Herbert Clark and his family are playing charades in the living room. Their living room. The one in their brand new house.
“I joked that I got my Christmas gift early,” said Herbert's wife, Selena.
The family moved in on December 1, but the road to their new home was a long one. When the couple first met, Herb had just left the Air Force after serving overseas.
“I had some savings, a good job right off the bat,” he remembers.
“Tons of ambition,” adds Selena.
That was right around 2008. And then the Great Recession hit.
“I sunk,” Herb said. “I went under real fast.”
With $40,000 dollars in debt, the dream of owning a home seemed way out of reach.
“We definitely made sacrifices,” said Serena.
“We knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We just had to crawl and dig and work hard for it.”
That they did. The Clarks applied for Homes 4 Families, an organization that helps low income veterans buy an affordable home in a neighborhood with built in support services.
They were accepted into a growing community in Santa Clarita that will eventually have close to 80 homes.
“This is more than I ever dreamed,” Selena said.
The program doesn’t just hand over keys. The families put in 500 hours, working on the buildings and on themselves. Herb, and all of the vets who are now in his neighborhood, participated in art therapy, vet-to-vet support, and financial literacy classes.
Other vets even encouraged him to seek help for what was later diagnosed as PTSD.
“There was some resistance there,” Selena said. “Speaking with the other vets and sitting with them, it kind of came around which….there’s no words for that.”
Herb looks at 2019 as the year of giving back – and looks forward to helping to finish the remaining homes in this community so the rest of his neighbors can move in.
“They’re more than neighbors. They’re family,” he said.
As for his own family, they’re getting settled.
But he also admits it still feels surreal.
“It still feels like the carpet will be swept out at some moment,” he said.
At the same time, it also feels just right. Just like a home should.