Renowned journalist Bob Woodruff and members of his foundation are disbursing $5 million to organizations throughout Tampa Bay and the state to help veterans impacted by Hurricane Ian and other natural disasters.
Woodruff, who announced the rollout Sept. 27 inside the Armature Works venue in Tampa, said the Embassy of the State of Qatar provided the significant donation. Through the end of 2024, the Bob Woodruff Foundation will deploy the funds to organizations with a proven track record of supporting vets.
Qatar is home to Al-Udeid Air Base, which hosts the forward headquarters of the U.S. Central Command.
“When Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas [in 2017], that’s when we were first approached by Qatar. They wanted to help vets, but didn’t have the time or ability to know where to best place the funding – that’s where we stepped in,” Woodruff said to the St. Pete Catalyst.
“Fast forward, this time it’s Hurricane Ian that hit Florida. The $5 million is also for the long-term assistance for veterans.”
The BWF was founded in 2006 after Woodruff was wounded by a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq. Since then, his foundation has injected over $146 million to serve the vulnerable veteran population.
“Veterans are a secluded group and there’s a stigma in the military when asking for help,” Woodruff said. Florida is home to 1.5 million veterans, including 55,000 active-duty veterans.
The funding announcement comes one year after Hurricane Ian made landfall in the Fort Myers area as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing destructive 150-mile-per-hour winds and intense surges.
One of the selected programs poised to receive funding is the Homeless Empowerment Program, based in Clearwater. The funds will provide rental assistance and community-based case management to at least 75 veterans in counties impacted by Hurricane Ian to help them obtain and maintain permanent housing.
The funding will also support a fixed-route shuttle service to the C.W. Bill Young Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in the Bay Pines area, for veterans experiencing homelessness in Pinellas County, providing veterans with access to mental health, substance abuse and physical health care.
The Foundation recently organized facility improvement activities at the Boley Centers in St. Petersburg and the Homeless Empowerment Program. Projects included painting and installing shelving, flooring, lighting, plumbing and furnishings.
By the final quarter of 2023, the following other organizations supporting veterans in the Tampa area and Southwest Florida will receive a total investment of $1.26 million, according to the announcement. The remaining Qatar donation of $3.74 million will be invested throughout the state in 2024:
- Boley Centers Inc.: The funds will improve the stability of at least 80 veteran households in counties impacted by Hurricane Ian by providing financial assistance for transportation, utilities, food, employment and housing. The Foundation executives toured the Boley Centers operations this week.
- Home Base, A Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital program: The funds will provide peer-to-peer community outreach and mental health care to improve the well-being of at least 60 veterans and families who were in counties impacted by Hurricane Ian.
- Rutgers University Foundation’s Vets4Warriors: The funds will provide peer support and connection to services for at least 500 veterans and families in counties impacted by Hurricane Ian, improving their quality of life.
- St. Vincent de Paul CARES: The funds will provide emergency shelter for at least 18 homeless veterans in Hillsborough County. This funding will also complement CARES’ federal funding, enabling them to provide transportation, utilities, food, employment and housing assistance to a minimum of 46 veterans in counties impacted by Hurricane Ian.
- Volunteers of America of Florida: The funds will ensure that at least 100 veterans in Charlotte, Manatee, Highlands, Hillsborough and Brevard counties impacted by Hurricane Ian receive assistance to improve their household stability.
“Our approach was to find organizations down here, contact them and ask what funding they need,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of the Foundation.
She noted the team had a “very warm welcome” in Tampa and met with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who attended the event, alongside officials from the City of Fort Myers.
“The funding is not going through any programs with the VA [Veteran Affairs], but we work with the VA to identify veterans who need help and strong organizations providing short- and long-term shelter, legal services all of the other things that start to untangle following a storm,” she said.
“Over the past couple months, our team really investigated the organizations so we could understand what the needs are. We prioritize vets who can’t access food, shelter or are facing eviction because they can no longer pay rent.”
The eligible nonprofits must complete an application process and agree to the required financial reporting terms before receiving the funds.
Nonprofit organizations can apply here.