August 02, 2019

Wounded combat veteran, family gifted new home

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

By BRIANNA KWASNIK Staff Writer |  Jul 26, 2019 Updated Jul 26, 2019

Howard and Yoland 2

BABCOCK RANCH — Kiyomi Appleby ran to find her room in her family’s new home.

Kiyomi, who turns 5 today, is having a weekend filled with all things new.

Her family moved into their new home Friday morning – where she has a new room with a new bed and new furniture, and most importantly, new toys, including coloring books and fairy wings.

“I can fit a lot of stuff in here!” she exclaimed.

Her father, retired U.S. Army veteran, Sergeant Howard Appleby, was wounded during combat. In recognition of his service, he and his family were gifted a mortgage-free home from Operation FINALLY HOME, and PulteGroup.

The process was many months in the making, but Friday, the family was welcomed home by a large crowd of neighbors and Patriot Guard Riders.

“Five months ago, Howard was in a state of shock, when he didn’t know the house was for him,” said Richard McCormick, president of PulteGroup’s Southwest Florida Division at the home dedication ceremony.

“Howard told me he was going to stop visiting the house and let the excitement build, so he hasn’t seen the house in the last 30 days,” McCormick said.

Once inside their home, the kids ran to find their rooms, while Howard and his wife Yoland explored the home in its entirety.

The kids seemed only interested in their rooms.

“Daddy, are we going to live here forever?” Kiyomi asked Howard.

“Forever!” he promised her.

For Kiyomi, her favorite part of her new room was the mural painted on the wall by two neighbors in the community, that featured Tinkerbell, another one of her favorites.

She wandered through the house wearing her new fairy wings, searching for someone who might have a pair of scissors, to help her open her new toys.

Across the hall is Kai and Aaden’s room, 9-year-old twins, though Aaden wanted to make sure it was clear he is older by two minutes.

“We have a bunk bed, and the wall is painted, my brother and I got soccer balls, and the carpet is so soft,” said Aaden, explaining the things he loves about his new room.

“We can put a trash can or a plant in the corner, and a TV on the dresser,” Aaden told his brother.

“There’s two dressers, so we probably don’t have to share,” Aaden noted.

The kids will start the school year at their new school, Babcock Ranch Neighborhood School on Thursday.

Howard said that it’s awesome to see his kids with their own rooms. He joked that he’ll spend time in the “soccer room,” referring to his son’s room.

“To see the kids’ reactions – it’s heartwarming,” Yoland said.

Howard said that to him, this home represents hope.

“This is a way of life for myself and my family,” he said.

After service, Howard said he became depressed, and spent the majority of his time going from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment.

“At times, I wanted to give up,” he said.

But then he met his future wife, Yoland.

“I’m still alive, I’m pushing through,” Howard said. “This is hope for life. It’s a blessing.”

At the home dedication ceremony, he spoke to the crowd of well-wishers, visibly overwhelmed with emotion.

“I never endured an easy life, but the strength to be a good husband and role model for my kids … with the strength from family and friends, I’m going to keep going,” he said.

This home, to him, is a place to heal, and to create memories with his wife and kids.

It’s a weight lifted from his shoulders, he said, and a place of hope.