Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

At Ease: Army Veteran Gets Big Surprise from Nonprofit; Woman, 8-Year-Old Son Get Mortgage-Free House from HomeStrong USA

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

At Ease: Army Veteran Gets Big Surprise from Nonprofit; Woman, 8-Year-Old Son Get Mortgage-Free House from HomeStrong USA

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

Eight-year-old Camron Robinson loves cars.

When he learned Wednesday that his mother, an Army veteran, won a newly renovated, mortgage-free house in Arlington Hills, he was stoked to discover that not only would he have his own room for the first time, but he would get to sleep in a car-shaped bed.

And his new room was already supplied with toy cars.

"I am so happy," he said. "I just want to say, 'Jacksonville rules.' "

When former Army Sgt. Jessica Blow and Camron arrived at the single-story home for the announcement, they thought they were finalists for the HomeStrong Heroes giveaway, which was sponsored by nationwide community development nonprofit HomeStrong USA and Bank of America.

She figured the other finalists were in the large crowd in the front yard, which included HomeStrong staffers, bank volunteers, the Welch Team from Keller Williams Realty and media. But Blow was the only veteran called on to speak.

Then John Berens, a bank senior vice president, announced: "Welcome home, Jessica and Camron!"

Mother and son, who were living in a Jacksonville apartment and never owned a home, clearly were stunned. Blow, 29 and a single mother, covered her face with her hands and enveloped Camron in a hug. After touring her new home, she cried on the shoulder of close friend Stephanie Taylor, an Army friend whom HomeStrong brought in from Tampa to be on hand for the surprise.

"I am so thankful," she said. "Beyond excited."

After 11 years in the Army, including two deployments to Iraq and two injuries along the way, she is a full-time student at Keiser University, working toward a bachelor's degree in business management. Having a mortgage-free home will allow her to continue her education "stress-free" and not worry about housing, she said.

HomeStrong USA took applications this summer from active-military service members and honorably discharged veterans in the Jacksonville area. The HomeStrong Heroes Volunteer Advisory Committee - veterans and leaders in the military community - selected the winner based on applicant essays. …

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