Solving the Problems of Coming Home

September 17, 2013

Meet Good Neighbor Finalist Rebecca Moniz, who helps Rhode Island National Guard soldiers and their families stay in their homes while building awareness in the community.

Hector Garcia spent 20 years serving in the military — 10 years in active duty and another 10 as an Army recruiter in Providence, R.I. — but that all came to a halt when he was hit by a car in the parking lot outside his office four years ago. He suffered massive injuries and ended up retiring from the Army and collecting disability. Unfortunately, his loss of income caused him to fall behind on his mortgage. That’s when he was introduced to Rebecca Moniz.

Moniz cofounded the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS®’ Troop Support Task Force, which helps military families facing economic hardship stay in their homes, connecting them with appropriate housing-related resources. Garcia was referred to the Task Force by the spouse of a deployed soldier, and Moniz found him a lawyer who took his case for little to no cost, helping Garcia declare bankruptcy and keep his home.

“I love my house; I see deer and turkey out my window. It’s a very peaceful neighborhood,” Garcia says of his North Smithfield, R.I., home that he shares with his wife and three children — one of whom is a son who serves in the Air Force and recently deployed to Afghanistan. Moniz, he says, is “a great person. She has a big heart and really cares for people.”

Moniz’s home state of Rhode Island has held the second-highest deployment rate per capita through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These soldiers have come home to a depressed economy. Many are upside-down on their mortgages, and are unemployed or are underemployed.

“I am free to sit in my home … earn a living, and enjoy my life because of the service and sacrifice of those who serve. The very least I can do is give back to that community,” says Moniz.

Moniz and the REALTORS® Troop Support Task Force attend Yellow Ribbon events put on by the Rhode Island Military Family Programs, where they’ve educated an estimated 1,500 service members and their families over the last four years on housing-related issues before, during, and after deployment. She puts families in touch with trusted resources, such as lenders or buyer’s agents who can explain eligibility and benefits.

Sometimes these service members need simple things, like a fence so their dog doesn’t run out of the yard. Other times, they’re in desperate need of a major home repair.

“I can’t tell you exactly how many people we’ve helped because we don’t take names. We just give them the right resources,” says Moniz. “As long as it’s home-related, we can facilitate that, and the people at the Family Assistance Center now recognize that, when there’s a problem, they can call us.”

Moniz’s father was in the Navy and her sister currently serves as a colonel in the Army Reserve, so Moniz has a deep understanding and respect for the sacrifices that soldiers make.

National Guard members take a leave from their civilian jobs during deployment and often take a pay cut to serve, Moniz points out. For instance, soldiers who make $50,000 per year in their civilian job might see their income go down by $10,000 to $20,000 when receiving deployment reimbursement. That pay cut can result in financial difficulties, says Moniz.

“We don’t have success stories; we have survival stories,” she says. “These soldiers are very proud. None of them want to be the poster child of financial ruin.”

Moniz became involved in 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq War, when she stood up at the Kent Washington Board of REALTORS® general membership meeting and asked a room of 50 people for donations to start a relief fund to support the newly deployed members of the Rhode Island National Guard. She instantly raised $800.

Her military advocacy has continued to grow over the past decade, raising awareness not only among the REALTOR® community but also within the community at large.

“It’s really important to make that connection with the community because then [Guard members] know they’re supported,” says Lori Hart, a Yellow Ribbon Support Specialist who works closely with Moniz. “She gets involved with things to the level that my staff would. She comes up with prizes, baskets, and giveaways. I can’t believe what she does – it blows me away.”

Moniz assembled gift bags with samples and local store discounts for Yellow Ribbon events this year. She also got the local chamber of commerce and North Kingstown Town Council involved, donating event space this summer. Moniz helped raise money for a movie night, acquiring a popcorn machine and candy for the children.

“I want to do something different for the families, and I don’t think I could do this stuff without Becky — she makes sure I have those connections,” said Hart. “Not only does she do the little extra things, but her service is very important to our members.”

Between 2007 and 2009, Moniz and the REALTORS® Troop Support Task Force raised $15,000 — largely through the raffle of gas gift cards — to bring the Military Childhood Education Coalition to Rhode Island. The Coalition trained 41 public school teachers and guidance counselors on how to identify and treat deployment-related behavioral problems in children of service members.

What’s more, Moniz was able to connect Rhode Island Housing with the Yellow Ribbon events, creating enough awareness to secure a federally approved change to include military families in the Hardest Hit Fund guidelines. In 2011, the Hardest Hit Fund provided an $80 million loan modification grant to help Rhode Island home owners facing foreclosure.

“My voice has been heard about the need, and now that most of the troops are coming home, it will evolve into keeping soldiers in their homes,” Moniz says. “Makes me proud to be an American.”

—By Erica Christoffer

Contact Rebecca Moniz at