Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay takes on a mission to repair veterans' homes

A nonprofit is working to rebuild 55 veterans' homes on both sides of Tampa Bay.
Published May 16 2015
Updated May 17 2015

ST. PETERSBURG

Larry King probably could have saved a lot of money by letting his roof continue to leak.

One week after he had it fixed, about two months ago, a nonprofit called Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay told him it wanted to renovate his house as part of an initiative to refurbish 55 veterans' homes this year on both sides of the bay.

"If I had known, I probably would have waited and saved me some money," the Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient joked in his driveway with volunteers buzzing around him.

On Saturday, Rebuilding Together worked on the first eight of those 55 homes, six in St. Petersburg and two in Tampa.

Five of the homes needed serious repairs. Rebuilding Together was overseeing the construction at no cost to the home owners. Instead, the work was funded by public and private grants totaling $1 million, executive director Jose Garcia said.

Rebuilding Together already finished the major construction at King's home, which included replacing his water-damaged ceiling and probably would have included shingling his roof, had it not already been done. Volunteers from consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton were putting the finishing touches on the project by painting and landscaping. Pepsi Bottling Co. volunteers were at two other St. Petersburg homes doing much the same thing.

"He needs a lot of support," Garcia said. "He didn't realize how bad the house was."

The work will total about $6,000, Garcia said.

"For us, helping Mr. King is a very rewarding experience," said Greg Rivera, a Booz Allen associate who is also in charge of community partnerships in the Tampa Bay area. "It's something we take a lot of pride in."

King, 67, entered the Navy in 1967 and was soon transferred to the Marines, where he served in Vietnam as a corpsman, essentially a combat medic, King said. In 1969, his truck drove over an explosive, wounding five of the seven men inside, he said.

The native New Yorker lost his right eye and left leg in the explosion and was in a coma for two months. After the injury, King was honorably discharged. He moved to St. Petersburg in 1977 and into his current home in 1994.

These days, King spends his time helping other veterans as an officer in a Disabled American Veterans chapter. This time, he ended up on the receiving end of someone else's kindness.

"It's just fantastic, I don't know what else to say," he said."

King said many veterans groups tend to devote many of their resources to helping those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Vietnam veterans tend to get overlooked, he said.

"These guys are picking up the slack, at least in this area," he said.

King said he's grateful for the support, and doesn't really know how to thank Rebuilding Together or the volunteers.

"They really couldn't get enough praise," he said. "But I'm sure that's not why they're doing it."

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15

 
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