Huddled in a booth at the Veterans Boat show at the Safety Harbor marina last weekend, Jim Turner and his wife, Aletha, looked like a couple of vendors with products to sell.
But a closer inspection of their tent revealed what the longtime Dunedin residents were really doing: raising money to help veterans fix their damaged and dilapidated homes.
A year ago Turner founded UVETS, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans fix or salvage their homes that have been affected by storms, power surges, fire or general disrepair.
“The project came about because a business associate of mine was on the board of directors of the Wounded Warriors,” Turner said, “and we were discussing work that was needed for vets but that didn’t fall under the Warriors’ purview.”
“Being a businessman, I researched the need for a service like this, and I found the need is great. These vets are in jeopardy of losing their homes.”
Using his expertise at starting and running a company, Turner, along with his partners, created a model for a program that had infrastructure and repeatability factors in place so it could be used as a template in other states and also be sustainable long after he retires.
Turner also knew that in order to make it work he would have to get corporations to donate materials and money, and he needed to pay the contractors to do the work.
“I found construction companies need to get paid,” Turner admitted. “So we set up a foundation for people to make charitable donations, and we do many fundraisers and events, like the boat show.”
“Plus, we can walk into a Morgan Stanley Group at an early stage and get them to contribute. We knew when we walked in certain doors, we could get results.”
With more than a year of preparation behind it, UVETS is gearing up for its first project – the home of Dunedin-Palm Harbor VFW chaplain Jim Bloodworth, who happens to live near the Turners.
Sometime in December, Turner and his crews will head to Bloodworth’s home and fix the roof, replace the burned-out AC system, and add an access ramp to the disabled Gulf war veteran’s property; he plans on helping at least a dozen more vets next year.
And while the lead up to the first job has been a long and sometimes thankless process, Turner said it’s worth it for the joy the organization is going to bring to so many veterans.
“A lot of vets don’t want to say they need help,” he said. “I’m a Vietnam vet who has been successful in business…and we’re doing this to give back.”
To learn more about UVETS and how you can help, visit their website, unitedvets.org, or contact Jim Turner at 727-600-7458.