Whether it’s his deep booming voice, gregarious greetings for colleagues or his commanding presence, when Tony Ortiz enters a room you know it. When you consider that the City of Orlando Commissioner for District 2 is also a former police officer and retired Marine, it only adds to his stature. Tony describes serving in the Persian Gulf War as an honor and emphasizes the camaraderie developed between veterans. But when you see your comrades hurting, suffering or in-need at home, it’s “mind boggling.” This is why Tony joined United Way’s effort to do something about it.
What are the biggest challenges for our veterans in Central Florida?
We have to find a way to connect veterans with the resources that are available and the people/organizations they trust who are there to help them. There isn’t a shortage of resources. The problem is that it is just near impossible to navigate the system successfully in a timely fashion.
For the average veteran family, money is also a big issue. Many won’t be financially stable and won’t be able to readjust immediately to go back to work. They’ll need to be retrained to go back to work first.
We need a central location for veterans to go to and find the assistance and direction they seek and need.
On June 11, United Way launched a new initiative for veterans, Mission United. You have been part of that effort since the beginning. What needs do you see Mission United filling?
A lot of our veterans are coming home and don’t know where to start to get help. Mission United makes an easy one-stop shop for veterans. All they need to do is call 2-1-1 to begin the process.
Besides the challenges with the system, our young veterans need direction along with the support services. Mission United is focusing on the areas of education, legal assistance and employment. Many are coming back with a unique set of tools. Some are usable, some are not. But the character building that happens in a time of war, it’s a profound experience. They need direction and need someone to take their hand and help them readjust. I see Mission United as that support that takes them by the hand and guides them where they need to go to get the help they need and deserve.
As an elected official, you are closely connected with the community. How do you see United Way’s work in the community?
United Way has always been there for our community. They are an essential part of our community. I remember when I was in law enforcement that I used to refer some victims to United Way to get help. I’ve also seen a lot of people during these tough economic times looking for help and they go to United Way for assistance.
United Way helps the homeless, those who don’t have food, families weathering bad times when the economy collapsed; United Way is always there for them.
What do you see as a community need?
Right now, homelessness is possibly the community need with the most demand. A lot of our military personnel are coming back to a very challenging dynamic. I’ve encountered quite a few homeless individuals who are veterans. I also see the need for educating our most vulnerable people to learn about the resources that are out there. United Way is definitely a pathway for people in terms of getting help, knowledge, access, etc. It fills the gap in so many ways and acts as a liaison between entities. United Way ties everybody in.
What value do you think United Way brings to the community?
United Way brings a sense of humanity, which is possibly the most important value. It brings a sense of duty towards our fellow human beings. We have to get involved. What’s neat is seeing how United Way is growing. It goes with the principle “if you give, it will come back” and often, ten-fold. It’s the nature of giving. I’ve seen how the institution has grown and the people getting involved have a lot of enthusiasm. More so, these are people who have extensive expertise to help guide the way as well.
What one word would you use to describe what United Way brings to Central Florida?
“Empowerment” — empowers with knowledge, resources, confidence, and helps find solutions for people.