Jordan Mathis/PulteGroup David Speights with fiancee Ashleigh Rankin, son Sammuel and daughter Kylie, right
Army veteran David Speights always dreamed of buying a home for his two children and fiancée.
"But there's no way I could afford that," says the 34-year-old fitness trainer from Waco, Texas.
So Speights applied to PulteGroup's "Built to Honor" program, the Atlanta-headquartered home builder's effort to construct and donate mortgage-free houses to wounded veterans — Speights has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and injured his back in Afghanistan, resulting in permanent nerve damage in his right leg and back. On April 1, the veteran learned that PulteGroup chose to give his family a brand new home.
"I was in shock," Speights tells PEOPLE. "They said this is not an April Fool's joke."
On May 3, PulteGroup broke ground on Speights' future 4-bedroom, two-story house in Princeton, Texas, a Dallas suburb, with plans to complete construction in the fall. This is the 75th home Pulte has given to veterans since Built to Honor's start in 2011.
"Them blessing me with this home is so amazing," says Speights.
It is the permanent home he's yearned for since his childhood when he frequently moved from state to state.
At 17, seeking stability, mixed with a desire to serve the United States following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Speights enlisted in the Army in 2005.
"I loved it," he says. "That was the best time in my life."
While serving 16 months in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2007 as an infantry soldier, he injured his back during a fall down a hill and was close to a rocket-propelled grenade when it detonated. These events led to physical and mental health issues, including PTSD and depression, for Speights and his medical discharge in 2011.
In the years following his discharge, Speights has held a variety of jobs, some of which have aggravated his back injury and led to several surgeries.
"I was on a downward spiral for a while, but once I actually got back into my faith and found fitness, those two outlets are what helped me to stop drinking and make better choices in my life," says Speights, whose last drink was over three years ago.
He credits fitness, his new career as a personal trainer, and the support of his fiancée, Ashleigh Rankin, 28, for his continued sobriety and improved physical and mental health.
After finding his fiancée and career, Speights focused on obtaining his dream home. The dad of daughter Kylie, 9, and son Sammuel, 17 months, learned of PulteGroup's Built to Honor program through a veteran he served with.
"He knew about my situation and how things have gone for me since I've gotten out," says Speights. "He's the one that recommended that I apply for it. I didn't think, not one bit, that I would actually get it. But I'm very thankful that I did apply."
On April 1, PulteGroup — which was included on PEOPLE's 2021 Companies that Care list — invited Speights and his family to a neighborhood in Princeton, Texas, under the guise of a second interview for the Built to Honor program.
After meeting with a few Pulte staffers inside of a building, the family stepped out to find over 100 Pulte employees waiting with a surprise.
"They told us we had the home," says Speights. "I was stunned and didn't know what was going on for a second."
Joyous moments like this prompted PulteGroup's Dallas Division President Bryan Swindell to start the program 11 years ago.
"It means a lot," says Swindell. "I am the son of a military veteran who went off to war, and it's pretty traumatic, and when they come injured, it's even worse. It's a rewarding thing to do."
Speights and Rankin plan on marrying this summer and are eager to create years of memories in their new house. "It's been a dream of mine to be able to provide a stable home that my kids can grow up in and not have to move around and meet new people all the time and change," says Speights. "This is going to help me provide them the stability I never had."
PulteGroup made People's annual 100 Companies That Care list in 2021. To nominate a business demonstrating outstanding respect for its employees, community, and the environment, visit Great Place to Work.