After a childhood spent in other people’s homes, 24-year-old combat veteran Jimmion Clayton finally has one of his own.
Clayton was adopted as an infant, but his adoptive mother died when he was 11. He learned then that his biological grandparents lived in Scranton, N.C., just 20 minutes down the road from Belhaven, the town in eastern North Carolina where he grew up. Their house was his home from 2005 to 2009, when he entered the military.
On Friday, the Triangle-based nonprofit Operation: Coming Home presented Clayton, his wife, Tempestt Spencer, and their 3-year-old daughter, Jayla, with a new house in Fuquay-Varina’s Grays Creek neighborhood. Clayton gave it and the town his blessing.
And because the concept of home always has been more of an open question for him than other people, he knows what it feels like when he finds it.
“It gives me that country feeling I used to have,” Clayton said.
Clayton served as a sergeant with the North Carolina Army National Guard in the 514th Military Police Company. He spent seven months in Afghanistan, with most of that time spent rehabilitating from shrapnel wounds incurred from a suicide bombing in his first month there.
After almost two years as a civilian in Fayetteville, Clayton will move to Fuquay-Varina with his family. He splits his time between work at the Harnett County Correctional Institution in Lillington and studying at Fayetteville State University, where he’s pursuing a degree in social work.
Clayton is a former high school football star – a highly driven man whose haircut, demeanor and thickly muscled arms continue to resemble those of an active-duty serviceman.
But like many other veterans, Clayton struggled after he left the military. He quit his job at Walmart, for instance, because his demanding regimen of psychotherapy and physical therapy appointments made it hard for him to work a steady schedule. Some days Clayton can barely get out of bed, and he still finds it difficult to stand or sit still for long, a complication from the injury sustained overseas.
He’s not alone. Veterans represent between one-fifth and a quarter of homeless people, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Many return from combat with a combination of post-traumatic stress and a lack of job experience that makes poverty a likely reality.
Operation: Coming Home, recognizing those barriers and others faced by injured veterans, began in 2008 when the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County partnered with veterans in the construction industry to donate a home to a veteran with combat injuries.
Fuquay-Varina has been home to seven of the 12 homes the organization and its partners have donated to injured veterans since then. A 13th is planned in Holly Springs.
“(Fuquay-Varina) has always had a reputation of being veteran-friendly, but they really show it,” said Tim Minton, who works with the North Carolina Home Builders Association and is treasurer for Operation: Coming Home. “(Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne) has been at every ceremony we’ve done here. We have a special relationship with him.”
Apart from money raised to purchase the lots, all of the building materials and labor are donated by area companies. Fuquay-Varina has waived more than $6,000 in fees normally associated with houses like the one the Claytons will move into.
“Much of our community is military or retired military,” Byrne said. “Operation: Coming Home is a part of our DNA. It’s part of who we are.”
But that attitude is only part of the reason OCH has been so active in Fuquay-Varina. The home recipients are required to indicate during OCH’s selection process that they intend to stay in Fuquay-Varina for at least six years and commit to being part of the community. Minton said most veterans have found it easy to make that commitment, partly because of the town’s central location between Fort Bragg and the Durham VA hospital.
“We’ll be able to provide our daughter with something we didn’t have growing up,” Clayton said. “Unless something miraculous happens, we don’t ever plan to leave Fuquay-Varina.”
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan