San [00:20:00] Diego.

Why? Because of all the naval presence in San Diego, Colorado Springs, why, uh, we’ve got Fort Carson, you know, um, so we’re, we’re, we try to be close to our bases with a lot of junior enlisted personnel, and that just makes the logistics of the program delivery, uh, a little bit easier. So we do have a nationwide presence.

However, we rely very heavily on volunteers. So we have about 3, 500 volunteers. Uh, they help us, uh, host events. So lots of volunteer opportunities. So just to make sure I don’t forget, if you want to be a volunteer, go to operationhomefront. org. We’ve got a whole section on how to sign up to be a volunteer.

Everyone’s fully vetted. So, you know, we’re going to be at events with kids. So there’s a cursory background check, uh, that occurs, nothing invasive, but we do want to make sure that we’re providing a safe environment, uh, for families. So, um, our volunteers allow us to deliver the programs and we rely on [00:21:00] them very, very heavily around back to school time.

Cause we’ve got to pick up all those school supplies from the Dollar Tree stores and the solution’s a little bit different. You know, the supplies are from Dollar Tree. It’s, it’s more expensive to ship supplies. Then it is to hand them out locally. So if we collect a lot of extra supplies in one location, then we’ll, uh, we’ll broaden and we’ll give, give away whatever we have extra boys and girls club or to the school district directly.

Uh, in some locations where, where, uh, we don’t quite get enough supplies, we’ll actually go down and, and, uh, and buy the supplies to make sure the kids have, have a quality amount of stuff in those, in those backpacks.

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, and that, that is true. You have those, um, kind of shipping costs and all that kind of stuff. You don’t necessarily want to be shipping something from Colorado to, you know, New York or, you know, wherever you might be, uh, you know, going out to, um, that, that just gets expensive. So, [00:22:00] um, you know, it almost is better, like you said, just to, you know, keep it local in that community.

Um, and, and it kind of goes along the lines with, you know, Even just the name of your, uh, organization, operation, home front, you know, keep, keep the, the home front, you know, kind of local and keep the supplies local and all that, uh, type of stuff. But yeah, you know, there’s going to be situations where maybe, maybe the, uh, uh, donations were not quite as much as, as the need.

Um, and so I got to imagine, um, like, Most other organizations that donations are, um, you know, a big thing, uh, you know, financial contributions as well. So that way you can go out and, uh, get those types of supplies and, and even other things that might be necessary too. Right.

Robert Thomas: Yes. Um, You know, it, it, it takes money to, uh, to run the programs. I mean, no doubt about it. It takes money to pay the salaries. Uh, we have about 137 employees. Um, and so donations are welcome. [00:23:00] Um, most of our donations, uh, come in, uh, in small, small bundles. We have some, some big, uh, corporate and foundation donors, but, uh, but it does take money, so we do focus on that.

Now there’s a lot of goodwill in this country. A lot of Americans, uh, they open their pocketbook for causes they believe in. And so what we try to do is, uh, it’s not a, uh, a sales thing or anything. We say, look, here’s the portfolio programs we offer. And if you want to partner with us, we’d love to, uh, for you to help us deliver these programs.

A lot of donors want to see what you’re doing in their community. So if you’re going to, uh, some more, uh, approach the foundation, you know, pick the name of the city nationwide, they’ll say, well, what are you doing in my city? Or what are you doing in my county? So we do, we just go over the top to try to capture the metrics.

To prove, uh, or to show a donor what, what the, their donation will, uh, will allow us to do in their community, if that’s what they want. [00:24:00] And, uh, and that works pretty well.

Scott DeLuzio: Right. And, and again, it’s, it’s keeping it home, you know, near home and keeping it local and, uh, trying to help the folks in your community that it makes sense that like, if I’m going to, uh, open up my wallet and, and hand money over to an organization, I want to be able to see the impact and the benefit. I want to see my community kind of growing and thriving and not that I, I don’t want the other communities, but it’s, you know, I’m going to, you know, Uh, you know, kind of appreciate it a little bit more when it’s in my own backyard, uh, you know, versus someplace I’ve never been to, um, with, you know, names of towns I’ve never heard of or something, you know,

Robert Thomas: Well, if that’s what the donor wants, that’s great. If the donor has a more nationwide focus, then that’s great also. But we want to, uh, provide a portfolio that works for everyone. There

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. And that seems like that’s the best way to do it is the way you guys are approaching it. Um, [00:25:00] with all of these programs that you have, I got to imagine there’s, there’s a, you know, a case or two that kind of stand out where it’s like someone was in real, uh, a real tough, tough situation.

