Those who served our country deserve only the best. Unfortunately, many veterans struggle to adjust back to civilian life, and some of them descend into homelessness. Lee County Tax Collector Larry Hart believes every veteran deserves a home, and the Tax Collector’s Office continued its support for Hearts and Homes for Veterans Inc. with a recent $500 check presentation to former Army Sgt. Maj. David Santini, director of the Fort Myers-based nonprofit that supports homeless veterans and their families.
“As an Air Force veteran, this is an issue that hits home for me,” Hart said. “We have a responsibility to these people who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedom. Our staff understands this and goes the extra mile to make sure veterans in need have the necessities of life.”
The Tax Collector’s Office has raised more than $5,000 for the organization over the past four years through the efforts of staff, who’ve conducted candy and bracelet sales, and the kindness of Tax Collector customers, many of whom have donated their change to the fundraising initiative.
“It’s been amazing, the generosity,” said former Marine Cpl. Don Payton, founder and president of Hearts and Homes for Veterans. “It’s overwhelming sometimes.”
The collaboration began when Payton visited the Tax Collector’s Cape Coral Office as a customer. He and staff members spoke casually about the organization, and word got to Branch Manager Lorena Velasquez, a former Army sergeant who served in Desert Storm. Velasquez and Patrick Griffin, who spent 20 years as an Army staff sergeant before joining the Tax Collector’s Office, made Hearts and Homes for Veterans the beneficiary of the Cape office’s annual service project.
The organization’s proactive approach stood out to Velasquez. “They don’t wait for veterans to come to them,” she said. “They just reach out to them.”
Hearts and Homes for Veterans interacts with 30 to 40 veterans every week, providing service on four tiers, Payton said. The first step is getting veterans in homes. The second is to “make an empty house a home,” Payton’s phrase for furnishing and decorating. The third part involves keeping veterans in their homes through financial support. The final goal is to encourage veterans who’ve received assistance to help other veterans in need.
The organization is one of about a dozen nonprofits the Lee County Tax Collector staff supports through various initiatives throughout the year.
“Giving back is at the core of what we do here at the Tax Collector’s Office,” Hart said. “We want the whole community to know we’ve got your back.”
Visit leetc.com to see all of the services the Lee County Tax Collector provides.