Dream Makers program helping military members buy starter homes

2013-03-03T00:00:00Z Dream Makers program helping military members buy starter homesKathy Orton The Washington Post Arizona Daily Star
March 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - Dymtro Bodnar was flipping through a magazine when he spotted an advertisement for PenFed Foundation's Dream Makers program.

Bodnar was in the process of buying his first house, a three-bedroom rambler in Rockville, Md., and money was tight. He immediately contacted the foundation, was sent the paperwork to fill out and two weeks later received a $5,000 grant that he used to buy the property.

"It was very helpful program," said Bodnar, 31, who served two years in the Army, two years in the National Guard and now works as a contractor at Fort Meade in Maryland.

"Sometimes when you read stuff like that, you would think it would take you a lot of paperwork and it will take forever, and in the end, you will think, 'Why did I get involved in this situation?' But I really appreciate the job they did. They helped me a lot. It took just a couple weeks."

Bodnar is one of a growing number of service members and veterans who have bought their first homes with the help of Dream Makers. The program, which is funded by private donations from individuals and corporations, awarded its first grant in 2007.

Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds.

In 2010, PenFed Foundation gave 51 grants totaling $254,000. In 2011, it awarded 93 grants totaling $450,000. Last year, it awarded 168 grants totaling $823,000. The goal this year is to reach $1 million.

Members and veterans of every branch of service, including the Coast Guard, and their widows are eligible. Recipients must be first-time homebuyers and have a gross annual income of $55,000 or less, or 80 percent of area median income, adjusted for family size. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average service member receives a base pay of $34,000 per year.

"This is a pretty modestly compensated person," said Kate Kohler, chief operating officer of PenFed Foundation and a former Army captain. "That's really our target of who we are helping."

The foundation was started in 2001 by executives and employees of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Although the foundation's programs have expanded to include emergency financial assistance and child care to wounded warriors and their families through its Military Heroes Fund and interest-free loans to service members through its Asset Recovery Kit program, one of its earliest missions has been helping service members and veterans afford a home.

Because military members tend to lead transient lives, finally settling down can be especially meaningful for them.

"You're never sure how long you're going to be someplace," said Kohler, who during her Army career moved 13 times in 11 years. "There's always that uncertainty."

Dream Makers continues to grow in popularity, but Kohler is hoping to get the word out to those who would like to donate to the program or those who could benefit from it.

For more information about Dream Makers, go to penfedfoundation.org

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