WESTCHESTER (AP) — A state program designed to help military members buy their first homes will get an additional $5 million, officials announced on Monday, capping off three days of Veterans Day commemorations across Illinois.
The so-called "Welcome Home Heroes" program began last year with $5 million through a capital fund. Gov. Pat Quinn said the additional money will help about 500 military members get their first home.
The help includes a $10,000 forgivable loan, a low interest rate on a 30-year mortgage, help with closing costs and a mortgage tax credit.
So far, 550 military families have benefited from the program, including Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Sereda and his wife, Shanon, who were able to purchase a three-bedroom home in the Chicago suburb of Westchester. The couple married in September and said the program allowed them extra money for their wedding and to start their new life together.
"It helped us in getting into the home and being newlyweds with the wedding and everything, it's just an outstanding program," said Eric Sereda, a combat engineer who previously was stationed in California.
Elsewhere in Illinois, Veterans Day was observed with parades and ceremonies. Hundreds of people participated in Chicago's annual Veterans Day parade where Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White was grand marshal. Several Chicago aldermen attended along with a high school marching band.
In Springfield, officials announced plans for a new memorial for people who were killed or wounded while fighting for their country. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Military Order of the Purple Heart signed an agreement to honor Springfield veterans. It will be placed alongside other Illinois war memorials at Oak Ridge Cemetery, which is the site of Abraham Lincoln's tomb.
"It's a privilege to be part of this agreement," Amy Martin, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, said in a statement. "The men and women who have received the Purple Heart deserve our deepest gratitude for the sacrifices they made."
Many schools and government offices were closed Monday in observance of Veterans Day. But commemoration events have been held for days and were to continue into the week. In Cook County, a veterans' job fair was planned for Tuesday at a Chicago high school and some attorneys in southwestern Illinois said they planned to offer free legal advice sessions on Tuesday in Madison County.
Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen