SOUTH TAMPA – A Tampa native, Ryan Tate, has started a nonprofit organization, based in New York, but will be in Tampa this week to raise funds and awareness of his cause.
Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife, known as VETPAW is an organization that aims to have skilled post-9/11 veterans utilize their expertise to train and support Tanzanian antipoaching rangers.
The cocktail reception will be from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at his family’s business, Tate’s Pizza, 3342 S. West Shore Blvd.
Tate, 29, a 2003 graduate of Plant High School, said, “It’s proper to have our first fundraiser in Tampa; Tampa is such an incredible big city that everybody still knows everyone.”
It is also a city that supported his family in a difficult time, something that Tate said he wanted to give back to others by finding a way to help the veterans.
Tate’s 1950s-style family home on Davis Island was demolished in June 2006 when a plane crashed into it. Because of a paperwork glitch during refinancing, they had no insurance.
But by early 2007, the TV show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition show” had come to town with workers and volunteers who built a home in a week for Ryan (by then an Iraq veteran); his parents, Tom and Cynthia; and siblings Tommy and Loren.
Tate had left Tampa for the Marines soon after high school graduation, thinking it would be a life career. He finished his tour and wanted to see what else the world offered, though, and decided not to return to service. He said he saw other veterans seeking a life but the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans remains higher than that of the national average,
“A lot of guys are in my shoes – going 200 mph and then hitting a concrete wall,” said Tate, who married University of Tampa graduate Nikki Juliano in July 2012.
A TV documentary about the slaughter of elephants and rhinos in Africa got him thinking of ways to help by use the skills of the veterans to help stop the death of thousands of animals each year.
“American vets are the most highly trained in the world,” he said. “They could be used to help the (African) rangers through mentoring and the confidence they bring.”
He developed plans for the organization, started recruiting supporters and board members and linked with other groups supporting veteran causes.
“The outpouring of support has been incredible” and the Tanzanian government is in full agreement with the plan, Tate said.