Just a few years removed from serving in the Navy, Beth Jarosy found herself living in her mother's Villa Park basement.
A divorced mother of three, Jarosy moved nine times before settling in the unfinished basement. Every paycheck was handed to her mother to pay bills.
Driving past a house a few streets away, Jarosy noticed a big blue tarp covering a tree that had fallen on the roof.
She knew she couldn't afford the house, let alone the rehab, but she was intrigued.
Months later, the house had been repaired and a Habitat for Humanity sign stood out front.
"Completely out of the blue I said 'That's going to be my house,'" Jarosy said.
She reached out to Habitat. Even with a steady job at Verizon Communications, she never expected her application to be approved.
"I always feel there are people who need it more than I do," Jarosy said. "My mom was there to help me. My sister was there to help me. There's other people who need it more."
But Jarosy's application was approved and she began working with Habitat to make the house her home.
Her family moved into the house on Sept. 27, 2009, the day before her birthday.
Jarosy is one of many veterans Habitat for Humanity has assisted over the years. In 2012, the group ramped up those efforts with its Veterans Initiative program.
Through the program, Habitat has reached out to Veteran Affairs and other associations to create partnerships to engage veterans and their families in need of homes. Over the next three years, organizers hope to serve 1,000 veterans nationwide.
"Typically, veterans aren't accustomed to reaching out and asking for help. They are the folks helping everyone else," said Dave Neary, executive director of DuPage Habitat for Humanity. "While there is a great need to re-engage in a normal lifestyle, there isn't always a normal outreach."
The need for a helping hand is there.
More than 1.5 million veteran households are severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing. Roughly 1.4 million veterans live in poverty.
DuPage Habitat launched its veterans initiative in July and is in the process of working with veteran Clarence Evans, who served in Afghanistan, to build a townhouse for his family of six near Glen Ellyn.
Prospective homeowners like Jarosy and Evans must invest 250 hours of "sweat equity" helping build houses, and must hold down jobs with good credit and participate in financial training.
A 30-year, interest-free mortgage is established through Habitat with a second mortgage due when the home is sold or transferred.
"We want them to have the ability to continue to serve and to have a good sense of purpose," Neary said.
Jarosy served in the Navy from 1996 to 2000 on two different ships out of Guam, then from 2000 to 2004 in the reserve.
Her ship was part of relief efforts in the southern Persian Gulf after the USS Cole was bombed in 2000.
"That experience, then coming home -- it's a completely different environment," Jarosy said. "When you're a single person in the military, everything is provided for you, there's a steady paycheck on the first and the 15th of the month.
"When you come back you don't have any of that. You have to figure it out for yourself."
Most recently, through a Veterans Day special with the Fox Valley Habitat ReStore, designer Kevin Grace from HGTV surprised Jarosy's family with a makeover. Her living room was repainted and recarpeted.
New tile, shelves and molding were put in the living room using all donated materials.
Four years after moving into her new home, Jarosy has remarried and returned to school for her bachelor's degree.
Relaxing with her husband, Nate Jarosy, her three children playing behind them, Jarosy speaks like a woman content and grateful.
"The most important thing is it's provided stability for my kids," Jarosy said, "just knowing that they have a place that they can call their own. I was able to get myself back together because I no longer had to worry about where I was going to go."