A Fort Payne Police officer whose family lost everything in a Christmas Eve 2019 house fire received an early present under his tree: the mortgage on his new home paid off completely by his lender as a token of appreciation for his service.
Sgt. J.C. Brown and his family escaped the early morning blaze with only the clothes on their backs. The Times-Journal followed their story last fall and the efforts to help them rebound from the tragedy.
Veterans United Home Loans is a full service mortgage lender headquartered in Columbia, Missouri that primarily originates VA loans, a mortgage product guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This fall, they held a campaign under the hashtag #MakeItMeanMore during which they would donate $25 to pay off the mortgages of veterans every time someone tweeted the phrase “Thank you for your service.”
“The company I got my VA home loan through, Veterans United, asked their hundreds of agents if they had any stories that stuck out to them. My lender knew my name and story but didn’t realize what they were planning to do,” Brown said. “[The agent] told me their PR people wanted to talk to me about the house fire and do a Zoom interview about my military service and policing. They sent me an iPad and some video equipment. They told me they wanted to call me back and to get my family together so they could wish me a happy Veteran’s Day. Then they told me they were going to pay off 10 mortgages and I thought, ‘Oh, well that’s cool.’ Then they said ‘We’re going pay yours off too.’”
A video shared on YouTube shows the moment Brown and his family, sitting on their couch, are told by Iraq War veteran Michael Schlitz that Veterans United Home Loans would commit to pay off their 30-year mortgage. As of Friday morning, the video had more than 2,000 views.
“It was quite shocking actually and pretty amazing,” Brown said. “It’s been a wild year for us. A tough year to be in law enforcement. We put the Christmas tree up Monday night because we were going to try to get a jump on the holidays and have a better start than last year. I was just emotional and overwhelmed.”
The YouTube video ends with an appeal from VUHL for everyone to “make it mean more” when thanking veterans for their service to the country.
Despite the challenges of the last year, Brown said he appreciates all of the efforts people went to during his family’s hardships.
After the fire, a GoFundMe page was set up in their name and featured on the police department’s Facebook page. Justin Christman of Roadside Que and family friend Ken Mayo organized a fundraiser for them.
“We didn’t have a want or a need before the house was even put out,” Brown said. “People rushed in to help us. We were renting the house. We had no insurance so we lost it all. The GoFundMe page helped us to furnish the new place. We actually had to turn people away who were offering us appliances, couches and beds. We didn’t have anywhere to put it. We got a brand new wardrobe from people donating stuff. They didn’t donate their junk but all new stuff.”
Such acts of kindness epitomize the holiday spirit and express a true appreciation of one man’s service to his nation and his community.
To view the YouTube video, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUZAogl7wu4.