Donations Gulf Power employees presented to three veteran-focused organizations from across Northwest Florida today will provide safe housing and life-changing support for military veterans facing homelessness and improve the quality of life of ones nearing the end of their lives.

Stan Connally, Gulf Power chairman, president and CEO, presents a check to Connie Bookman, CEO of Pathways for Change. She is clearly thrilled to learn she and two other organizations will each receive more than $34,000 each to help veterans.

Stan Connally, chairman, president and CEO of Gulf Power, along with members of the energy company’s service organization, Transformers, presented checks totaling $103,000 to representatives from Pensacola’s Pathway for Change, Fort Walton Beach-based 3rd Chance Inc. and Friends of Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home in Panama City.

The donations are from the proceeds of the 5th annual Clay Shoot for America’s Heroes held Nov. 2 and exceeded all expectations with the most money raised since the inception of the event in 2013. Connally told the crowd gathered in Gulf Power’s Pensacola headquarters that he and his team were excited to be able to provide each organization a check for $34,333, to combat what he said are unacceptable conditions for America’s veterans.

“I’d like to think we are one of the most veteran-friendly companies in Northwest Florida,” Connally said. “And Florida brands itself in ways to be one of the most veteran-friendly states in the country. We’ve done a lot to establish that. But we have got to remember there are those who need a lot more than a job. Sometimes veterans need a meal. They need a bed and somebody to tell them they are loved and appreciated. It’s groups like these that do that.”

Pathways for Change recently opened a new 12-bed transitional home for female veterans along with services such as substance abuse and PTSD/mental health counseling and job training.  Choking back tears of gratitude, Connie Bookman, CEO of Pathways for Change, said the check will go a long way in fulfilling the mission of helping these women who otherwise would face homelessness.

“We were $32,000 shy of purchasing our building, so thank you Gulf Power for helping us establish a home for our female veterans,” she said. “We knew when local agencies had to let their ministries go for women that we had to step up and do something. I heard about the PTSD unit in Biloxi releasing two or three women a day under an overpass, and that’s just unacceptable. We had to do something about it. We now have two of these women as residents … they have new haircuts, are safe and can start dealing with their pasts.”

3rd Chance Inc. ­is raising money to build a transitional home called The Lazarus Project for homeless veterans, and it’s partnering with other homeless agencies to provide these veterans new clothes, counseling, a job and other transitional services.

The Rev. Cecil Williams and Valarie Houston (center) with 3rd Chance in Fort Walton Beach received $34,333. Carl Jackson, Gulf Power Residential Energy Consultant for Fort Walton Beach, and Stan Connally, Gulf Power chairman, president and CEO, presented the donation.

The Rev. Cecil Williams said his church, Gregg Chapel in Fort Walton Beach, has supported housing for those in need for over 20 years and on Saturday, it will be breaking ground on 16-unit apartment building to target veterans struggling to break free of homelessness.

“The Lazarus project will allow military veterans to come from being down to taking them back into a working state,” he said. “Your $34,000 will go toward helping to build up this $450,000 project. This is going to happen. We thank God, and we thank Stan and Gulf Power.”

Friends of Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home provides quality of life services and items veterans or their families cannot afford to purchase such as personal items to improve their quality of life. Florida Department of Veterans Affairs supports the basics for these veterans but does not pay for other items such as activities, games and personal items.

John Deegins with Friends of Sims State Veterans Nursing Home in Panama City receives a much-needed donation of $34,333 from Gulf Power’s Clay Shoot for America’s Heroes, a fundraiser to support veterans across Northwest Florida. The check was presented by Sandy Sims, Gulf Power Eastern District manager, (left) and Stan Connally, Gulf Power chairman, president and CEO, (right).

John Deegins, director of Bay County Veterans Service Office, said Gulf Power’s donation will go a long way in providing aging veterans and their families support.

“What we do is provide that shortfall between what the state purchases and what the veterans need,” he said. “With 120 veterans in the nursing home, a lot have very few funds and some have no family.  I’d like to thank Gulf Power for their support.”

Each year the Gulf Power employees have sponsored the annual Clay Shoot for America’s Heroes, which saw a record number of participants this year. Since its inception in 2013, the annual event has provided more than $400,000 to 12 different veterans organizations.