Our men and women in uniform don’t ask for anything in return, however, there are generous people who are dedicated to repaying those who risked their lives for us – like our friends at Pacesetter Homes, who joined forces with Benchmark Mortgage, MA Partners, and Operation FINALLY HOME to provide a local military veteran with a custom-built, mortgage-free home.
Operation FINALLY HOME is a nonprofit organization, headquartered in New Braunfels, that partners with local developers, builders, and suppliers to benefit service members and their families who have become wounded, ill, or injured as a result of their service in the defense of our country.
The selection process for choosing a veteran is lengthy and thorough. Operation FINALLY HOME works with medical case managers, recovery care coordinators, federal recovery care coordinators, and Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, and Coast Guard Advocates as well as the Veterans Administration to identify and recommend veterans. Simultaneously, builders work with their vendors to plan the building process and solidify the project budget. Not only does it require generosity on the part of the builder and suppliers, but the support of the neighborhood is also a crucial part of the success of the project. While anyone can build beautiful houses, Pacesetter Homes is using the opportunity to model what it means to truly build a community.
Blake Friesenhahn, Vice President of Pacesetter Homes DFW, explained that Pacesetter built its business around core values, including integrity and community service. After 31 years in the home building business, Blake knows what it means to set ambitious goals and drive his teams toward them.
From the beginning of his tenure in 2018, Blake was determined to make Pacesetter known not only for its solid business practices but also for their contributions to communities. “We’re thrilled to be able to give back in a generous way,” Blake said. This industry is built on relationships, and his three decades in the market have afforded Blake many connections that helped bolster relationships with business partners, including those with Benchmark and MA Partners.
It takes a village to drive a mission of this magnitude forward and John Marlin, founder and CEO of MA Partners, and Jim McMahan, President of Benchmark Mortgage, generously stepped up to work alongside the Pacesetter team on this project.
MA Partners, the land developers, regularly focus on finding ways to make veterans a top priority by participating in service projects such as this. John says that this project has been in the works for years, and explained that there’s so much more to it than building a house and choosing a recipient. From the lot selection to the family selection, the number of moving parts required to push the process forward can overwhelming, and certainly requires a team effort to ensure the Operation FINALLY HOME program is financially sustainable. When we spoke with John, he was on his way to a meeting with Melissa city officials in which he would bring them up to speed on progress and discuss ways the city can be of service on the project.
Jim McMahan is proud that Benchmark Mortgage has been serving veterans intentionally for the past 10 years. It began when key employees relayed how many veterans were not educated on their benefits, or they were talked out of using them. Jim emphasized Benchmark’s passion for doing VA loans: “Last year we did almost two VA loans a week, reaching a little over $1.4 Billion in loans – a larger volume than some big banks.”
Boot Shoot, an annual event, is hosted by Benchmark and has raised more than $1 million for brain treatment for vets. In fact, it was at a Boot Shoot event where Pacesetter and Benchmark connected, as both organizations strive to find additional ways to serve the veteran community.
Benchmark also regularly hosts training sessions for Realtors so they can advocate for vets, which will result in even more vets successfully participating in the homebuying process, because as Jim says, the root of the problem is often a lack of education of benefits available. As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the number of military personnel retiring will be record breaking. With this milestone looming, Benchmark Mortgage has been prioritizing education initiatives to prepare veterans for their civilian lives, making them aware of their VA benefits, but also seeking to recruit vets into a successful career in the mortgage industry.
While each Pacesetter home is built with care and attention to detail, this particular home is a special opportunity, Blake says, for Pacesetter, Benchmark, and MA employees to see tangible results of their contributions and understand the impact they are making in the life of this vet, his family and the community.
The veteran is announced at a surprise event later this year, then the fun begins — with a groundbreaking event at which the construction is officially kicked off at the future site of the veteran’s new home.
When the build begins, the veteran’s loved ones and members of the community gather at the site to sign inspirational phrases, scripture, and notes of appreciation on bare studs and headers — known by Operation FINALLY HOME as “Notes of Love.” The capstone of the project, naturally, is the dedication ceremony where all participants gather to present the home to the vet — a beautiful culmination of a sacred coming together of community members. Participants are hoping to present keys by the end of the year.
While the specific modifications of this project have yet to be determined, as they’re based on the veteran’s individual needs, Blake says the home is one-story and will be located in the Meadow Run community in Melissa. The expenses for the home are covered by Pacesetter, their suppliers, and donors of Operation FINALLY HOME.
Blake says the entire Pacesetter team will attend the dedication ceremony, and in the meantime, they’ll give back by doing tasks onsite like cleaning the construction area. And this is only the beginning, Blake says, of Pacesetter’s service to the community.
Because much is expected of those to whom much is given, Pacesetter Homes looks forward to more opportunities to be involved with future Operation FINALLY HOME projects, and intend to partner with additional area nonprofits who are doing their part to give back to DFW. Regardless of who is chosen to receive this home, Blake says his team is grateful to serve a worthy individual who so selflessly served us.