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The powerful impact one REALTOR® has had on countless veterans, single-handedly founding Operation Welcome Home

Barbara Mills won’t let you give her credit for all of the incredible things she has done to recognize soldiers coming home, but she could win $10k for her charity for simply being a “Good Neighbor.”



operation welcome home

On this day of patriotism, I’d like to reflect on someone making great strides in the military community, but would never allow you to pat her on the back. I had the pleasure of spending time on the phone with Barbara Mills, the founder of Operation Welcome Home which welcomes returning soldiers home with a giant basket of gifts, a local party to express gratitude, and local media attention. In Citrus County, Florida, Mills is lovingly known as the “red basket lady,” collecting gifts for anyone returning home to her county, no matter the branch of military.

During our chat, it struck me deeply that she rarely uses the word “I,” rather focuses on everyone around her, making sure that no soldier comes home without the recognition they deserve. She speaks enthusiastically about her mission and I found myself choked up repeatedly throughout our conversation, as she tapped the exact spot in my soul reserved for patriotism and pride.

But it was clear that even this interview was uncomfortable, as she wanted so deeply for the focus to remain on Operation Welcome Home, which she makes no money from, in fact, she puts her own money into, as do the handful of volunteers that helps this powerhouse to organize and execute the mission.

operation welcome home

The organization started out very modestly, with Mills sending care packages to her own son who was in the Navy and stationed in Iraq. The first Christmas he was stationed there, she organized a care package drive not just for the sons and daughters of Citrus County, but their entire units which ranged from 15 to 100 people each.

But that wasn’t enough for Mills.

From care packages to a welcome home party

She knew that these children would be returning home to the challenge of adjusting to civilian life, and that no one would really know what they did. She reflected on the dismal return of Vietnam vets and vowed that she would do everything in her power to insure that their community would praise each and every soldier upon return, so none of them felt as disconnected or disrespected as the Vietnam veterans did decades ago.

Mills learned that another military mom’s son was returning before her own in 2007, so she put together a red wicker basket filled with goodies. They organized a welcome home party, involved the veteran community, arranged for the local paper to cover the event, and created a proper welcome home for the soldier.

But that wasn’t enough for Mills.

How do I tell another mom no?

She remained concerned that her son was soon to come home, “and no one knew his story,” just like many other veterans. Another mother called her with a son coming home the following week, and Mills stopped. She says she hadn’t thought past that first event. Her gears began turning. “How do I tell a mom that we don’t have money?” And so Operation Welcome Home was born.

operation welcome home

Mills hopped on the phone to call every veteran organization that would take her call, pulled together another gift basket, arranged a welcome home party with local media present, and birthed the template for so many events to come.

Soldiers are presented with so much more than gifts, they are welcomed back home by the civilian and veteran community and recognized publicly by WWII and Vietnam veterans. Mills says the soldiers are moved and stunned by this move, asking, “you are thanking me?”

It has since has expanded exponentially

Fast forward to today and Operation Welcome Home is the second largest community of veterans – Mills organizes trips to Washington D.C. for Honor Flight veterans, helped raise money and talent for a local veteran’s home to be remodeled, is organizing surprise returns (you’ve all seen the videos and cried about them), and much more.

It’s not just red wicker baskets anymore.

Mills credits the local paper for covering every single return of a soldier to Citrus County, her volunteers for keeping the wheels turning, the endless retailers and restaurants who have donated gift cards and goods, and the veteran community for continually opening their doors to Operation Welcome Home.



Balancing this much charity with work

I asked Mills how it is humanly possible to balance her charity work with her real estate career, and she chuckled and simply said, “I run all day and work all night!” explaining that “it flows with my job” since she’s always out and about.

“Everybody has a niche. I found mine,” she explains. “It’s a true honor, a true, true honor to have these folks feel the way they do because of Operation Welcome Home. What more could I ask for?”


Mills is up for the 2015 Good Neighbor Award

REALTOR® Magazine’s Good Neighbor Awards honor REALTORS® who give back in that way, choosing 10 finalists and five winners. The winners will be announced on September 30th and will receive $10,000 grants for their charities. Five honorable mentions will receive $2,500 grants. One of the 10 will win $1,000 for getting the most web votes.

Mills is one of the finalists and you can vote for her or any of the other distinguished finalists raising money for their charities at with one click (none of that registration nonsense).

Click below to vote
barbara mills good neighbor vote


Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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How to recognize and use free time at work like the gift it is

(PRODUCTIVITY) Free time during your workday can lead to furthering your mind and productivity. Learn how to use it wisely.



Woman writing in journal representing working on a winning business culture.

Clocked in but clocked out

We’ve all had those slow days at work where we’re looking for ways to kill the time until the clock strikes five.

While it can be tempting to use this time to text or mess around on the Internet, there are much better ways to use that free time that will make your future so much easier.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

First off, tidy up your workspace. Papers and items have a way of accumulating and may be distracting you even if you don’t realize it. By organizing your stuff and throwing away what you don’t need, you’re able to breathe and focus within your workspace.

It also does wonders for your work brain to clear up your email inbox.

Once that’s all done, plan out the rest of your work week. Make a list of the major goals you’d like to accomplish and then a sub-list of how you’ll knock those goals out. Update your calendar and make sure everything is on track.

