Dymtro Bodnar was just flipping through a magazine when he spotted an advertisement for PenFed Foundation’s Dream Makers program.
Bodnar was in the process of buying his first home, a three-bedroom rambler in Rockville, and money was tight. He immediately contacted PenFed Foundation, was sent the paperwork to fill out and two weeks later he was awarded a $5,000 grant that he used toward the purchase of his house.
“It was very helpful program,” said Bodnar, 31, who served two years in the Army, two years in the National Guard and now works as a contractor at Fort Meade.
“Sometimes when you read stuff like that, you would think it would take you a lot of paperwork and it will take forever, and in the end, you will think, ‘Why did I get involved in this situation?’ But I really appreciate the job they did. They helped me a lot. It took just a couple weeks.”
Bodnar is one of a growing number of service members and veterans who have bought their first home with the help of Dream Makers. The program, which is funded by private donations from individuals and corporations, awarded its first grant in 2007. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bounds.
In 2010, PenFed Foundation awarded 51 grants for a total of $254,000. In 2011, it awarded 93 grants for a total of $450,000. Last year, it awarded 168 grants for a total of $823,000. The goal this year is to reach $1 million.
Members and veterans of every branch of service, including the Coast Guard, and their widows are eligible. You also must be a first-time home buyer and have a gross annual income of $55,000 or less, or 80 percent of area median income, adjusted for family size. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average service member receives a base pay of $34,000 per year.
“This is a pretty modestly compensated person,” said Kate Kohler, chief operating officer of the PenFed Foundation and a former Army captain. “That’s really our target of who we are helping.”
PenFed Foundation was started in 2001 by executives and employees of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. Although the foundation’s programs have expanded to include emergency financial assistance and child care to wounded warriors and their families through its Military Heroes Fund and interest-free loans to service members through its Asset Recovery Kit program, one of its earliest missions has been helping service members and veterans afford a home of their own.
Because members of the military tend to lead a transient life, when they finally settle down, it can be especially meaningful for them.
“You’re never sure how long you’re going to be someplace,” said Kohler, who during her Army career moved 13 times in 11 years. “There’s always that uncertainty.”
Dream Makers continues to grow in popularity but Kohler is hoping to get the word out to those who would like to donate to the program or those who could benefit from it.
“Anyone who is interested in helping a military family or veteran family go into their first home, this is a great place for your charitable contributions,” Kohler said. “Tell a veteran or military member about the Dream Makers grant. Do it today, while they are reading the article, forward it to a friend, post it on Facebook. It’s a tangible way for them to say, ‘I do support the troops. I helped somebody get a Dream Makers grant.’ ”
For more information on Dream Makers, go to www.penfedfoundation.org.