Punta Gorda Realtors® Steve and Debbie Vieira, pictured at left and center, during the Vieiras on Veterans Day signing of their family’s land in a donation to the Veteran Excursions to Sea for a future 5,000-square-foot facility.
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Years ago, Steve and Debbie Vieira, Realtors® with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Punta Gorda, were introduced to a co-worker’s husband, who was a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. That meeting gave rise to an idea – a way to give back to those who have given so much in service to their country.
“We had a local title company at the time,” says Steve, “and one of the closers introduced us to her husband. He was a wounded and decorated vet and was starting an organization to help people like himself.”
That organization is called Veteran Excursions to Sea, which can be found on Facebook. The first year, they raised enough money to bring 10 combat-wounded vets to Punta Gorda for a week of game fishing. “The veterans brought their families, had their hotel and all expenses paid,” says Steve. “That’s how it started to grow.”
After about three years, the founder wanted to take it a step further and build a facility for vets where they could get training and counseling – and then, it was expanded to reach first responders as well.
The cost of such a facility was overwhelming. But the Vieras had another idea.
“We had a site plan for a large building that was ready to go,” recalls Steve. “Our family-owned the land in the Harbor Heights section of Punta Gorda. We talked it over as a family and decided to offer them the property with all the entitlements, the site plan, surveys, etc. We thought it would be a good gift to give the organization.”
He adds, “I’m the son of a World War II combat-wounded amputee, and my brother, son and I are United States Navy vets. It’s a cause that I can relate to.”
The organization is in the process of fundraising now with a goal to “hoist the flag outside the building in two years.” The plan is to construct a 5,000-square-foot facility.
“Because they take veterans out fishing, and we’re located in a waterfront neighborhood, a portion of the building will be used to houseboats. They plan to have exercise facilities, meeting rooms, counseling areas, a job placement section, and an intake center. Plus, a children’s area. It’s going to be a totally tobacco-free, drug-free, alcohol-free campus. And veterans and first responders can bring their family for services,” says Steve
Both Steve and Debbie are active in fundraising. Plus, Steve notes that he’s “involved in a lot of different county activities and sits on several boards. So, I’m a good liaison with the county administration to work through building permits and zoning regulations.”
Giving back has been part of the Vieiras’ DNA for a long time. They are the founders of the Autism Awareness Foundation of Charlotte County, a 501(c)(3) organization that raises funds for communication disorder classrooms in Charlotte County schools.
“Our grandson is an autistic child,” says Steve. “When he was diagnosed, there were very few services that were available in the county. We like to think that we’ve helped raise awareness about autism and helped change the ways that schools accept, mentor, and teach students. We have huge respect for special needs educators. Money is raised through participation in local community events such as 5Ks and marathons, and is given directly to the classroom.”
He adds, “It’s separate from any school budget. The teachers come back to us with some of the things they need to enhance the curriculum, things that aren’t part of the school budget. We also help them fund Sensory Rooms, which cost about $5,000 to build.”
Sensory Rooms have low lighting, plus comfortable furniture or mats to help a child on the autism spectrum overcome an emotional outburst and calm themselves.
Steve says his and Debbie’s philosophy is that “we work inside our community.”
“When you make money and have a business in your community, you have to do good business,” he adds. “We want to make sure that if we’re going to bring people into our own neighborhood to become part of our neighborhood, that we carry a good business name forward. We got to treat our neighbors the way that we would like to be treated ourselves.”