Social media, networking, and research

It’s also beneficial to use this downtime to further yourself and your organization. Three ways you can do this is through: social media, networking, and research.

If you have access, take some time to look through your company’s social media and see what can be done to enhance it. Either throw up some posts yourself or pitch ideas to the social media manager.

Networking can be done in this small amount of time by sending out “catch up” emails to old colleagues, “welcome emails” to new clients or introduction emails to LinkedIn contacts.

Send them a “how’s it going?,” tell them what’s new with you, and see what they have going on. You never know where networking can lead so it’s always good to stay in touch.

With research, see what the latest trends are in your field and study up on them. This may give you new ways to look at projects and tasks at hand. And, it’s always beneficial to have continued learning.

Get Smart(er)

While on the subject of continued learning, take this time to mess around with something you may not feel completely knowledgeable of. Maybe dig around RPR data, perhaps practice using different computer programs it is never a bad a idea to nourish your brain.

Having free time during the workday is something of a gift. If you can help it, try not to waste it.

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Bill Gates’ big regret of a simple command haunts him, what haunts you?

(EDITORIAL) If BIll Gates is still living with a big regret, it’s time to ponder your own, your own humanity, and consider moving past it in a healthy way.



bill gates

It has come to light that Microsoft founder Bill Gates regrets some of the original design decisions of the PC. Namely, the CTRL+ALT+DEL command that allows you to log in to the computer, due to its lack of simplicity when trying to access a key part of a computer’s operating system.

I know Mr. Gates probably has other regrets when looking at the span of his more than thirty years involvement with being associated with one of the most profitable companies in the world. I am assuming that you also have some regrets you have also in regard to your own business and/or career.

We all do.

According to psychologists, regret occurs when an something perceived as an error is made that has some personal accountability tied to it. If you’ve ever been a part of a business team, supervising employees, or been the boss, you’ve had a wealth of personal accountability. And, since you’re human, you’ve definitely made some mistakes.

One of my former bosses told me after a long day, in which I made some mistakes: You did the best you could have with the information you had. More than likely, if you’re agonizing about that mistaken car reservation or wrong decimal point, you made a normal human error. Even if it isn’t a small day to day thing, but perhaps a big issue with some big consequences, you can move on from that. It will be okay.

A great way to move on from a failure or mistake in business is to use the situation as a lesson for the future. Chances are, if you’re a team leader who messed up a relationship with an agent, you will have more agents in the future to avoid that error with.

Learning from your mistakes, and using your errors as fuel to increase your motivation for the next project, is a great way to deal with regrets healthily. If you don’t process your regrets, you can deal with a wealth of mental and physical health problems like chronic stress, depression, and damage to the systems that regulate your hormones.

You will have mistakes, but those mistakes have gotten you to this point in your life. It’s impossible to guess how your life would change if you were able to go back and fix that one thing that feels like a turning point in your business life. Living in spite of regrets is one of the hardest challenges in life to face, but just like Gates, you will accept the past and move on.

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Working Woman’s Wife: on-demand assistants for busy female brokers and agents

Austin startup, Working Woman’s Wife, offers on-demand help for ambitious female executives juggling work and home life.



working woman's wife

Over the past half century, women have made enormous strides into the workplace, including previously male-dominated professions. More than ever, women are serving as executives for major organizations, starting their own businesses, and finding success in the world of real estate.

Unfortunately, women’s success in the working world has not been counterbalanced by a reduction in their responsibilities at home. Statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor last year reveal that women are still doing the vast majority of housework, including childcare, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and shopping for household amenities.

On an average day, half of all women are completing chores and errands, while only 19 percent of men are contributing to running the household.

Even when men do pitch in, they tend to spend less hours on housework, while women often cut into their work time or overbook and overstress themselves to manage both their careers and their households.

Helping ambitious women every day

An Austin-based startup wants to help ambitious women who “have long been without the advantages wives have provided to men.” The Working Woman’s Wife is an all-around personal assistance and concierge service fulfilling many of the housewifely functions that have long given men a leg-up in the business world.

According to the Working Woman’s Wife, women complete an average of 18 hours per week of unpleasant and unpaid work, which means they have less time to advance their careers or spend quality time with their families.

When you hire a “wife,” she will complete many of these tasks for you, including office task such as emails and data entry, organization of your personal spaces or office, pet care, party planning and cleanup, cooking, laundry, running errands, personal shopping, and chauffeuring. They can even hang out at your place until the repairman shows up, so you don’t have to waste half a day of work taking care of a household problem.

How pricing for a “wife” works

Wives are available by purchasing packages of hours in increments of 30, 60, 80, or 100 hours per month, starting at $900 per month. Currently the Working Woman’s Wife serves the Austin, Texas area, but they are hoping to open chapters in Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas, Boulder, and the Silicon Valley.

Busy women brokers, real estate agents, and executives could obviously benefit from having someone take care of all of the “little things” that so often burden women who could be making more money, advancing their careers, and relaxing, if they had the time.

However, I can’t help but wonder who will be helping your “wife” run her own household while she is busily tending to yours. It’s great to see women wanting to help out other women, but maybe it would be better if men would step up to the plate. In lieu of $900 per month, perhaps you can convince your hubbie to pick up some of the slack instead.


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