Air Force

The holidays are a time of giving, and Miles Morell learned that in a big way just days before Christmas.

Thanks to a caring community, the U.S. Air Force Security Forces veteran was presented with a brand new, fully furnished two-bedroom home within the new Christopher Todd Communities at Country Place complex in Tolleson.

An excited Morell called it a blessing.

“I wasn’t able to help move. They wouldn’t let me, because they did not want me to see the place. So, already you’re anticipating, ‘Oh, what’s it going to look like?’” Morell said with a grin. “When I came in, it just looks amazing.”

Morell, 26, originally of Tucson, enlisted after high school. He spent six years with the Air Force, going on two tours, and estimates having spent approximately three years and eight months of this time away. He has served in Kuwait and Afghanistan, and was honorably discharged in 2016. He suffers from PTSD.

“I chose not to re-enlist because I spent so much time already away from my boys that I wanted to come out and be a father full-time,” explained Morell, a single father of Keoni, 7, and Zayd, 2.

Upon entering the home, Morell and his sons appeared amazed and grateful at the furnishings and décor, as well as a fully decorated Christmas tree and baked treats on the kitchen counter.

“I felt great,” Keoni offered succinctly when asked how the new home made him feel. He expressed excitement over seeing his new bedroom and camouflage-sheet-laden bunk bed.

Through Christopher Todd Communities’ A New Lease on Life program, Morell will live in his new Tolleson home rent-free for one year, after which he will pay a reduced rent for two years. High-speed internet and smart technology fees are covered during Morell’s three years of free and reduced rent. The giveaway is valued at around $40,000.

Christopher Todd Communities builds gated single-family, single-story, one- and two-bedroom home rental communities in the style of apartment complexes.

Smart home technology features include keyless door entry, doorbell cameras, and aspects of the homes that can be controlled with phone or tablet applications. Other apartment-style amenities like a community pool are included.

With each such community the developer opens, one post-September 11, 2001, veteran who is transitioning to civilian life is awarded a home. Additionally, Christopher Todd Communities offers discounts to veterans and municipal employees.

“I think really for me it’s amazing because you can feel how grateful they are,” said Chad Bowman, vice president of operations for Christopher Todd Communities. “Miles is just such a good person, such a great individual, but what also goes through my mind is how he’s going to give back to us just by being here. Just having him in our community is an enrichment to the community. Here we are trying to help him and it’s already going to bless us and those around in just having him and his boys living here.”

Morell is the program’s second recipient. The first was U.S. Marine Corps veteran Jonathan Hancock, who moved into Christopher Todd Communities in Surprise earlier in 2018. The company plans to give three more veterans homes this year.

“We feel really fortunate as an organization, Christopher Todd Communities, to even be able to build these developments. We feel passionate about giving back and we feel the veteran community is one that sacrificed much more than we could ever imagine,” Bowman explained. “Our CEO, Todd Wood, he’s really passionate about supporting them and doing anything we can. We wanted to do more than just a ‘thank you.’”

A Valley nonprofit, Drive By Blessings, helped furnish the home and provide additional household items.

“I was just excited to jump on this opportunity because this is a part of what we do,” said Karynda Kearns, president of Drive By Blessings. “There’s other nonprofits that give furniture to veterans, but we try to give them a home.”

Drive By Blessings was founded in 2015. Kearns said the idea to form a nonprofit that would help the homeless came from her sons, Owen and Aidan, who were looking to overcome an emotional trauma that caused PTSD. In January 2016, Drive By Blessings started providing furniture to veterans, she said. With the nonprofit growing rapidly, Kearns estimated that Drive By Blessings served upward of 50 veterans in its first year, increasing to more than 200 in 2018.

“We do our best to get the best quality furniture and just the little extra accent pieces and the household items so that when the family moves in they don’t have to worry about anything else,” she elaborated of the service they provide. “A lot of these families don’t have anything, they don’t have enough of stuff, so we just try to fill in the gaps and really make the homecoming special.”

Christopher Todd Communities’ selection process for the A New Lease on Life program is aided by Vets’ Community Connections. Through the program, veterans have to apply for what Joanna Sweatt of Vets’ Community Connections called a hand-up, not a hand-out. The nonprofit helped define the program, put together an application and essay process, and conduct outreach, Sweatt said.

“It’s just been a great relationship and partnership in that we conduct the outreach and then just kind of provide professional advice about the veteran community so that we’re not exploiting them, but we’re doing something that greatly benefits the community overall and then also showcases something to the community on how easy it is just to give back,” Sweatt explained. “This is a large company, this is a large complex, but to give away a home is very meaningful and will change this man’s life forever.”

Sweatt explained that despite focusing on veterans who served after September 11, 2001, and need help transitioning back to society, it is not exclusionary. They do, however, want veterans to pay the good deed forward.

“The essay is specific to kind of their story,” Sweatt added. “We want to know who you were, what led you to the military, kind of what that foundation did for you, where you are at now in your life, and how you hope that this program will enhance that and allow you to leverage your own community give-back. So, we really looked for veterans that are in action somewhere in their life or have some major goals, and with Miles, his is pretty incredible.”

Morell, who works at Luke Air Force Base’s Military and Veteran Success Center, plans to assist veterans in other ways as he opens his own business, a fitness center that will employ and serve veterans.

“I wanted to open my own fitness center, but I also wanted to help other veterans getting out that do have a passion for fitness,” he explained. “They need somewhere to go to help them transition, help them with money, things like that. So that’s where my business would come into play, is to help them transition, maybe get them into training in schools, certifications that they need to be trainers, or anything like that.”

For more information on the program, visit christophertoddproperties.com.