OAK POINT, TX – Representatives from Classic Urban Homes, Operation Finally Home and the Dallas Builders Association created a master plan to surprise US Army Sergeant James Sackett and his family with a brand new, custom-built mortgage-free home.
And they enlisted the services of the Dallas Mavericks to help them pull off what turned out to be a game-changer for the Sacketts.
Besieged by hard times, Sackett, his wife, their five daughters and a grandson had been living with his in-laws in Garland for two years. In all, 10 people, four dogs and six cats had crammed into the tiny three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
But with the help of Classic Urban Homes, Operation Finally Home, the Dallas Builders Association and the Mavs, the Sacketts now live in a picture-perfect four-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom, two-story home that’s equipped with a game room and a study. And since the Sacketts’ two older daughters have moved out and are now on their own, there’s more than enough room for everyone to roam around this charming Far North Dallas home.
“It’s amazing,” Sackett said. “You couldn’t ask for a better blessing. My kids are taken care of, and that’s the most important thing through all of this.”
Ironically, it almost took an act of Congress to get Sackett strategically in the right place to accept his mortgage-free home – in surprising fashion. Jane Turner, the interior designer for Classic Urban Homes – a company which she co-owns with her husband, Michael – said after Sackett was pegged as the recipient of the mortgage-free home, they wanted a grandiose way to deliver the good news to him and his family.
And that’s where the Mavs and Katie Edwards entered the picture. Edwards is the director of community relations and the Mavs Foundation, and a proverbial go-getter.
“I just called the Mavericks and said here’s what we’re trying to do, is there any way the Mavericks could be involved,” Turner said. “It was basketball season, we’re in Dallas and we love the Mavericks, so I just called and asked.
“Somehow it got to Katie, and Katie said let me check on it, and sure enough she called me back and she said we’d love to do it. The Mavericks were very generous with helping us do it all and coordinate it all and it being a big surprise.”
“In order to keep the surprise, we told James that we like to invite military veterans to our Seats for Soldiers military appreciation game in order to be honored and recognized for their service,” Edwards said. “Which is not untrue, but James and his family were invited for a secret purpose.”
With the ball now rolling to surprise the Sacketts with their home during a Mavs game last season, a monkey wrench was thrown in the proceedings when Sackett told Edwards he couldn’t get off from work to attend the game. To make sure the surprise could still happen, Edwards enlisted the help of Operation Finally Home who placed a call to Hackett’s boss at the Kaufman County Sheriff Department and explained the situation, and the deal was ultimately closed.
“I had to go see the sheriff over all this, and he told me straight-up: ‘If you don’t go to this basketball game for Military Appreciation Night, then you’re going to end up losing your job,’ ‘’ Sackett said. “Ok, so I’m taking Saturday off and I’m going to go to Military Appreciation Night and I’m going to the basketball game, but I still don’t know what’s going on.”
The drama finally unfolded for Sackett when he and his family were brought onto the American Airlines Center court at the conclusion of the first quarter.
“They’re playing this video and talking about how I was hit by a roadside bomb in (the Iraq War in) March of 2008, they talked about the living situation that I was in and everything that I was doing for the community and how I was working with other organizations helping to combat veteran suicide,” Sackett said. “That’s one of my heartfelt things is veteran suicide – we need to stop it.”
“We got out there and they started talking about all that and I was like ‘What’s going on?’ I didn’t know anything until that moment.”
Then came the glorious announcement in front of the stunned sold-out crowd at American Airlines Center that the Sacketts were receiving a mortgage-free home. Sackett’s reaction?
“It was very surreal,’’ said the 44-year old Sackett, who is also a Purple Heart honoree. “I started crying. All of us were in tears and very over-joyed.”
The tears of joy were flowing because, although money was tight, the Sacketts had been searching for a new place to live. Now they have a new mortgage-free home, which they were granted after entering a contest a while back.
“You had to submit some pictures with the application, but that was a year prior to this,’’ said Sackett’s wife, Sandra Sackett. “We had completely forgotten about this. We were already out looking at homes trying to figure out how we were going to manage the mortgage.”
