MATLACHA, Fla. — Matlacha and it's surrounding communities, like St. James City and Bookelia, were some of the most affected from Hurricane Ian, with those communities still dealing with the devastation.
On Sunday, a group of volunteers from veteran groups with the University of South Florida partnered with Florida Gulf Coast University in an attempt to bring hope to the small coastal communities.
“We easily could have been the ones who got hit and would have been asking for help as well," says David Huston, Engagement Director for Concerned Veterans for America Foundation - just one of the reasons why he decided to come to Southwest Florida from Tampa to give his neighbors to the south a helping hand.
“We came from Tampa with Student Veterans for America USF, and we’re partnering today with FGCU’s Student Veterans for America as well," he explains.
Those student veterans, like Ammon Bradford, dedicated his time Sunday to assist with the cleanup.
“We see ourselves in this effort for quite some time," says Bradford.
That effort was seen by the team as they carried out old antiques from a damaged home in St. James City - moving file cabinets, typewriters, and furniture out onto the road.
“It gives you a very somber perspective on the effects that this hurricane’s had," Bradford says, on the devastation seen in the home.
It's a perspective that Troy Bolivar, Director of Veteran Success at FGCU, says is brought to the forefront as he moves damaged memories from the home, out onto the curb.
“Seeing the devastation, the water damage, the downed trees…it looks like a war zone," says Bolivar.
It's a long road of rebuilding ahead, they say, but in that rebuilding, there's a shared mission.
“We met the guys from USF today, and it’s great to be able to build that relationship with them and just knowing that some people drove three hours to help out this morning," Bolivar says.
“We’re very fortunate to see community partnerships form through what really is devastation," adds Huston.