When retired Air Force veteran Andy Bernt and his wife, Brenda, learned last December that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to help provide a much-needed renovation for their house, the couple was stunned. For Bernt, who battles a crippling disease that has confined him to a wheelchair, daily living has been a chore.
This week, the Bernt family's dream of a renovated home came one step closer to becoming reality.
On Tuesday, more than two dozen volunteers from the Buccaneers, C1 Bank and Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay came together to help paint and repair the family's house, continuing a project that will provide upgrades and make the home more accommodating to the Bernts' needs. The Buccaneers have helped lead the charge, committing $40,000 to the renovation.
For a leading community organization like C1 Bank, giving back to those in need is a priority. C1 Bank, a Buccaneers Pewter Partner, was represented by approximately one dozen associates volunteering their time on Tuesday.
"We have a huge hand in the community," said C1 Bank Brand Manager Sasha Fruitticher. "Being able to help this gentleman and his wife rebuild their home means a lot to us. We are a community bank; anything we can do to help out."
Helping to coordinate the project is Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, a local nonprofit organization that provides home repair services in the Bay area to low-income families, the elderly, military veterans and persons with disabilities. Their aim is to help make the selected homes safer and healthier, and the Bernt family was an ideal candidate.
"We found Andy, and it seemed to be a perfect fit," said Lisa Demmi, director of marketing for Rebuilding Together.
Once the Bernts had been selected by the Buccaneers and Rebuilding Together, the community rallied to help reshape their home.
"It's really nice to see the community involved with it," said Roger Schatzel, owner of Top Dog Contracting, the contractor carrying out much of the physical remodeling of the house. "It's getting the people involved and getting them to meet Andy and Brenda and realize what exactly their contribution does to this particular family."
Bernt, who originally enlisted in the Air Force in 1980 at the age of 19, served 10 years as a firefighter and emergency rescue responder, including overseas service in Germany. After being honorably discharged from the Air Force, Bernt served in a similar capacity as a civilian at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for 18 years before his forced medical retirement in 2005. Bernt was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma but overcame the cancer only to contract Transverse Mellitus, which has weakened his spine and nervous system.
Since then, his family has helped share in his daily care, though the structure of their home provided many challenges.
On Tuesday, efforts to make Bernt's life more enjoyable came from numerous members of the Buccaneers front office, including General Manager Mark Dominik.
"We had shifts of our own employees coming out today, when maybe they have time off for their summer vacations but they came out and put in time here," said Dominik, who toured the house and reviewed the home remodeling efforts. "A lot of people have volunteered to help this project come together… I think it has made this project that much more memorable for a lot of people."
For the members of Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers' donation of not only financial resources but volunteer hours was critical.
"We think of the Buccaneers as part of our community too," said Demmi. "Now that we have the power of the Buccaneers behind us, it makes us feel like what we are doing makes a difference to other people. Having the Bucs be involved with us, it's priceless."
Bringing awareness to the issues and challenges affecting local military has been a community emphasis for both Dominik, and the Buccaneers organization. Dominik has focused his outreach on working with war veterans and all branches of the military, utilizing training camp, a game day ticket program, events and appearances to support service personnel throughout the Tampa Bay community.
"The military for me, for our team, and for our community is really important," said Dominik. "I like to remind our military in our town how much we appreciate them."
While the Bernt family currently lives in temporary housing, patiently waiting for the remodel to be complete, the importance of the Buccaneers' contributions have been noticed by all helping with the project.
"To see the Bucs step up in such a big way for a single homeowner I think is huge," said Schatzel. "It does good for the community as well as for the Buccaneers. When you get them out here actually doing this, to me, this is what it is all about."