Gary Sinise, J.R. Martinez Among Stars Surprising Veterans with Campaign to Pay Off Mortgages
For the Make It Mean More campaign, Veterans United Home Loans will donate $25 for every "thank you for your service" tweet, to pay off veterans' mortgages
Veterans Day is here, and a mortgage company is giving back to those who served in a huge way.
Veterans United Home Loans — which earned a spot on PEOPLE's 50 Companies That Care list in 2019 — on Wednesday announced the Make It Mean More campaign via Twitter. For every "thank you for your service" tweet sent out, $25 will be donated to pay off veterans' mortgages.
Making things even more special, the company joined forces with a handful of veteran advocates — including actors Gary Sinise, J.R. Martinez and Joe Mantegna — to surprise those who served with the big news via Zoom.
Celebrity chef Robert Irvine, army vet and wounded warrior Michael Schlitz and Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry also got to surprise veterans with the loan payoff news.
"The opportunity to continue serving through this program means the world to me," Martinez, 37, an Army veteran and burn survivor, tells PEOPLE. "I was willing to die for service and now I’m grateful that I get to live to experience the ways grateful Americans serve our troops."
The company's inspiration came from more than 88,000 tweets thanking veterans for their service last year.
For the big day in 2020, Veterans United wanted to find a way to show their appreciation beyond the tweets, especially amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, during which more than 100,000 National Guard members have helped administer more than 8 million COVID-19 tests across the country.
"The #MakeItMeanMore campaign is an amazing example of how we, at Veterans United and the American people, can be part of something so much more," Pam Swan, the vice president of military relations and business development at Veterans United Home Loans, tells PEOPLE.
In a video provided by the lender, Sinise, 66, had the opportunity to surprise Bill Day, a Navy veteran and single father of four from Albany, New York.
"I get to be the messenger to tell you that you're gonna get your entire mortgage and your loan paid off by Veterans United," Sinise told Day in the video. "You're not gonna have to worry about any of that."
Taken aback by the news, Day responded, "What? Me!?" No, I don't deserve that!"
He went on to explain why the news felt like a huge weight lifted.
"My son is... severely autistic and we're having so many issues that this is gonna just help," Day said, before getting overcome with emotion and pausing to wipe tears from his eyes. "It's gonna help a lot."
But the veterans who were surprised by the celebrities weren't the only ones. According to the company, the more tweets that come in throughout Wednesday, the more veterans who will be positively impacted by the campaign.
"We all encounter service members and veterans throughout the year and want to thank them for their service, but often refrain from saying anything at all as we think, 'What does that really mean?' or 'I wish I could do more,'" says Swan, who has been a military spouse for 33 years.
"Well, imagine if the fear or uncertainty were wiped away by backing those words with real meaning... You can now do so much more with those simple words this Veterans Day," she adds. "We hope this campaign will not only bring awareness to veterans but remind us as Americans that we have a debt to pay to those who have and continue to sacrifice for this nation."
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