Growing up, Anthony Burrow’s idea of home changed every year.
The Army veteran, 32, moved between apartments, houses and women’s shelters in Evansville, Indiana with his mother, Shelly, and two sisters to escape their abusive stepfather.
It didn’t occur to Burrow until a few years ago, however, that this was an unusual childhood. When he and his wife, Kara, 33, took their five kids Rileigh, 15, Noah, 8, Mary Hannah, 6, Oliviah, 5, and Judah, 3, to tour their shared hometown, everywhere Burrow had once called “home” was now an empty, abandoned lot.
“It made me really sad,” Burrow tells PEOPLE. “I wanted my kids to see where I spent my childhood.”
That drive also inspired Burrow to find his family a forever home in Mortons Gap, Kentucky. He served eight years in the regular army and two years in the U.S. Army Reserve, and spent one year deployed in Iraq. A few years ago, he and Kara bought a fixer-upper in the charming, close-knit town, only to discover that it came with more repairs than they had budgeted for.
Burrow tackled several home improvement projects while working as deputy jailer at the Hopkins County Jail.
“It was overwhelming,” Burrow recalls. “Parts of the floor were caving in and rotted.”
Their 8-year-old son, Noah, even got his foot stuck in a hole on the floor one day.
“He was laughing, freaking out and kind of scared,” Burrow says.
Kara adds: “I was frustrated because I felt like we weren’t providing somewhere safe for our kids, but we tried to be patient because every time we looked for a new house, building a house or even renting, it felt like God was telling us not to do that. For some reason, God was telling us to just stay put and be patient.”
Last year, Kara connected with someone from Kentucky Habitat for Humanity and explained the family’s hardship — and the organization agreed to knock down their house and build the Burrows a new five-bedroom, two-bathroom home in its place. Construction began in March and they moved in early September.
Kentucky Habitat for Humanity
“We’re fully blessed, this is the best outcome I could imagine,” Burrow says. “My kids have a swing set, they have their own rooms, they’re not tripping in holes in the floor anymore.”
Then, on Nov. 17, the family received more good news: their entire mortgage payment for the new home would be paid off by The Home Depot Foundation. The move is part of the foundation’s second annual Operation Surprise initiative, which aims to invest half a billion dollars in veteran causes by 2025 and assist veterans in their transition to civilian life.
The Drew Barrymore Show/CBS
“I was in shock,” Burrow says of the news. “Like, how much more blessed can you get?”
Now, the family is looking forward to spending the holidays in their new home and filling the space with happy memories — moments that Burrow hopes his kids will revisit one day with their own families.
“I could live anywhere, even a cardboard box,” he says. “But to have a safe, comfortable house for my kids and wife means everything to me.”