November 24, 2015

Veterans ‘have paid for these homes with their service’

Two veterans injured in Afghanistan recently stood together at a Veterans Day Parade in San Francisco to celebrate their new homes donated by Wells Fargo and the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

The doctors who treated his shattered legs told Sgt. James Gordon he would never walk again. But the Army veteran who survived a bomb explosion in Afghanistan had other plans.

“I was bound and determined to prove them wrong,” he says. “After nine months of being confined to an electric wheelchair, I finally gained the strength to stand.”

James stood strong recently at a ceremony during the Veterans Day Parade in San Francisco. The ceremony recognized him for completing a required mentorship course for the deed to a house that Wells Fargo had donated to him several years ago.

Another veteran accompanied James to the ceremony and had no idea what would happen next.

James said, “I’d like to say thank you to Wells Fargo for this amazing opportunity. We also have retired Spc. Jonathan Allen here with us today. On behalf of the Military Warriors Support Foundation and Wells Fargo, we’d like to present you with a mortgage-free home.”

Jonathan and his girlfriend Danae Lagala were stunned. “Really?” said the decorated veteran, who also survived an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan. “I thought we were just here to support the foundation. This is amazing! I can’t say thanks enough. I really appreciate it.”

James and Jonathan are among many military veterans still healing from the wounds of war who are having their lives changed through Wells Fargo’s work with the Military Warriors Support Foundation and other nonprofit veteran assistance groups, says Tyler Smith, head of the company’s military donation program.

Two men and a woman stand next to each other smiling
Veterans ride in Wells Fargo’s stagecoach
Two people walk in a parade holding a sign to honor veterans
Veteran Jonathan Allen (holding key) and his girlfriend Danae Lagala celebrate with veteran James Gordon at the Nov. 8 parade in San Francisco.
After the donation, Jonathan and James board the stagecoach and become part of the parade.
Team members Pam Fondacabe and Kelly Ward give a banner-styled salute to the veterans.

In the past three years, the company has donated or is in the process of donating more than 300 mortgage-free homes worth more than $49 million to wounded warriors across the U.S., Tyler says. The program draws from its inventory of REO homes — repossessed real estate owned by the company — that Wells Fargo has renovated for the military families.

“We feel they have paid for these homes with their service to our country,” he says. “This is our way of saying thanks to them.”

Wells Fargo’s main teammate in the donation work — the Military Warriors Support Foundation — provides counseling and other assistance to the veterans, says Rocio Ramirez, events coordinator for the foundation. The homeownership mentoring that James received — and that Jonathan also will receive — provides guidance on things like household budgeting, credit, and debt management, she says. It is required before veterans can formally receive the deed to their homes.

“Each of our home recipients is paired with a mentor for three years,” Rocio says. “The families have monthly calls with their mentors, and it has been a great tool in helping our 688 home recipients pay off, cumulatively, more than $9.9 million in nonmortgage debt since 2010.”

The military home donations have played a big part in Wells Fargo’s overall support for veterans in recent years. As part of an ongoing commitment that began in 2012, the company has contributed more than $66 million to veteran nonprofits, housing, financial education, career development, and other assistance. That is nearly double the company’s original goal.