Place and Operation Homefront came around and, uh, kind of pulled them out. And now that this family is, is not, you know, kind of in the dumps, but now they’re, they’re sort of, they’re, they’re thriving and not just scraping by to, to, uh, you know, pay their bills. Are there any kind of examples that come to mind, uh,

Robert Thomas: are, there’s a couple that really stick out. Um, one. It’s Friday afternoon. Things are getting slow. You know, most companies, Friday afternoon, all of a sudden, you know, don’t hear as many people talking. And so it’s, it’s middle of the afternoon and we get this veteran comes on the line says, look, if I don’t make a mortgage payment today, it’ll be the fourth payment I miss and my home goes into foreclosure.

Scott DeLuzio: Hmm. Mm

Robert Thomas: And then the only way I can get it out is to pay off the loan completely. And, uh, [00:26:00] you know what, we, uh, we declared an emergency on that one. And I’m really proud to say within just a couple of hours, we wired. Four months worth of payments to his mortgage servicer. So for me, yeah, we helped out this veteran, but the way I think about it is we, the kids, for me, I’ve got four kids.

So I’m always thinking about the kids. It, we, we saved the family. The family didn’t have to move out of that home. The kids didn’t have to change schools. And then we, we helped, uh, and I can’t remember if it was mom or dad in that case, but we helped the veteran and then, uh, and then we helped them build a plan for the future.

Uh, we had another one where this. veteran, worked really hard, had gone through some tough times, but had finally scored this great job. It was an awesome job. The pay was good. The benefits were good. There was upward mobility, but he didn’t have reliable transportation. And so, uh, we partnered with U. S. Bank through this program called Driven to Serve, and we told his story to U.

S. [00:27:00] Bank, and they were like, hey, we’re going to help. And so, they donated, uh, a quality used vehicle, and they’ve donated over 20 of these to Operation Homefront over the years. And, um, They’re not brand new, but they’re almost new. So, uh, they’re a couple of years old, a couple of years old, you know, 20 to 30, 000 miles, warranty, uh, you know, certified.

And so we’re able to get this guy a car, which would be fantastic, except this wasn’t just a car. This was a job. This car gave him the ticket to become self sufficient. Without that car, he wouldn’t have been able to accept a job and he’d still be in this very precarious financial situation every month.

So, uh, that one was a good one. And then the final one I’ll say was this Uh, Navy Lieutenant Commander. You’re like, Oh, Lieutenant Commander, uh, you know, I don’t need any help. Sometimes that’s true. But in this case, it was a single mom. She had two severely disabled kids. I mean, severe, you know, the, the, the kind of, you see kids in these electric wheelchairs and

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, yeah.[00:28:00]

Robert Thomas: and she had a decent job, but.

Every penny she made was going towards daycare for these kids because it wasn’t normal daycare. This is some very special and very expensive and, and owning a home was just unthinkable for her. But we’re, we have a program, uh, called Permanent Homes for Veterans and, uh, the families enter that program after two years, you know, we give them coaching on how to be homeowners.

We help them reduce debt, increase savings, financial counseling every month, achieve personal goals. We entered her into that program. She did fantastic. And at the end, we deed the family, the home. So we deeded her the home and that allowed that family to become homeowners in that she would have never been able to own a home any other way, but it made all the difference in the world to her and her family. Because they didn’t have to pay rent anymore. It was a mortgage free home and, and those are the kind of stories that keep me going when, when we have those tough days. I said, no, you’re really making a difference for [00:29:00] people who need it, you know. Um, and so those are a few that stick out. I mean, I have hundreds of those kinds of stories,

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, I’m sure there, we could probably go on for hours talking about all the different, uh, families that were benefited from this, but that last one that you just mentioned, um, you know, that’s one of those situations where it’s like no fault of anybody, um, it, that, that they’re in that situation. Um, it’s just, you know, care for, you know, kids with special needs can be really expensive.

And, um, you know, it’s, it’s just one of those things that you, you’re going to have to. Figure it out somehow. And, um, you can only make so much money. Um, the, the cost of the care isn’t going down any, and, and sometimes you just need that little bit of help. Um, and, and in this case, this is not, I, I probably used the wrong word there, but this is not little help.

This is, this is a significant life changing, uh, uh, you know, amount of help that that’s being offered. And, you know, it’s, it’s [00:30:00] great now, you know, and, and that’s, that’s That family now has a stable environment that they can live in, like you said, mortgage free, um, and they, they don’t have to worry about how are we going to afford this, uh, type of thing.

