U.S. Army Veteran Receives Keys to New Mortgage-Free Home in The Woodlands Hills

By: Operation Finally Home and Howard Hughes
| Published 05/17/2024


WILLIS, TX -- U.S. Army Sergeant Joanna Ellenbeck and her daughter recently received the keys to their newly completed, mortgage-free home in The Woodlands Hills.

Century Communities, Howard Hughes, Greater Houston Builders Association, and the Houston Texans partnered with Operation Finally Home to provide the gift of a new, single-family home to the American Hero. They welcomed the Ellenbeck family, along with Willis ISD, contractors, suppliers, donors and members of The Woodlands Hills community. Representatives from the Houston Texans, including cheerleaders, TORO and Houston Texans alum Steve McKinney.

Ellenbeck and her daughter were escorted to their new home by Lee Kirgan, Vice President, Operation Finally Home, and the Patriot Guard Riders, with a dedication ceremony and ribbon-cutting followed. The pantry had been stocked by veterans from Howard Hughes, and Century Communities filled the refrigerator with fresh groceries.

The Ellenbecks moved to the Houston area from Arizona, which allowed them to live closer to family and friends. This will help provide Ellenbeck’s young daughter with the medical, therapeutic, and educational support she needs. Her daughter, who was born blind and has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair.

“It was truly heartwarming to watch U.S. Army Sargeant Ellenbeck and her daughter enter the front door of their new home,” said Steve Sams, Senior Vice President, Master Planned Communities, Residential for Howard Hughes. “We are honored to partner with Operation Finally Home, Century Communities, Greater Houston Builders Association, the Houston Texans and many other organizations to build the Ellenbecks’ new home. They are such a deserving family, and we are pleased to welcome them as the newest neighbors in The Woodlands Hills.”

The Ellenbeck family was initially surprised on December 18, 2022, during a Houston Texans game with the news they were receiving a custom-built, mortgage-free home built by Century Communities on a home site donated by Howard Hughes in The Woodlands Hills. Ellenbeck thought she was being recognized as the Texans’ Salute to Service honoree of the game. However, at the end of the Salute to Service feature, the announcer shared even more exciting news: Ellenbeck and her family were receiving a custom built, mortgage-free home on behalf of Operation Finally Home!

Neighbors, community members and others celebrated the start of this new chapter in Ellenbeck’s life at a special groundbreaking event in August 2023. A Notes of Love event, during which members of the community and sponsors left encouraging notes of support on the studs and framing of the home, was held in December 2023.

Howard Hughes has helped award 11 new homes to deserving veterans in The Woodlands, Bridgeland and The Woodlands Hills, which are all award-winning communities of Howard Hughes. Four of these homes are from a partnership with Operation Finally Home.

About U.S. Army Sgt. Joanna Ellenbeck:
Growing up in a family with a long history of military service, U.S. Army Sgt. Joanna Ellenbeck always knew she was destined to serve her country. Ellenbeck’s great-grandfather, grandfather and father all served in the armed forces, a lineage that stretches back to World War II.

Ellenbeck enlisted in the U.S. Army on July 2, 2002, shortly after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. She served 8 eight years and six months, including three combat deployments: one to Afghanistan and two to Iraq. Serving with the 25th Infantry Division, Ellenbeck worked as an avionics mechanic throughout her military career, repairing Black Hawks, Chinooks and Kiowa 58 helicopters.

During her three deployments, Ellenbeck began to understand the harsh realities of war. During her first deployment in 2004, Ellenbeck was assigned to complete a two-week guard detail because the unit was low on troops. During this time, a suspicious truck approached the perimeter, and Ellenbeck and a fellow service member investigated. They discovered a wounded man hidden in the bed of the truck, suffering from the effects of a bomb detonation. Ellenbeck began to render first aid, during which the man repeatedly struck her. Later interrogations revealed the man was a terrorist sent to detonate a bomb and kill American troops.

Ellenbeck carries visible and invisible scars from her service. She suffered a debilitating back injury during her 2004 deployment. Additionally, she suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, tinnitus, a sciatic nerve disorder, sensory deficits in both lower legs and knee pain. Ellenbeck’s doctors believe her service-related injuries will require her to use a wheelchair in the future.

For her service, Ellenbeck has been awarded multiple awards and recognition. These include an Iraq Campaign medal with five stars, four Army Commendation Medals, two Meritorious Unit Commendations and two Army Good Conduct Medals, in addition to a National Defense Service Medal and a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, among others. She was honorably discharged in 2010.