Army veterans surprised by mortgage-free home in Florida

The Jimenez family breaks ground on the site of their new home in Loxahatchee, along with representatives from construction company Lennar, Arden and Operation Finally Home. (Olivia Lloyd/TNS)

As a giant American flag hanging from a crane appeared, Jose Jimenez began to suspect something was up.

He and his wife Alex Jimenez, along with their 3-year-old son, Mateo, believed they were going to the Arden community in Loxahatchee to advance in the interview process with Operation Finally Home. The organization provides mortgage-free homes and home modifications to injured and ill veterans and first responders. Jose and Alex are both US Army veterans who met while serving in Afghanistan.

There was no interview. A house was already theirs. Or at least the plot of land.

A motorcade of Patriot Guard Riders with American flags escorted the family’s car to an unfinished part of the community. A line of local homeowners and people from the Lennar home building company waved American flags and held signs welcoming the family as they marched to the site where their home will stand.

“We are here to honor their service,” said Rusty Carroll, president of Operation Finally Home. “But if we are really here today, it is to celebrate their future.”

Jose deals with health complications and a traumatic brain injury following the detonation of an explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. After the husband and wife were released in 2013, they traveled in an RV for years from Kansas to Michigan to Texas, among others, before learning about Operation Finally at home from a friend Alex met during basic training.

They applied just to see what would happen. Today, the family planted their shovels in the land where their house will stand.

“To me, it’s the equivalent of winning the lottery,” Alex said.

Jose was almost speechless when he was handed the microphone to say a few words. Alex, in tears as she held Mateo, said her family would now be less than two hours from her mother, who is very close to Mateo.

Their son’s future was one of the first places Alex and Jose’s minds went when the surprise was revealed.

“My first thought is that we have a place to raise our son,” Jose said. “Somewhere stable.”

Staff Sgt. Jose Jimenez served for nearly eight years and is decorated with honors including a Purple Heart. Alex Jimenez served for approximately three years as a US Army Specialist.

“Just compared to where we are with RV life, it’s just two different worlds,” Alex said. “It’s going to be amazing.”

Representatives for Lennar said they aim to get the Jimenez family into their home before Christmas. They are currently living with Alex’s family in Florida while their RV is being repaired.

Deborah Anderson, a real estate agent who has lived in the community for four years, said homes are going up quickly. Anderson was one of about a dozen community homeowners who attended Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Jimenez family.

“It’s amazing to have this local hero, and these people deserve to be helped in this way,” she said. “It’s nice to see this family so happy and deserving of this.”

Andrew Bazan, who organized the event with Lennar, agreed. “We can’t think of superior service,” he said. “It’s a great honour. We can’t think of anything better to give back to the people who have sacrificed so much.

The farming community near Wellington in Palm Beach County has a community farm and miles of trails. Arden homes start at $450,000 and can cost upwards of $1 million, according to their website. But the Jimenez family won’t be paying a mortgage through Operation Finally Home.

“If there are other veterans out there looking for help, reach out to us, whether it’s through us or someone else,” Carroll said. “There are people, organizations and businesses that are ready to help.”

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