It was a long and winding road for the Watkins family to find their retirement home in their home state of Pennsylvania.
Master Sgt. Jason Watkins retired from the Marines four years ago in Georgia, the state where he was raised and where his last duty station had been. He and his wife Heidi met at a bowling alley at Penn State, have now been married 24 years and have three children.
Their older two children had graduated from a private school in the area and were both attending college. Their youngest daughter, Karaliah, was a freshman at the Georgia school. The couple planned to have her graduate and get their children through college before thinking about making the move back closer to family.
Then fate stepped in. Karaliah became the victim of severe bullying at her school during her sophomore year—so bad, she developed severe depression and started seeing a counselor.
“We talked with the school, and they were trying to do things to prevent it,” says Heidi, “but with the internet these days, you really cannot get away from it however much you try.”
Before Karaliah’s junior year, Jason asked her if she could make it just one or two more years, and her response was, “I don’t know if I’ll still be alive if I have to be here another year,” says Heidi.
A hard move
That did it. Jason had to stay with his Federal contractor job in Georgia, but Heidi packed up and took Karaliah back up to Pennsylvania, where she attended a large high school in Harrisburg. There, she thrived — even becoming a Varsity Cheerleader. Karaliah graduated and was accepted to West Virginia University, where she currently is in her second year studying Psychology and is thinking of becoming a counselor to help others.
“You do what you have to do for your children,” says Heidi. “We really couldn’t afford to do it — especially with two in college at the same time this was happening, but we did, and it created a financial hole we then had to dig out of.”
The family owned a house in North Carolina and the one in Georgia. Heidi and Karaliah lived in a small rental house near her new high school while Jason tried to sell their Georgia home and find a job near them.
It was tough being separated from each other, but the family could see it had been the best move they could make for their daughter. Jason was able to move up into the rental after about a year, and they stayed there until Karaliah graduated high school.
Jason and Heidi started looking to move, but were surprised to learn that their two-income family who had owned homes in the past (and still owned one in North Carolina) could not qualify for a mortgage.
“We were shocked,” says Heidi. “We’d always had great credit, but we’d basically been paying $5,000 a month that we didn’t have to maintain the separate households and had completely drained our savings. The kids did not know we were in this financial shape, and we just did not know what to do.”
“We were so ready to get out of that rental and into our own house,” says Jason, “But we just didn’t know how to make that happen.”
Finding a way
Then, one day last July, Jason saw an advertisement for New Day USA, a Mortgage company that specializes in VA Loans. He was intrigued. “What got me was the line, ‘your service is your down payment,’” says Jason. He called his wife at work and told her he was going to call the company and talk with them about getting a home loan.
“I told him not to do it—we had a plan to keep trucking along and try again in six months or a year, but he was determined,” she says.
Jason called and spoke with New Day Account Executive Ryan Seybuck, who listened to their story, which included taking in Heidi’s ill father in 2011 and caring for him. “I told him that I’d seen their commercial and was skeptical,” says Jason. “And added that the American government had put their trust in me to work on their F-18 aircraft while in the Marines, so I was looking to take them up on their slogan.”
“He listened to my whole story and then told me they could help,” says Jason. “It really got my spirits up — I actually cried!”
Other companies seemed to only look at the numbers, says Jason, but New Day took the time to get to know their family and their circumstances.
“They are so genuine,” says Heidi. “I would recommend them to anyone.”
Heidi says she wants to make sure every veteran understands the benefits they’ve earned — and how to take advantage of them. “They’ve given so much of their lives for this country,” she says. “We can be a prideful bunch, for sure, but we as military families and veterans need to know what we are eligible for.”
Jason agrees, “Give [New Day] a chance to work with you— don’t let your pride get in the way. They will probably surprise you with what they can do—they did us!”
A new beginning
The couple closed on their new home — an idyllic, mountain retreat complete with a workshop and some acreage— in September, and hosted Thanksgiving for their extended family at their new house.
Their three children joined them, including Karaliah, son Zach, 22, a senior at Penn State; and oldest daughter Mariah, 23, a recent graduate of Wake Forest who served through ROTC, was commissioned in May, and is now a member of the Army Reserve. Mariah used her ROTC scholarship to help pay for school and the younger two kids are using their Dad’s transferred GI Bill benefits— another of the great benefits service members earn and should definitely use, say the Watkins.
Needless to say, the empty nesters are enjoying their new home. “It’s so beautiful waking up and looking outside,” says Heidi. “There are a few things here and there we want to change, but it really is a dream property. And we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the wonderful people at New Day.”