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By Melissa Green | Citizens Bank Staff
In the normally quiet neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, Ohio hundreds of excited volunteers and community members lined the street, waving flags and cheering the arrival of Sergeant First Class Charlie Pepinrivera and family. A procession of veterans, firefighters, and community organizations led the Pepinrivera family to their newly renovated home provided by Citizens Bank — the home that they would see for the first time.
Soldiers join the Army for any number of reasons; some are chasing adventure, while others are following family tradition. For Charlie, it was a calling. “I was called to serve, and I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” he says. Following his sense of duty, Charlie first enlisted in the Puerto Rico National Guard in January 1993, where he served for four years before transferring to active duty in the United States Army.
During his 24-year military career, Charlie was deployed multiple times to Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “It was hard, but I wouldn’t change it,” remembers Charlie. “I fell off a helicopter during a mission, I was shot, an IED exploded during a convoy … I’m blessed to be alive.”
Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
While overseas, Charlie displayed acts of bravery and leadership that earned him several military awards, including: The Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, NATO Medal, and Combat Action Badge.
It’s no secret that soldiers can often face a difficult transition following a deployment. Charlie’s been physically and emotionally recovering with the support of his wife Maribel and their six children: Joseph (22), Mariela (22), Joyce (19), Gabriel (18), Joimar (16), and Jonnel (13). “Deployment takes a toll on your mind and body; I’m so glad I have Maribel and a strong support system,” says Charlie.
Charlie and Maribel are no strangers to selfless service, one of the Army’s core values. “Hawaii has a severe issue with homelessness, so when we were stationed there we would go down to the beach, fire up the grill and feed anyone who was hungry,” says Charlie. The couple volunteered for the Meals on Wheels program, which brings meals to elderly people unable to leave their homes. They even founded a nonprofit called “Mission to Minister” which helped provide and connect people with community resources. “We would help individuals find housing, transportation, gain access to medical care…we just wanted to help fill the void,” says Charlie.
“Growing up in Puerto Rico was hard, we didn’t have much. So being able to help others is something very special to me, to us,” says Charlie as he smiles at his wife.
As a decorated war hero, Charlie and his family are working together to transition into civilian life. Although he doesn’t wear a uniform anymore, Charlie’s mission hasn’t changed. “Family is everything to me,” says Charlie. “I want to be a leader they can all be proud of, and serve my community.” Living in Cleveland allows the Pepinriveras to be closer to their friends and extended family. “When you’re in the military, you move around a lot, and it’s hard to establish and maintain close friendships, so I’m happy to settle down. I’m so excited to be in Cleveland,” says Maribel as she smiles at her husband.
The hard work and dedication displayed by Charlie and Maribel have been instrumental in increasing the morale and quality of life for those who are less fortunate; now it’s time for us to help them. In addition to the mortgage-free home, Charlie and Maribel will receive three years of financial literacy and debt management coaching through the Military Warriors Support Foundation.
“Things like this don’t happen every day,” says a tearful Maribel. “We’ve been trying to buy a home for a couple of years, and for one reason or another it wasn’t happening for us. It’s been hard, but now I know why; this opportunity was our blessing and we couldn’t be more grateful.”
At Citizens Bank, we’re proud to partner with the Military Warriors Support Foundation (MWSF) to give combat-wounded veterans and their families a place to call home. The MWSF’s program works with corporate partners, like us, who donate mortgage-free homes so that these heroes and their families can focus on settling back into their lives as civilians.
UPDATE: Keep scrolling to find out how Charlie and his family have adjusted to life in Cleveland.
By Melissa Green | Citizens Bank Staff
When combat-wounded veterans like SFC Charlie Pepinrivera transition back into civilian life, they face unique challenges that go beyond their physical recovery. Many soldiers struggle with financial literacy, job placement, and taking care of their mental health. Receiving a mortgage-free home is a dream come true, but it also presents its own set of tasks to navigate. Read on to learn how the Pepinriveras are meeting the challenges of home ownership, relocation, and supporting each other as a family.
Owning a home is an amazing accomplishment; however, there are a lot of financial implications that first-time homeowners are surprised by.“I lived in the Army barracks for years,” remembers Charlie. “There are bills and expenses now that I’ve never had to think about before.” Although their home is mortgage free, the Pepinriveras are still responsible for property taxes, HOA fees, and day-to-day maintenance costs that go along with owning a home.
To help the families we give homes to stay on the right track financially, Citizens Bank provides three years of financial literacy and support. “The financial education has been great,” says Maribel happily. Charlie agrees. “We had a loose budget before, but we learned how to plan effectively so we have a better understanding of where our money is going, and how to plan for things we want in the future,” he says.
Moving around every few years is pretty standard for many military families, but it’s never easy. The Pepinriveras came to Cleveland from San Antonio, Texas, which is a significant transition. “My kids and wife are pretty used to moving around military bases, but I’m glad we’re able to settle down for good in a place we call home … even if we have to deal with the snow,” says Charlie. “The kids are playing sports and becoming more involved. We also found a church that we love; Maribel is already singing a solo,” Charlie adds with a smile.
A strong community can provide much-needed support to a relocating family, and the people of Cleveland Heights rose to the occasion beautifully. “Our neighbors are so friendly and always offer to help out in any way they can,” says Maribel. “Our friend Bob Piercy from Citizens Bank has really become part of our family,” adds Charlie. “He’s come over after work and helped me install a ceiling fan, and he helped me build a deck for my grill. He’s been so dedicated to our family’s success that I wanted to do something special for him.”
SFC Charlie Pepinrivera and Bob Piercy, Citizens Bank employee
In an effort to give back, soldiers and aviators take American flags on combat missions and send them back home to show appreciation for the support. “I couldn’t think of a better person to give it to than Bob,” says Charlie. The flag is presented with a personalized certificate stating the date the flag was flown, what type of aircraft it was flown in, who the pilot was, and the campaign tour. A nation's flag can be a powerful symbol of pride for people — but a flag that comes with a story behind it can mean so much more.
Settling down into civillian life can have mental health challenges as well. “It’s more than my physical injuries that I’m dealing with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome] is hard for me as well,” says Charlie. “I’m lucky to have my wife and a strong support system here in Cleveland to help me stay healthy.”
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A large number of veterans exposed to combat environments suffer from PTSD; many more are undiagnosed and aren’t receiving treatment. “Some days are harder than others,” says Charlie. “When I’m having a tough time, I remember my coping strategies — for example, I love to barbecue! Having my own home, I’m able to cook, relax, invite my friends and family over, and share a meal.”
Transitioning into a new phase in life can be difficult and scary for anyone. “I learn something new everyday” says Charlie, “we’re always learning and growing together.” If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to support an entire family.
Thanks to the emotional, financial, and community support the Pepinriveras continue to receive, they’ll not only be ready for their first Cleveland winter, they’re made ready for whatever life brings their way.
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