The efforts of people like Mike Marzella make Florida one of the nation’s most supportive states for veterans.
When Mike Marzella transitioned out of the U.S. Army in 2004, he made the decision to return to his home state—Florida. He had a group of family and friends there who could welcome him back and provide a support base. He also looked forward to the prospect of living in place with a warm and sunny climate year-round. “I had a rough time reintegrating back into society but the support system I had made me who I am and shaped what I do today.”
Getting an education with the help of veterans benefits
Upon his return, he used the GI Bill and Vocational Rehabilitation to enroll in online classes offered by the University of Phoenix and secured a degree in IT and security. The VA was extremely helpful, he says. “They paid for all my books and sent me a laptop. Anytime I needed help, I just called them and they were there for me.”
Landing employment in Florida
After he graduated, Mike found it easy to find employment in Florida. “They’re a lot of businesses in the state that are looking for veterans,” he says. “In many of my interviews, all the employers wanted to talk about was me being a veteran; they weren’t necessarily focused on the job in our conversations. My HR department specifically looks for veterans,” he adds. “That’s because of our work ethic, our attention to detail and the fact that we’re going to show up every day to work. We don’t make excuses; we just do our jobs.”
Taking steps to fuel the veterans support network
When Mike first moved back, there wasn’t yet a sizeable veteran community or support system in the Sarasota area where he resides. So he dedicated himself to growing it. “I felt that it was my turn to give back and help other veterans,” he says.
“That’s my focus in life—to help my brothers and sisters as they’re coming out. They may not know they need help, but just finding them and letting them know that you’re there is huge.”
“I became a Veterans Service Officer for the Disabled American Veterans and also got involved with SRQ Vets—a service organization focused on the Sarasota/Manatee County area. The veterans community here has grown immensely over the last couple years and finding a group of women and men that were all former military has been huge for me.
“The Sarasota/Manatee area now has 47,000 vets. We try to bring everybody together—there are tons of groups that do different things for veterans and everybody helps out and tries to build the team.”
The motto of SRQ Vets is veterans helping veterans. Mike enthusiastically details the scope of services the organization offers: “We help local veterans find housing for homeless vets, help them furnish their homes and help them find jobs. We also help reintegrate veterans into the community through community service. For example, we place veterans at events and provide security. In general, we let the veterans know that there’s a group of veterans out there to help them and to hang around with, and that the community is there to support them as well.”
On this breezy spring evening, Mike and his girlfriend are walking around Main Street, a bustling boulevard in the town of Lakewood Ranch that’s lined with shops and restaurants. He points to a local watering hole where he and a group of veteran buddies frequently get together.
“We hang out there a lot,” he says, smiling. “Florida is such a great place to live. There’s no snow on the ground ever; it’s a beautiful place and a great community with a lot of support organizations. And they love veterans here. We’re all building a very strong community network to help with jobs, to help with housing, to help with any issues or needs that veterans may have.”
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