Don Payton, president and founder of Hearts & Homes for Veterans, Inc., speaks at Rotary at The Dunes on Friday, Dec. 4. Rotary photo
Don Payton, president and founder of Hearts & Homes for Veterans, Inc., speaks at Rotary at The Dunes on Friday, Dec. 4. Rotary photo

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following report from the Rotary Club of Sanibel Captiva meeting at

The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club on Friday, Dec. 4, was submitted by Shirley Jewell of the Rotary Club.

We talk a lot about American Heroes these days.  And most of the time we are talking about our brave men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces overseas and in the homeland, but is that all we’re doing… talking about them?

No doubt, the news highlights the need for more and better veteran services to support these men and women when they return home from active duty. Many of them have a difficult time assimilating back into civil life. For many, their bodily injuries are visible but for many the mental stress of combat has taken its toll and to a certain degree remains invisible. They suffer alone and can’t cope with the everyday strife connected with a normal civilian life. In the military they know their purpose and put aside some of their personal values to follow orders connected to the mission of protecting the citizens of this country. Current combat service personnel must hold the mindset of destroy or be destroyed, just follow the orders. Many have programmed themselves to focus only on that mission, sometimes losing themselves in doing so. Some find comfort in drugs, allowing them to forget. Some find the civilian life too much to handle and without hope in finding a meaning to their life again. Many of them flounder and cannot find the necessary help they need to transition back to a family life and a job. They may even find themselves desperate and homeless, without hope.

Our speaker on Dec. 4 was Don Payton, president and founder of Hearts & Homes for Veterans, Inc., Fort Myers – 501c3, since 2013. So what does Hearts & Homes do? The mission: “Hearts & Homes for Veterans Inc. is a nonprofit helping Veterans attain food, housing, training, and jobs, especially those veterans without homes. We believe in the VIP program: Veteran's Immediate Placement. Our veterans stood the lines for us, and they should not stand in line for basic needs when they return. They should not wait for housing, food, and services that they have served and fought for. That is the one reason that we formed this organization: to place our Veterans first.”  This organization works to end Veterans' homelessness in Lee County by finding housing for homeless Veterans and providing the materials and help needed to allow them to be self-sufficient, productive citizens of Lee County.

H&H’s outreach program includes visiting homeless camps, jails, and mental health facilities within our community and identifying veterans that need help with safe housing, job placement, transportation to VA medical care and other medical and mental health facilities, and helping with identifying the government benefits that they are entitled to.

H&H can currently house eight veterans in a duplex home donated by the Wells Fargo Bank and continues finding other housing within the community.  Just this year, Hearts & Homes raised enough money to purchase a 10,000 sq. ft. warehouse on Alicia Street, Fort Myers and after the remodeling phase  will provide a safe haven for homeless veterans to gather, provide food, and provide personal supplies such as sleeping bags and clothing.  The building will have showers and lockers, handicap restrooms, mailboxes, computer stations, and phones available. Medical and dental care for these veterans will also be available on-site. The building will provide meeting space for peer interaction and general use.  Help will be provided for finding employment and housing.  A warehouse area will store cleaning and personal hygiene products, along with other associated products, for distribution in homeless outreach activities.  The facility will be run by veterans.

As Don said, “We want to provide a holistic approach in helping these veterans”.

Don Payton is definitely an American Hero…You can help him by visiting the Hearts & Home web-site and make a contribution to this great organization serving our veterans and honoring their service to our country.

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary has returned to The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club for its 7 a.m. Friday morning meetings. As usual, guests are always welcome. Come check out the recent Dunes clubhouse renovations, have a wonderful buffet breakfast, meet great people, and enjoy outstanding speakers.