U.S. Navy veteran Shynae Murphy felt like she won the lottery when she walked through the front door of her newly renovated Algonquin home for the first time.
She envisioned her family moving from their second-floor Chicago apartment into the two-story, mortgage-free house on Tanglewood Drive, complete with a full yard and a finished basement. She pictured her 10-month-old son playing in the family room and her 9-year-old daughter excitedly claiming her new bedroom.
"This will be mind-blowing," said Murphy, 30. "I'm going to absolutely like this environment. It's mine."
Murphy, who served four years as a Navy seaman, was awarded the house Tuesday through Homes on the Homefront, an Operation Homefront program that provides military families with mortgage-free residences and homeowner counseling services. The houses are renovated and donated by corporate partners -- in this case, JPMorgan Chase -- before the keys are handed over to the candidate best suited for the property, said Jason Moody, a spokesman for the Texas-based organization.
Murphy, who works at the Department of Veterans Affairs, submitted an application for the home after hearing of the program from a co-worker. She was shocked when an Operation Homefront representative told her last May that she had been selected.
"The process of getting this house was not easy," said Murphy, who had to wait another nine months for the house to be renovated. "I guess the person (deciding) just has to have an open heart. Whoever screened my application, I'm really thankful."
Operation Homefront chooses the recipients based on a set of criteria including their military experience, financial stability, commitment to living in the home for at least two years, and ability to integrate into the community, Moody said. The organization then provides the new residents with homeowner services, such as financial counseling, for one to three years.
Last year, the program awarded homes to 54 military families and deeded 104 properties nationwide.
Though originally from Philadelphia, Murphy has family support in Chicago and strong ties to the area, Moody said. She enlisted in the Navy in 2006 and worked as an aviation maintenance administrator until she was honorably discharged in 2010. During that time, she toured the Pacific Ocean in 2007 and served with the 7th Fleet in Dubai, Iran, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Now, Murphy says she's been given an opportunity to provide her children with a stable living environment and a better quality of life. The donated house -- the first one Murphy has owned -- will help her pursue a master's degree, focus on her career and establish a strong foundation for her family, she said.
"It's like a godsend," Murphy said. "I'm just thankful for the opportunity."