Operation FINALLY HOME, partners break ground on new home for Cypress soldier
His eyes were wide open as they rounded the corner and he saw the lot where his new home would be built. It was a dream come true for a young soldier who has endured so much.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Stephen Netzley, along with his daughter Mrazy, took their first look at the lot where his new mortgage-free home will be built on Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the Bridgeland community of Cypress, Texas.
What he saw as they turned down his street was breathtaking.
“We met them at the Welcome Center on N. Bridgeland Lake Parkway, and they escorted us out to the lot where the house will be built,” Netzley said.
Upon arrival, he was greeted by a lot of smiles from neighbors, his grandparents were there along with the Texan cheerleaders, and representatives from Operation FINALLY HOME, The Howard Hughes Corporation, Perry Homes, Houston Texans, and Greater Houston Builders Association (GHBA) that were involved in helping him get the home.
“It was an amazing site to see and it filled my heart with a lot of warmth,” he said.
His eyes scanned the crowd and stopped when he saw a huge, towering guy.
A big fan of the Oilers and then the Texans, he immediately recognized him and was speechless. It was retired Texan lineman Chester Pitts.
“I’m about a third of his size and that was really cool to see him,” he said. Netzley was smiling so hard.
“It gets more and more real. I was looking at the neighborhood as we drove in and how amazing it was. It’s really starting to feel like I’m home now,” he said.
On the drive into the neighborhood, he saw a park within walking distance to the home that his daughter, Mrazy, has already fallen in love with and can’t wait to explore.
“It’s everything we could have wanted and more. I can’t believe they went out of their way to make sure that we had everything that would make us happy there,” he said.
He tries not to think about what his future will be like with his injuries, but they had mentioned to him that they would be making modifications, like larger doorways, for the possibility of the use of a wheelchair.
“This will be my forever home unless something happens,” he said. I can’t think of a better place or a better state.”
Compared to what he grew up in and the difficult times he faced as a child, he said he never thought he would live in an area that nice or have a home of that quality.
“The neighbors couldn’t have been more welcoming,” he said. “They were there introducing themselves to me. I’ll have some veterans who are neighbors too,” which really made him smile.
He’s been following the neighborhood page online and the comments have been inspiring to him. One thing did catch his eye as he was perusing the local events.
“I saw they have a chili cookoff. My dad and I used to cook chili often so I’m really going to enjoy that,” he said.
The veteran says he’s learned to cook and enjoys it particularly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
It hasn’t been all happy times for the soldier, even after learning he would be given the home back on Nov. 23, 2020 with a surprise announcement that he was being granted the mortgage-free home.
The normally happy occasion was bittersweet as he returned home to take care of his mother who was herself fighting a battle of her own. She had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was also battling terminal cancer.
“We took the sign home and put it next to the Christmas tree,” he said. The sign from the surprise announcement had an artist’s rendering of the elevation of what the home might look like.
“She’d come to once in a while, look over and see that and you could see how happy she was that we were going to be taken care of,” he said.
They had hoped she would live long enough to see the groundbreaking and even the new home be built, but she died one week before Christmas.
This day their spirits were uplifted in the hope that his mom would see the project coming to fruition.
“What a wonderful day to be able to break ground on this mortgage-free Perry home for Stephen and his daughter,” said Lee Kirgan, vice president of project management for Operation FINALLY HOME. “After a rough week in Houston with frigid weather conditions, this is a bright spot to gather and honor this American hero by providing him and his daughter a safe place to call home in the wonderful Bridgeland community.”
His twin brother, Christopher, came down after their mother passed away and they drove around the Bridgeland area but had no idea where the lot for his home was going to be.
“We used to play disc golf out here when we were much younger and it didn’t look anything like this,” he said.
Christopher is still stationed in Missouri and will be transferring to Fort Hood soon and will be able to come down and see the home in person once it’s built. He’s a combat engineer and runs some of the training courses for the U.S. Army. All his brothers love being in the military.
“My older brother is 10 years ahead of us and joined up in ’88 and he would tell us about having a bed to sleep on. I didn’t have one when I was a kid most of the time. Hearing you got a bed and three meals every day sounded like a dream come true to me,” he said of his rough early life. Food insecurity was a real problem for Netzley and his brothers. He ultimately dropped out of school to work and help pay bills for the family.
“You didn’t have to worry about keeping the lights on. That was someone else’s worry. There were other reasons for me to join, but that was a high motivator,” he said.
Those days are long behind him and now he has a support group, neighbors and friends who are trying to help him.
He’s continuing his master’s program in social work with a macro focus on policy so he can advocate for veterans.
“I’m enjoying the material that I’m coming across. I’m still able to keep up with it all,” he said. He’s attending the main campus of the University of Houston.
Currently, he’s interning at the Veteran’s Office on the main campus and hopes that eventually he’ll be in a branch office.
He’s not able to work with full-time school, maintaining enough intern hours for the social work requirements, and he also does a second internship helping with policy development for a local firm.
“I’m so grateful that despite everything that’s going on, it speaks to the strength and perseverance of everybody involved with the fact that this is still moving forward even with COVID and the freeze. I couldn’t be more grateful to have such a strong network of people who are willing to give of their time to make this work,” he said.
Kirgan said it would take between 90 and 120 days to build the home and a dedication will be planned in late June or early July.
“He’ll still have to maintain insurance and possibly some taxes depending on his qualifying exemptions,” he said.
His back and knees are always bothering him, and it will be a lifelong struggle. The degenerative disease will only worsen but he’s working to remain as healthy as possible. In the meantime, he’s ready to take short walks from his new home down to the playground in their neighborhood to watch his daughter play and meet new friends.
To learn more about the organizations helping the Netzley family, visit their websites at www.OperationFINALLYHOME.org, www.howardhughes.com, www.perryhomes.com, www.houstontexans.com, and www.ghba.org .