Donations that Gulf Power employees presented to three veteran-focused organizations from across Northwest Florida today will provide safe housing and life-changing care for military veterans facing homelessness and support families seeking normalcy at Tyndall Air Force Base following Hurricane Michael.
Stan Connally, chairman, president and CEO of Gulf Power, along with members of the energy company’s service organization, Transformers, presented checks totaling $90,000 to representatives from Pensacola’s Waterfront Rescue Mission, Mary Esther-based Air Commando Association and the Bay Education Foundation in Panama City.
The donations are from the proceeds of the 6th annual Clay Shoot for America’s Heroes. Typically, this includes a day-long shooting event in November accompanied by other fundraisers. But this year, the strong category 4 storm Hurricane Michael had other plans for the event.
“This would have been our sixth clay shoot, but we had another event in our lives that caused us to refocus,” said Connally. “Hurricane Michael was clearly an unprecedented storm in Northwest Florida and these teammates delivered an unprecedented response to get the lights back on in Bay County and restore hope to our communities.”
Through the event sponsorships, an online auction and raffle, 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 $30,000.
“Following storm restoration, Gulf Power teammates reached out to our event sponsors and community partners and we received unwavering support to move forward as planned,” he said. “Though we were unable to have the regular event, everyone wanted to continue in helping us provide funds for these deserving nonprofit organizations.”
Waterfront Rescue Mission facilitates a veteran’s care program in partnership with Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System to help homeless veterans secure eligible benefits such as pension, housing and medical assistance. Smiling from ear-to-ear, Angie Ishee, senior vice president of public relations & development, said the check will go a long way in fulfilling the mission of helping homeless veterans.
“Homelessness knows no bias,” she said. “Waterfront Rescue Mission serves 4,000 unduplicated people per year. Of those served, 13 percent are veterans who seek assistance through shelter, sobriety services and more. We’re able to reconnect people with their families and get them what they need.”
Ishee put things into perspective for the crowd by sharing “the average cost for 25 days at Waterfront Rescue Mission is about $1,000.”
Air Commando Association, based in Gulf Power’s Central District, provides funds to veterans and their families for special needs that other organizations cannot support because of restrictions. CMSgt Wayne Norrad, USAF, Ret., vice president, shared how Air Commando Association provided funds to cover hotel assistance for a veteran in need of a kidney transplant and threw a baby shower for a 7-and-a-half-month pregnant mother-to-be who had to be bedside with her husband after he was injured in combat.
“Without us, this woman would not have had a baby shower during such a tough time with her growing family,” he said. “Our organization has no boundaries and doesn’t turn many requests down. If it’s the right thing, we do it. We’re so thankful for Gulf Power’s donation of $30,000 which will go straight to our operational budget for 2019 so we can continue to do the right thing for our veterans.”
Bay Education Foundation continues to provide support to families following Hurricane Michael. Denise Kelley, assistant superintendent of Bay District Schools, walked up to receive the check with tears in her eyes.
“Hurricane Michael devastated our community,” said Kelley. “We had lots of schools and families without power. If it were not for Gulf Power and the thousands of linemen that came in to help us, we would not have schools that started back as quickly. We were amazed by the response. We cannot have schools without power. Thank you for helping us get back to where we are today.”
She continued to share how their community is getting back to some normalcy, especially at Tyndall AFB.
“Tyndall is a driving force in the economic factors of our community,” said Kelley. “If there was ever a time we need this donation, it’s now. We opened the base school back on Dec. 10. We were determined that we were going to open that school and show the military families that we were committed to those schools and those families. Before the storm, we had 700 students enrolled and now 200 are back. This money will help us continue to welcome families back to our area.”
Bay Education Foundation plans to use the $30,000 donation to “establish a position for a recruiter and materials that will help families transition back to normalcy and getting their children back in school.”
Since the inception of clay shoot event, Gulf Power teammates have helped invest in 16 veteran-focused nonprofit organizations, totaling near a half-million dollars back into the community to help America’s heroes and their families.
“Like the stories you just heard, you can’t go far without finding a veteran or someone connected to the military,” said Connally. “That’s what’s special about this community. It’s also made this company special. The men and women that work at Gulf Power company that have served, have also served us well. I think they’re part of the magic ingredient of the culture at Gulf Power Company.”