Operation Finally Home teamed up with Southern Living to surprise one deserving family.

Building Hope in Ballground, Georgia
Credit: Scott Areman

When the Brooking family arrived at dinner on the final night of the Southern Living Home Summit last Friday, February 24, they thought they were there for well, dinner, a concert, and later, an interview as a candidate to receive a home from Operation Finally Home. What they (and the audience!) didn't realize, is they were well past the candidate consideration stage, and would be surprised with a promise of a new home that very night.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeremy Brooking was deployed to Iraq in 2007, and two months later was shot in the chest by a sniper while on duty at an observation post. After having a portion of his lung removed, Brooking was also left with permanent nerve damage. Brooking received the Purple Heart as well as several other awards for his service. He and his wife have two little girls, and he still lives with physical pain from the injury.

Now, thanks to Operation Finally Home, a national nonprofit that builds mortgage-free homes across the country for wounded, ill, or injured veterans, surviving spouses, and their families, the Brookings will be moving to a new, comfortable home in the Carnes Crossroads community in Summerville, South Carolina, just outside Charleston. Jamison Howard of Max Crosby Construction has stepped up to build the home.

But the emotional part is not over yet. Before the walls go up and grass is planted, the team will invite the community and everyone involved in the project to come leave "notes of love," where they write small messages of encouragement, prayer, and well wishes on the studs under the walls. Once the construction is complete, Operation Finally Home hosts the "dedication," where the sponsors, team members, family, and community celebrate the completion of the home. (As you can imagine, there's rarely a dry eye in the house.) See the dedication of a home for the James family in Hendersonville, Tennessee:

Dan Wallrath, the president and founder of Operation Finally Home, says the homes are just one way to pay back veterans and their families, who have already paid in so many other ways. "We feel like they have already paid with their sacrifice, they have paid for us all," he says. "You just don't realize what they do for us. These are heros." Since 2005, the nonprofit has built (or is in the process of completing) more than 200 homes in 30 states, and aims to build 30 homes this year. That's a home delivery every 10 or 12 days—and a whole lot of tissues.