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Tony Barrett and Rob Riganati, both Sarasota County firemen, serve on the Heroes Welcome Home board of directors, which brainstorms new fundraising ideas during monthly meetings.
East County Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013 4 years ago

Veteran starts charity to help fellow soldiers

by: Josh Siegel Staff Writer

EAST COUNTY— Tony Barrett had experience buying a home, so he helped a friend of a friend navigate the complex process.

A year-and-a-half ago, Barrett, a U.S. Army veteran and fireman who now runs his own real-estate company, assisted Mike McGowen, who had just served three years in the Marines, in landing a roughly $30,000 pledge from the city of Bradenton to go toward a new-home loan.

However, the banks didn’t consider McGowen’s short Marines service as work experience, so they would not approve a loan. McGowen did not ultimately move into his dream home.

“At that point, I felt I did a disservice to him,” Barrett, 46, said. “I let him down. Now, I want to help kids like him.”

Barrett has started Heroes Welcome Home, an organization that provides financial assistance to veterans buying a home.

The organization, which is not yet a 501(c)(3), a designation that would allow banks or corporations to give money directly through the charity, held a ribbon cutting July 17, at Ed’s Tavern on Lakewood Ranch Main Street.

The charity, itself, and its 12-member board work to provide veterans with enough money for a down payment on a home; it already has started organizing fundraisers to help fulfill that mission.

So far, Barrett has put about $2,000 of his own money into the charity.

Barrett also hopes to use his experience to help connect veterans, like McGowen, with appropriate lenders and resources, educating them about U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs-backed loans, for example.

“The difficulty is still convincing (lenders of) the work history,” Barrett said. “Their job classification in the military is not going to be the same in the civilian world. They might be considered a ‘ghost’ because they have no credit. I want to educate (veterans) about lenders who do things differently for veterans.”

Heroes Welcome Home held its first fundraiser July 21, also at Ed’s Tavern; it raised about $1,700. Board members are planning future events, as well.

Barrett has bigger plans in mind, but, for now, he’s happy to give what he can.

“When I see a veteran living in the home he deserves, it gives validation to everybody and it’s all worth it,” Barrett said.

Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].

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