U.S. Rep. David Jolly and volunteers deliver major exterior improvements to veterans housing center

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Congressman David Jolly helped eight veterans today– and countless others in the future. For weeks, he and his communications director Preston Rudie have been planning to rehab a short-term housing facility on Fifth Avenue North where veterans stay while receiving treatment at the Bay Pines VA hospital. Most of those who use the facility run by Boley Centers are battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Beginning this morning, more than 100 volunteers organized by Jolly and his staff started ripping up concrete, taking down fences and painting the rundown facility.

“Today’s efforts were about saying thanks to a group of veterans who have worn one of our country’s uniforms to preserve our nation’s freedoms,” Jolly said.

In all, 25,000 pounds of concrete were removed from an area behind the building that was, until today, surrounded by ugly wire fences and useless space. The volunteers lined up to sod the areas that were once a concrete wasteland, mulch a patio area, install privacy fences to create both privacy and security and throw up a new basketball hoop.

The focal point of the improved yard is a set of two beanbag-toss games most commonly referred to as corn hole. Each handmade, hand painted wooden slab has a hole cut out for players to toss beanbags into. There are variations of the game, but typically a person gets one point for landing a beanbag on the wood and three points for tossing one into the hole. Opponents take turns tossing their bags and can actually knock the other person’s bag off the wood. There are four corn holes, enough for two games going at once.  Army, Navy, Marine or Air Force is painted on each corn hole platform. A box housing the beanbags and other yard items represents the Coast Guard.

The Martin Lott Residence houses eight veterans, but can hold up to 10. Those who stay there are in either a PTSD program at the VA or in a substance abuse program.

While the volunteers did the rehab work, Jolly distracted the veterans and staff from the Martin Lott Residence. Following a morning ceremony at the Bay Pines VA center, Jolly took the group to lunch. He apologized for skipping dessert, pointing out during an unveiling that they now knew why.

Asked whether he’d be playing some of the veterans in corn hole, Jolly laughed and said, “maybe.”

Some businesses donated the equivalent of about $5,000 in supplies and provided significant manpower.

“ABC understands veterans experienced a difficult transition from military to civilian life.  Our industry believes helping our veterans through this transition.  ABC believes the field experience, values, and leadership skills learned while protecting America in military service translate well into a life building America as a craft professional,” said Steve Cona III, President and CEO of the ABC Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.

“It is an honor and humbling to be able to give such little back to those who have given us so much,” said Raymond Smith of Smith Fence. That company donated privacy fence panels.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.