U.S. Veteran Aja Ford, who served five years in the Navy straight out of high school, was leading a comfortable life raising two sons in her native Prince George’s County, Maryland. She was engaged to marry her boyfriend of five years, and they were eagerly awaiting the arrival of a baby girl.

Their daughter was born with a heart defect and spent her first five weeks in neonatal intensive care. “That’s when things got crazy,” says Ms. Ford. Juggling her baby’s therapy appointments, doctor visits, and daycare hours made it impossible for her to keep a job, and the stress on the family caused the breakup of her relationship. While her older son went to live with his father in Virginia, the rest of the family became homeless. Together with her second son and baby daughter, Ms. Ford spent nearly three years couch surfing, staying with family and friends and then, when their options ran out, ending up in a shelter.

In December 2016, Ms. Ford found Friendship Place through the VA’s Community Resource and Referral Center. She was connected immediately with Families First, a program of Friendship Place’s Veterans Services Division. “I received a call the next day, and was out of the shelter by the end of the week,” she says. “We moved in on December 23, right before Christmas. The kids were really excited. My son screamed when I told him.”

Now that the family has settled into their apartment, Ms. Ford is working with Families First Self-Sufficiency Coordinator Rachelle de Leon – whom she calls “a ray of light” – to get back into the workforce. Her primary concern right now is, simply, “to be a healthy living example for my children.”

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