Before earning a Purple Heart for his service with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, Nicholas Snook was just another student at Kennard-Dale High School, where he played on the ice hockey team.
He and his wife, Jessica, met at Stewartstown Elementary School and started dating in middle school. Years later, the two married. They have two sons, one born while Nicholas was stationed in Hawaii, the other while he was in Virginia.
With his honorable discharge slated for November, the soldier is ready to come back to his hometown to raise a family.
The transition should be easier now that Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and Operation Homefront have given his family a mortgage-free townhouse in Dover.
Operation Homefront connects veterans with homes donated by banks including Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase. The nonprofit then works with the homeowners to make sure their transition back to civilian life goes smoothly.
"Wherever the military sends you, you go," Nicholas Snook said. "Now ... we're taking the time as a family to come back and rebuild our lives to some type of normalcy."
Snook was presented with the key to his new home Tuesday. It was his first time inside the 3-bedroom townhouse, which the family will live in for at least two years. The Snooks must go through the full Operation Homefront program to "graduate" and earn their deed.
Priority: The Dover townhouse is one of 120 homes the nonprofit has given out since the beginning of 2013. Fewer veterans are homeless each year, according to the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs, but cutting that number remains a major priority for the government.
Snook learned about Operation Homefront in a military class on re-acclimating to civilian life. Seeing the organization was looking to place a family in Dover, he reached out to his brother-in-law and began the selection process.
Sarah Groom, a housing case worker with Operation Homefront, said the Snooks were ideal candidates because they are both from the area and have family support systems nearby. Jessica works at a local People's Bank, and Nicholas plans to get a job in law enforcement.
Those kinds of connections are important for a nonprofit that has received more than 8,000 applications for about 400 homes, Groom said.
"It's hard, but we're doing a great thing and we just keep going. We focus on what we're doing great and we try our best," Groom said.
Local giving: It was the second home in the area that Wells Fargo has donated to veterans in the past two weeks. The first was given to Sgt. LeRoy Watkins, a retired serviceman with the Oklahoma Army National Guard, through the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
Local Wells Fargo store manager Chris Timari presented the keys for both properties to the new owners.
"The joy in their faces is what it is all about," Timari said. "To be a part of it is a real honor."
"We want to be a community bank," he added. "We know how important being a homeowner is to a family, and what it does for a community as well."
Re-acclimating: Nicholas Snook said the mortgage-free home meant they were spared the difficulty of starting completely from scratch. Jessica said the home meant stability for her children.
"It is very stressful coming out of the military, not only for me but especially for him," Jessica Snook said. "So it's amazing that they can be able to do this for us."
Jessica Snook and the children began moving in Tuesday night, while Nicholas returned to finish his military service just outside Washington, D.C. He has accumulated enough days of leave that he plans to see his family again in September.
"Somebody upstairs is looking out, definitely," he said. "I just wish it could be that easy for every veteran."
— Reach Michael Tabb at firstname.lastname@example.org.