Operation Homefront gives veteran Durham home

Nov. 20, 2013 @ 05:31 PM

When Lamarr Reynolds saw an advertisement pop up online about a program that provides free homes for veterans, he wasn’t sure if it was real. On Wednesday, he found out that it definitely was.
“Wow,” said Reynolds, a four-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, as he walked into a freshly painted home with black shudders on Buxton Street, off Fayetteville Street. He toured what will be his bedroom, the bedrooms where his two daughters will stay, and the kitchen.
He received the home through national nonprofit Operation Homefront. One of the group’s programs provides mortgage-free homes that have been donated by banks such as Wells Fargo, and other partners.
Christine Lively Shaw, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said in an email that the bank renovates the homes and donates them to the nonprofit, which then selects and awards the homes to veterans.
The veterans live rent-free for one to three years, paying taxes and other costs associated with the home. At the end of a financial education course, they get the deed to the home with no mortgage or lien. Shaw said the homes donated by Wells Fargo are part of the bank’s inventory of properties acquired through a foreclosure sale or a deed in lieu of foreclosure.
In addition to working with Wells Fargo, Operation Homefront works with other banks as well as partners like Meritage Homes, which built a new home in Wake County and donated it, said Andrea Kephart, housing case worker for the national nonprofit.
Kephart said the nonprofit has helped veterans move into 280 homes since the program launched in February of last year, and she said Reynolds’ home was the 10th home donated in North Carolina.
She said the homes are donated to veterans from all the military branches who have served in a range of conflicts including Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When you unexpectedly exit the service, it’s hard to re-establish your life, and make a place for your future,” she said.
Reynolds served for four years in the U.S. Marine Corps until he was honorably discharged in 2007. Trained as an electrical equipment repair specialist, Reynolds said he was sent to Okinawa, Japan, and participated in exercises including in Korea and Thailand. He said he then was part of a non-deploying unit in California before he opted to leave the military. He said that was at a time when he wanted to work on his marriage.
He said he had initially joined the military after high school when didn’t know what his next step was.
Reynolds is now a single parent raising two daughters in California, working as a driver for a construction company. He was looking at benefits for veterans, and found the home program online. 
He said he saw a picture of the home in Durham, and it looked calm and serene, he said, and like a place he could start anew. He said the family has already started packing. His daughters will be excited to get their own rooms.
“This is another way I’m letting them know, ‘I’m going to take care of you guys as best I can,’” he said.
After Reynolds toured the home with Kephart and Wells Fargo executives and media, Nathan Horton, a mortgage underwriter for Wells Fargo who also serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, gave Reynolds a box of Thanksgiving Day supplies that included pumpkin pie and apple pie mix.
Horton is the president of the bank’s veterans’ team network that’s collected meal supplies to give out to for the holidays. Standing in the kitchen, surrounding by television cameras, Horton welcomed Reynolds to the home.
“Thanks for everything you’ve done,” he said.
“I’d do it again for your family and mine,” Reynolds said.