Star-Spangled Exhibit

Inside Unisen Senior Living in Tampa, veteran residents began meeting together to enjoy each other’s company, share stories and give back to fellow servicemen and servicewomen. What was once a small group has steadily grown throughout the years as word spread about the community, now encompassing more than 70 members at the not-for-profit lifecare retirement community. Unisen’s location, just two blocks from the renowned James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital and close proximity to the MacDill Air Force Base, make it an ideal choice for veterans who retire in Tampa.

“For many years, we’ve enjoyed a strong connection with local veterans who have supported and been involved in the broader community,” said Michael Brown, Unisen’s executive director and fellow veteran himself. “As the group grew, servicemen began referring their brothers to the community and we continue to welcome more veterans to our community.”

According to resident Jim Griffin, a U.S. Army veteran of 22 years who moved to Unisen from South Tampa in July, the brochures don’t do the community justice: “It’s just beautiful here. I owned a home for 33 years, and I had no idea the stress that was running in the background — the roof, the yard, the appliances — here, all of that is taken care of. I mean everything.”

Trips, camraderie and more

Unisen’s veteran’s group gathers for fun as well as community fundraising for causes near and dear to residents. Activities include both non-military-focused events and trips to nearby war memorials and historic landmarks. The group also supports Operation Helping Hand, the Military Officers Association of America Tampa Chapter’s initiative to provide assistance for active-duty U.S. military personnel and their families. As part of their support, each March, Unisen sponsors the annuel Captain Bob Silah Memorial Golf Tournament, which raises funds for military personnel injured in Iraq and Afghanistan who are being cared for at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital. Since 2004, Operation Helping Hand has assisted more than 900 wounded or injured patients and countless family members.

Brown, who served a combined 14 years in the U.S. Air Force and the Indiana Air National Guard, recognizes that the benefits to veteran residents extend far beyond the everyday camaraderie they enjoy and giving back to service members in need.

“The modern veterans of today served in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East — they weren’t necessarily well-received and celebrated when they returned home,” Brown said. “In coming together, they experience solace and comfort in having a group who can truly understand and relate to their experiences. They know what it’s like to relocate 17 times and not have long-term friends in any one place, for example.”

Griffin agrees: “It’s difficult to explain to people who haven’t experienced it, but they know what it’s like to be away from home for years at a time. We share a lot of the same experiences.”

In addition to giving back to active-duty service members, Unisen also offers veterans a $25,000 discount on the community’s entrance fees, which start at $77,650 — significant savings reserved just for veterans.

Art exhibit now open

Unisen has joined Operation Helping Hand in hosting the annual Star-Spangled Art Exhibit on Monday, Oct. 24 through Friday, Nov. 4. The event honors all veterans and wounded heroes by featuring their creative artwork for viewing and purchase. The free exhibit is open to the public, and all funds raised will support Operation Helping Hand. The exhibit will culminate with a special reception to honor those involved on Saturday, Nov. 5, 1-5 p.m, click the button below to RSVP for the event.