So how was Sackett selected for the mortgage-free home? Molly Halliday, the senior vice-president of marketing and project management for Operation Finally Home, said: “One of our case managers had an opportunity to meet James at a Purple Heart event and his commander at that point said you need to help this guy out. His commander at that point had said this guy is a wonderful guy and he’d be great for your organization. It was just a God thing that our paths crossed, so we’re very fortunate about that.”
Operation Finally Home is a national non-profit organization that provides mortgage-free custom-built homes to injured veterans and widows of the fallen. So far, Halliday acknowledged that they have over 200 homes in 34 states that have either been completed, are under construction, or are in the planning stages.
“With this we had an opportunity — thanks to our great relationship with the Dallas Builders Association as well as Classic Urban Homes — to work with the Dallas Mavericks and surprise James and his family with the news that he would be receiving a mortgage-free home in Oak Point,” Halliday said. “It’s so fun to see the pictures and the comments and just knowing that their kids will start at the same school year after year.”
It takes such a burden off their shoulders and we’re just really blessed to have the Sacketts as part of our family.”
After the Sacketts moved into their new home during a ribbon-cutting ceremony last August, they were still numb about their good fortune. Especially since the home was already furnished.
“Even during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, it didn’t feel real,’’ James Sackett said. “They were like, ‘Yeah, you can move in today.’ We got here and we already had furniture and everything else. I’m still floored by it.”
“All of the stuff that made this house was all donated. So it was absolutely amazing the amount of love from the community that came into this.”
An added unique wrinkle residing inside the walls of the Sackett’s home — compliments of the Mavericks — has turned into an interesting conversation piece.
“Inside these walls are little hearts, and almost every one of these hearts are signed by a Dallas Maverick – from Mark Cuban on down,” James Sackett said. “It’s just little paper hearts they built onto the studs.”
Sackett served two tours of duty in the Iraq War — from January of 2007-April of 2008, and from August of 2009-September of 2010. He wound up serving 20 years before leaving prematurely after his injuries.
“On Mar. 28, 2008 I was injured by a roadside bomb, and the injuries were pretty severe,” Sackett said. “I had severe back problems, I had trauma.”
Turner said so many people and companies were involved in the completion of the Sackett’s home that it’s difficult to name them all.
“We felt blessed to just get to be a part of it, and we had so many people who helped us,” Turner said. “And it was such a blessing that the Mavericks let us do that big surprise for them, and it all ended up working out. It was (Military Appreciation Night), so it all went like clockwork – it was perfect – and we were just thrilled that we could do a big surprise for them.”
Not having a mortgage is a big relief for the Sacketts. Their three children living at home are Samantha (16), Rebecca (11) and Isabella (10).
“We’ve been able to maintain a lifestyle that we had been able to do while he was in the military, which is me staying home and managing the house and taking care of the kids, and him not having to worry about how we were taking care of them and who was taking care of them so I could work,” Sandra Sackett said. “So it’s definitely one of the biggest blessings that we could ever imagine.”
James Sackett, who now works in Plano, agreed that this blessing came right on time for his family.
“I’m able to take care of the bills and I’m able to buy my kids food and not have to worry about how I’m going to pay the next bill, how I’m going to buy the food,” James Sackett said. “That’s where we would have been at literally, living paycheck to paycheck.
“I probably would have had to work at least two jobs, Sandra would have had to work. Right now, as it is, Sandra stays at home with our grandson (Grayson) and doesn’t have to work. Every day we have to thank everybody that was involved, and you’ve got to thank God for it every day.”
Halliday was almost apologetic – almost — for the way Edwards and others had to stretch the truth in order to get the Sacketts to the Mavs’ game for the big surprise.
“We don’t like to tell ourselves that we lie to our families, but we do like to embellish the truth,” Halliday said, while laughing. “It was a wonderful, wonderful surprise.”
“Whenever we’re thinking about opportunities in the Dallas area, the Mavericks certainly come to mind, because they were so wonderful to work with. What a great fan base, it was just a fun evening and everyone really enjoyed it, so we really appreciate the Mavericks’ participation in it.”