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By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff
ALDAN, Pa. — As the weeks ticked by, the suspense ate away at Michael Lowe’s kids.
When are we going to see the house? What color is my room? Are we going right now?
“I’ve never seen them this happy,” Michael said.
The family of seven had been living in tight quarters, renting a three-bedroom home in Harrisburg. But as of November 2, all that would change.
Michael and his family were about to receive a mortgage-free home.
The Lowes piled into a van that would take them to their new neighborhood, new home, and new life. Shortly after making the right turn onto their new street, the van stopped. Anticipation filled the van and lined the sidewalks. Volunteers and soon-to-be neighbors waited to greet them.
One by one, the family exited the van. The moment had arrived. The van shifted into drive and drifted down the street, unveiling a brick, two-story colonial revival.
The Lowes had their home.
Even though it was Michael’s years of sacrifice and service that made this day possible, he knew who it was really for.
“That’s our home,” he told his kids.
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“They thought I was dead.”
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Michael and his family’s new home in Aldan, Pennsylvania.
Michael's road to this moment was long and emotional.
In 2002, Michael migrated from Guyana to the United States with his family. In the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, Michael’s brother encouraged him to enlist in the Army. He did so in March 2003 as a Combat Engineer. Within a year, Michael was deployed to Iraq.
According to Michael, the first attack by a suicide bomber came in October 2004. A month later, his platoon was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), an attack that broke both Michael’s ankles, knocked him unconscious, and killed the driver of his platoon.
Still, Michael returned to combat.
A year later, a second suicide bomber attack. This time, shrapnel struck Michael's head.
“They thought I was dead,” he recalled. “They called me killed in action.”
But that’s not how Michael’s story was meant to end. He survived. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury, Michael medically retired from the Army in 2006 as a Private First Class Combat Engineer. But not before he was awarded the Purple Heart.
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“My kids are my backbone.”
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Michael embraces Citizens Bank Vice Chairman Brad Conner.
The transition home had its own battles. Michael returned to Brooklyn, New York, where he lived with his aunt and her two kids.
He spent close to a year in his room, coping with his PTSD. “But thanks to my family and friends,” Michael said, “I made it out.”
Eventually, he went back to school and earned his degree. Things were looking up.
Or so it seemed. Terrible news of Michael's aunt’s health hit him hard; she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The woman who helped raise him and adjust to life after war was now the one who needed help.
Fortunately, Michael was there.
He adopted his nephews after his aunt's death. The two moved in with Michael and his biological son.
Years later, the call to serve his family came again. This time, from Michael’s cousin.
She wasn’t well enough to care for her two young kids. She looked to Michael for help. In the summer of 2017, she asked Michael if he would raise her children, too.
Michael stepped up. Again. He filed to adopt both kids; the applications are still processing.
“My kids are my backbone,” Michael said. “I live for them. My joy comes from seeing them happy.”
While taking in four children is noble, it comes with challenges. As Michael put it, his family seemingly doubled overnight. Space was at a premium. They were living in Maryland at the time, and Michael knew the family would need a bigger home. Someday.
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“A free home? I had never heard of that.”
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Michael and family ready to enter their home for the first time.
In December 2017, one conversation changed everything. Michael’s coworker knew he'd already adopted two children and was in the process of taking in two more. She told him about Military Warriors Support Foundation’s Homes4WoundedHeroes program, which works with corporate partners — including Citizens Bank — that donate and renovate mortgage-free homes for combat-wounded heroes.
“A free home?” Michael laughed. “I had never heard of that.”
Was this really how Michael would get the home they needed? He didn’t know for sure, but it was worth a shot. He started an application for a home in Maryland.
Then, life got in the way, as it often does. Michael took a state government job in Pennsylvania, so the family packed their things and moved. His application went unfinished.
The family settled in Harrisburg, making do with the space they had. Michael gave up his bedroom for the kids and put bunk beds in another bedroom. Most nights, he took the couch.
Now that life had settled again, Michael revisited his application. He applied for another home, but it was awarded to a different veteran.
Time was becoming an issue. Their lease was almost up in Harrisburg. It didn’t make sense to stay; they needed a bigger place. So Michael started looking into other rental options.
Still, he applied through Military Warriors Support Foundation once more. Michael saw that a home was available in the Philadelphia area. Maybe this was a sign their luck was turning.
“Then, I got a call,” he said.
Michael was a finalist. In September 2018, the Lowes got the news they had hoped for.
They had a home.
“Life is so crazy,” Michael said. “I might have never applied. It’s all about persistence.
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“My family just got way bigger.”
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Michael gets his first look at the girls’ bedroom upstairs.
Now, Michael and his children gazed at their home and its giant green bow. Michael repeatedly removed his glasses to wipe the tears away.
All this time, the family wondered what their new life would look like. Now, the unknown was known. The home they wanted — and needed — stood in front of them.
Their dream became reality.
Michael always knew his oldest son should have a bedroom to himself. Now, Michael stood in that very bedroom. He walked into the girls’ room upstairs and saw the bunk beds in the boys’ room. There were two bathrooms, a fully-stocked kitchen, and backyard. A “Home Sweet Home” welcome mat rested outside the front door.
And for Michael? He had a bed again.
Now it was time for Michael to speak. He thanked Citizens Bank at the key ceremony for donating the home. He thanked its volunteers for furnishing it through their own donations, and for their renovation work. It was an eight-week project that took round-the-clock effort, all to make sure the home was move-in ready for the family.
He thanked Giant Eagle for stocking the shelves with food and other essentials, and for a year's supply of free groceries. And he thanked Military Warriors Support Foundation for selecting him to receive this life-changing gesture.
“I feel like my family just got way bigger,” Michael laughed. “And I already have a big family.”
Then, he continued.
“There’s a saying that it takes a community to raise kids,” Michael said, “and I can see now that my kids will be OK.”
For Michael, that's more than enough.
At Citizens Bank, we're proud to give veterans and their families a place to call home, in partnership with Military Warriors Support Foundation. The MWSF's program works with corporate partners, like us, that donate mortgage-free homes so that combat-wounded heroes and their families can focus on settling back into their lives as civilians.
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