TAMPA (FOX 13) - Christine Zien-McCombs noticed a sad trend when she first began working for Hillsborough County Code Enforcement last year: a lot of the code violations she was citing were going to elderly veterans. She didn’t feel right about that.
“I noticed a lot of the veterans in our community, and when I say veterans I’m talking about the veterans who were drafted in the ‘60s or enlisted in the ‘70s, the veterans we forgot about,” said Zien-McCombs. “I’m seeing them with code violations and thinking this doesn’t seem right.”
So she’s made it her duty to serve aging servicemen and women who’ve done their duty for our country. On Saturday teams of volunteers from JP Morgan, Vincent Jackson’s Jackson In Action charity (including the former Bucs star himself) and Hillsborough County rolled up their sleeves and tackled a few overgrown yards owned by local veterans who need a hand in keeping up with the work.
“It was hard at first. It really was. I don’t know how it happened but I got old,” laughed army vet Juan Urive.
Three years ago Urive, a veteran who enlisted at the height of the Vietnam War, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. By the time he caught the disease, it's already spread to his bones. As Urive focused his remaining energy on battling cancer, daily chores like yard work and home maintenance fell to the wayside.
It wasn’t long before neighbors began to complain about the state of his jungle-like yard. Several calls were made to Hillsborough County Code Enforcement.
“It’s like Welcome to the Jungle,” joked Zien-McCombs, who began responding to complaints about Urive’s Lutz property in 2016. It wasn’t the first time she found an aging, sick veteran who felt overwhelmed by compliance issues, but unwilling to ask for help.
“They don’t want to talk about it. They’re embarrassed and they’re trying to fix it on their own.”
So Zien-McCombs created Operation Code Vet, a program that brings in volunteers to help veterans like Urive right their code violations.
“At first I felt ashamed a little bit but now that I’ve talked with my church and talked to other people a little bit, I realize that I’ve done a lot of good here and there and these people are just trying to give back. Hopefully, once I’m better I’ll be able to give back too,” said Urive.
“I’m just grateful. I’ve been worried about a lot of things for a long time but this is just one less thing.”
To learn more about Operation Code Vet visit http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/en/residents/property-owners-and-renters/code-violations/operation-code-vet