Eric Farina was standing beside Kevin Palacios at Brookhaven Town Hall on June 25 when it was announced that Palacios, a 30-year-old U.S Marine veteran who was injured twice while serving in Afghanistan, was awarded a mortgage-free house in Mastic through the Fairway Foundation.
Palacios thought he was attending a real estate seminar on the needs of veterans, but it was actually a secret ploy by the foundation to get all the finalists of the Veterans Home Give Away Project together to announce the winner.
After getting over the shock of the announcement, Farina and Palacios embraced.
Palacios, who was not available to be interviewed, served in the Marines from 2008 to 2012.
“I’m happy beyond words for Kevin that this fortune has finally come his way,” said Farina, director of Veteran’s Affairs at Farmingdale State College, who met Palacios when he applied to Farmingdale in 2012.
The volunteer-based Fairway Foundation raised $200,000 for the Mastic home and its renovation costs. The organization is the 501(c)3 arm of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., one of the top four veteran lenders mortgage banks in the country.
In January 2018, it closed on the three-bedroom ranch in a foreclosure auction from the Town of Brookhaven. Two months later, renovations began.
“It started as a Fairway Foundation project, but became a Long Island project,” said Rosemarie Kluepfel, a Fairway certified military mortgage specialist.
The candidates for the giveaway had to be a post-9/11 veteran, honorably discharged and Purple Heart recipients. They also had to not currently own a home or make more than Suffolk County’s median income, as determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A panel of veterans was put together by the foundation to decide the winners of the giveaway, as a way to remain unbiased in the decision.
“It’s our responsibility, because of all they [veterans] do for us, to make sure that if they need something we can reciprocate,” said Kluepfel, whose daughter, Alexa, 23, recently enlisted in the army reserves.
“It’s nice to say ‘thank you,’ but thank-yous don’t really help pay the bills.”
Suffolk County has the largest population of veterans in New York and has the second-largest population in the country. Despite Long Island being an affluent area, there is a disproportionate amount of veteran homelessness, Kluepfel said.
In 2018, the number of homeless veterans in Nassau and Suffolk County fell by 4.25 percent, from 141 to 135, according to the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Newsday reported.
The Mastic home will be a bit of a hike for the father-of-one and Glen Cove native, who works at S-Tron Security Electronics in Melville and currently lives in Babylon.
“It’s gonna be a little shift from what he knows, since he is a Nassau County kinda guy,” said Farina, an Afghanistan vet himself. “He’s gonna save on rent and pay a little more money in gas, but I think it’s gonna more than balance out.”
In 2016, Palacios graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sports management. Soon after, Farina reached out with a job opportunity from Pete Mattschull, S-Tron’s President and a U.S. Navy veteran, who requested those applying to be military vets.
“I never had any idea that it was going to go to one of my guys, especially one of my guys I’m close to,” said Farina, who is currently enlisted at the Army National Guard Armory in Farmingdale.
“This is gonna really jumpstart him to where he needs to be.”