And, and, and they can continue to get the, the, the, Type of care and, um, you know, service services that the, the children need. Um, and that, that’s just a great thing. I think in my mind, um, you know, just seeing, uh, those families, uh, you know, get the keys to that home and just be like being able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally, we can just, you know, we can focus on moving forward now instead of just struggling, um, you know, almost like the image of a, you know, someone who’s struggling to keep their head above water, you know, they’re drowning or whatever. Um, no, instead of that, they’re, they’re, they’re able to move forward.

Kind of kick back, relax a little bit and float, um, you know, for a time [00:31:00] being, but still, still be swimming, uh, you know, towards something, uh, better in their, their future as well. Not, not just barely getting by, you know, we have somebody, uh, who’s, who’s now able to, uh, you know, Uh, thrive in that type of environment.

So thank you for sharing those, um, those examples of how Operation Homefront has been, uh, making a difference in, in the lives of the veterans and the folks out there, the military families that, um, really need this type of help. Um, you know, we all know anyone who’s ever served in the military know that the, the pay isn’t, isn’t the best, it’s, it is what it is, but, um, you know, we, we all, we all can, could use a little bit more.

Um, but. But here is, you know, Operation Homefront coming through and, and really saving the day for some of these families. And it’s, it’s a great thing that you guys are doing with all of that. Um, now you mentioned, uh, the website before, um, you know, for, uh, folks who want to [00:32:00] either make a donation or find out more about volunteer opportunities.

Um, I know, uh, you said around the holiday season, you know, kind of November, uh, timeframe, uh, is when a lot of your events and programs, uh, take place. Um, Are there specific opportunities in the next couple months here that, uh, you’re looking for volunteers, uh, to, uh, to help support things or, um, you know, even for individuals or businesses, um, you know, with contributions and things like that, that you’re looking for, or is this kind of something a little bit more towards the end of the year that you’re looking

Robert Thomas: No, uh, actually our biggest program of the year is Back to School Brigade, we call it, and that’s going to start, well, our first event will be, uh, about mid June. And that’ll go through, uh, mid August and, uh, that’s huge. That is a huge event for us. We’re, we’re all, as soon as the, the, the program ends, um, each year, we’re already thinking about the next year.

We order our backpacks directly from, uh, [00:33:00] from a vendor that has, uh, access to, to the manufacturing plant. So we place our order for the backpacks every year in October. But, um, we’ll start collecting, uh, from Dollar Tree stores in June. And that’s where we really need, uh, the volunteer help. You know, you go to our website, you’ll get the information on how to be a volunteer, and then you’ll be set up against a store and, uh, all the stores have numbers, okay, that’s your store.

So you go in. Uh, every couple of weeks or you call the store when the donation box is full or close to being full, you go pick up the box and then you, uh, you take it to where we’re going to aggregate those, uh, those items. Normally it’s a storage ship and, um, and then, uh, later on in the cycle, volunteers will come and they’ll load, uh, each backpack with supplies.

So you want to make sure that the backpack has some paper, has a pair of scissors, pens and pencils, and, and everyone’s getting about the same thing. We try to have 20 items per [00:34:00] backpack. And then we’ve got to get all those loaded backpacks to a location. So this is a heavy lift. So, so to give you an example, this year, We’re going to deliver our 580, 000th backpack with essential school supplies, uh, and saving families over 60 million over when, when that program started way back.

So last year we did about 41, 000 backpacks and just the logistics of moving all those backpacks from point A to point B. It is a heavy lift. And so the volunteers really need, and it’s fun, you know, um, one year I went out and, you know, I just go out with the team and that year, one of our colors was pink and I gave a backpack to this little girl, super excited to go to first grade.

If she weighed 60 pounds, I’d be shocked. And, um, the backpack was almost bigger than her and she was so excited to ride the school bus. So she’s telling me about, and of course her mom’s here and her mom’s terrified she’s going up.

Scott DeLuzio: Sure.

Robert Thomas: And, um, and you get to interact with the [00:35:00] military families. A lot of families are new to the base, right?

So, uh, we also try to have a lot of community services there. You might have the little league, uh, sports guy, uh, boy and girl scouts table, might have the school nurse, you know, whoever the local team sets up. So. When the families come, they’re not just getting a backpack full of school supplies. They’re also getting a lot of community resources for them to use, uh, you know, at their new base.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And that’s important too, because a lot of times when you move to a new area, uh, you may not know. What’s available in that area? And you may know that, okay, you want your kids to, you know, participate in some sort of sports, but you know, where, where do you go for that? Is it, you know, run through the town or the city, or, you know, is it, is there a separate, uh, organization that’s, uh, running the, the sports programs or, uh, you know, what, where do you even go?

And so having that type of information available, um, you know, any other clubs as well, not just sports, um, but having all that available, uh, you know, [00:36:00] Again, it’s just, it, it takes that burden off of the, the military families of now, now I got to figure out where to go. Um, and, and all that it’s all that information is right there and that helps them, uh, kind of kick the year off.

Right. And, and get acclimated and settled into their, their new community if they’re new to the area. Um, and they can. Uh, you know, have one less thing that they have to go and, and stress about and research and, and all that kind of stuff. I know the internet makes things a lot easier these days, but, but even still, it’s just One more thing that you have to do.

Uh, and, and it, a lot of times that one more thing could be, you know, the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Right. And so, so making that a little bit easier is, is a huge benefit too, I think. So that’s, um, well, anything else that you want to add about Operation Homefront and the mission that you guys have, or, or, uh, you know, anything that, any advice that you might have [00:37:00] for folks or, or anything like that?

Any kind of

Robert Thomas: Well, I’ll give you a little context on some of our programs this year. We hope to fulfill our 58, 000th request for assistance, and that’ll bring us up to providing 44 million dollars on financial relief. To military families, since that program started, uh, we have transitional housing village program, which is there to support families where, uh, the service member is going through the medical discharge process.

So, uh, we, we, this year we hope, or we will provide a rent and utility free housing to our 760th military family. Saving over eight million dollars in that time. We have a transitional homes program, which is kind of like base housing. You know, uh, we have a portfolio. We’ll grow to 42 homes this year.

Families stay in the home for two to three years. They, uh, we ask them to pay 500 a month as a stipend to live in the house. They’ll, um, they’ll get financial counseling. All the programs are the same. Reduce debt, increase savings, achieve [00:38:00] a personal goal. But at the, what I like about this program is the end of it.

Let’s say you stay for three years, 36 months, and you pay 500 bucks a month as this stipend to get you used to paying something every month for housing. At the end of that time, we’ll give you all that money back. So when you graduate from the program, we give you a check for 18, 000. Which was the money you’ve been putting in every month.

And you can use that money as a down payment for home or to meet other family needs. Um, so that’s a wonderful program. Uh, In our permanent homes for veterans, uh, this year we’re, we’re going to graduate our 690th family. So that brings the total deeded equity in military families for that program to over 105 million.

So, uh, that’s a wonderful program. It’s gotten smaller because houses are so expensive now. We don’t get as many donations, but when someone donates to house. a house to us. We’ll put it in, uh, in that program or the transitional homes program. In our holiday meals, we’re going to deliver our 200, [00:39:00] 000th meal this year, and that’ll, uh, bring the total of military family members fed to 785, 000.

You know, we gathered a lot of metrics and we found that the average family has got 4. 1 family members, so that’s how we come up with that number. But that, uh, that saves families over 10 million in, uh, holiday meal expenses. This year, we’re going to value the meals at 70. So, um, in some cases, we’ll give you a gift card for 70.

In some cases, we’ll, we’ll give you all the fixings for the meal, you know, a physical meal. But, uh, that’s a wonderful program. It just depends on the donors in the area, exactly what the, the, uh, the program looks like the other big part of the, the year where we need a lot of volunteers is our holiday toys program.

So Dollar Tree supports back to school. And then when it comes time for the holidays, they’ll do the same exact thing with toys. And so we need volunteers to pick up the toys. That program’s a little different in some of the volunteers, you may be assigned a store, but now when you pick up the toys. [00:40:00] Those are the toys you’re going to use for your battalion Christmas party or squadron Christmas party.

And that’s how the toys get in the hands of military families. through that program. So, so a lot of programs we can’t do without the volunteers. We can’t do it without the donors. We have some wonderful, wonderful, um, uh, companies that support our mission. Uh, our overhead is really low. We have no advertising budget.

Zero. Because for every dollar we spend advertising is that we’re not spending that dollar supporting military families. So you don’t see us on the news. Uh, like you, you may see some other organizations because we just don’t have those kind of dollars, but, um, uh, we would love to see, uh, see you come out and volunteer at one of our, uh, one of our events.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Well, you know what? I think, um, as you were talking, I was, my, my mind was kind of going, uh, doing the math on all the numbers that you were saying, all the, the dollar amounts, especially as you were [00:41:00] going. And I lost track along the way, but it was in the, the, the millions of dollars that, that were, were going out to, to folks.

