TAMPA (FOX 13) - From homeless, to homeowner: with Veteran's Day just around the corner, a Bay Area vet and his family are moving into their very first home. Friday morning the dream of home ownership came true for Iraq War veteran Manny Guevara Ruiz and his family.
"It's something that never dawned on me that could happen to us," said Manny, who for nine years has moved his family from place to place, at times relying on the kindness of friends and family for a place to stay.
Guevara Ruiz was part of the first wave of soldiers sent to Iraq in 2003. He served 12 years in the army before being medically discharged. Suffering from PTSD and anxiety, he and his family struggled for years and were at times homeless.
"He didn't reach out for help and his story just grabbed me at the heart, being a veteran myself," said Son Nguyen, who screens applicants for the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals' home ownership program.
VAREP works to put veterans on the path to home ownership. Together with Bank of America, qualifying families like the Guevara Ruiz' are given mortgage-free homes.
"We want to give a hand up to the veterans, not a hand out," said Nguyen. "In Manny's case he's just very humbled and he just needed a hand up and we gave him that hand up because we knew he would appreciate it."
"Knowing that this is ours and we won't have to worry about being homeless again is very surreal, it's very humbling," said wife Erica Guevara Ruiz.
For the first time in their lives, the Guevara Ruiz family will be able to lay down roots and start making memories in their own home.
"It's the very first time ever that we'll be able to host Thanksgiving and there's a cherry on top: it's our home," said Manny.
Since 2012 Bank of America has donated more than two thousand homes to veterans and first responders.