And, um, you know, between the, the housing and the, the meals and the, uh, Uh, you know, everything else that you guys are doing, um, it’s, it’s a significant amount of money. Um, folks help them out, you know, go, go make some donations, uh, you know, businesses, if you can, if you can, uh, you know, help support, uh, this, this is, uh, an incredible cause.

Uh, and, and, you know, like you were saying, very low overhead. And so it’s, the money is going to the program. You know, that if you’re donating a dollar, you know, most of that dollar is going, uh, to help out the military families, uh, that, that desperately need it. And in the cases that you shared, um, you know, the different examples that you provided, um, you know, with those families getting the support, um, you know, uh, that just shows, um, the, the type of [00:42:00] things that, Um, are truly life changing, uh, and, and potentially life saving to some of these families.

And so it’s, it’s a great, uh, program that you guys have that you’re running. And, and it’s really a great, uh, opportunity for folks to get out there and volunteer if you’re looking to, uh, you know, help out the military community as well. So, um, before we wrap up this, this, uh, episode, I, I always like to do, uh, uh, end an episode with a little bit of humor.

Um, I, I kind of, um, uh, have some, some episodes or they’re, uh, you know, maybe a little heavy, a little darker, you know, kind of, kind of things. This wasn’t one of those, I don’t think, but, um, you know, I always like to, uh, leave it with a smile on the face. When I, whenever I have another veteran on the show, I like to do a segment.

That I call, is it service connected? Um, and it’s, it’s kind of like an America’s Funniest Home Videos type of thing where, uh, you know, you watch a funny video and then we can kind of laugh about it and, you know, [00:43:00] usually it’s either a service member doing something stupid or, uh, you know, whatever. And, um, you know, it could be.

Could be not even, uh, you know, an American service member could just be some other, uh, you know, video that we find that, um, you know, has, has funny things going on, uh, in the video and, uh, we, we can kind of laugh about it. No one gets hopefully too seriously hurt in these videos, but, um, I’ll, I’ll pull up the video now so you can, you can take a look at it, uh, and, and we can hopefully laugh along.

Together as we watch this. So, um, uh, for the listeners, uh, the audio only listeners, I’ll try to do my best to describe what’s going on your best bet. Go check it out on YouTube or Twitter. Uh, X, uh, you know, and, and see, uh, the video yourself. Um, but I’ll hit play now, right now, it looks like we have, uh, looks like a.

Chimpanzee or something, a monkey, uh, just kind of walking around. Um, and a couple of guys sitting around, it looks like kind of a jungle type area. [00:44:00] Let’s see what happens. Okay. So guys are kind of laughing and making fun of the monkey as he’s walking around and they got, it looks like they’re carrying AK 47s.

One of them is now handing this rifle to the guy, to the monkey, I should say. Holy, which I don’t know if that was a smart idea. Uh, but it looks like the monkeys now figured out how to shoot this, uh, AK 47 and all the guys take off running. The chairs are knocked over and everything. And now we just got a lone monkey who’s declaring victory over this.

He has the rifle over his head, uh, kind of declaring victory over, over the, uh, the situation there. That I would imagine, um, would go against the brief of, uh, don’t mess with the wildlife. Um,

Robert Thomas: Don’t let, don’t let a monkey take hold of your gun, you know.

Scott DeLuzio: No, I mean, and that’s like day one in basic training. Like you don’t let anyone take your rifle. [00:45:00] Um, so that, I don’t know, that would probably be, uh, um, you know, kind of, kind of difficult to prove. Like. Who’s going to believe that a monkey shot you?

Robert Thomas: Yeah, I, yeah, that’s a good one.

Scott DeLuzio: So anyways, um, thank you again, uh, not only for coming on and sharing everything that you do, uh, and, and your background and everything, but, but also for all of the hard work that you, you and your team, uh, put into making sure that military families have the The support and the resources that they need to not only survive and just get by, but, but also to thrive, uh, afterwards.

And, and all the, all of those programs I think are especially, uh, significant to the military community. So thank you again, uh, for everything that you do.

Robert Thomas: All right. Thanks, Scott. Thanks for the invitation and just go to operationhomefront. org, apply for assistance, learn about the programs. Everything’s right there.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. And we’ll have the link to that in the show notes too, for the listeners. So, so you can click on it right through there [00:46:00] and it’ll take you right to their website. So thank you again.

Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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