TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning honored Peter Watkins as the 26th Lightning Community Hero of the 2016-17 season during the first period of tonight's game versus the Edmonton Oilers. Watkins, who received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program, will donate the money to New Horizons Group Homes.
Watkins served two rigorous tours of combat duty in one of the longest wars our country has ever seen, the Vietnam War. As a fearless officer and passionate leader, Watkins always put his brigade's needs first. After serving for 23 years in the U.S. Army, Watkins retired with two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars for Meritorious Service, and three Bronze Stars for Valor, among other accolades. After retirement, Watkins resided in Tampa and began to focus on battles of a different kind. Watkins and his wife Brenda were blessed with two daughters, one of whom has developmental disabilities. While Watkins was confident his daughter's childhood was secure, he remained concerned about her eventual adulthood.
In 2000, Watkins, along with a group of members from a local ministry, founded New Horizons Group Homes to care for developmentally disabled adults. New Horizons has provided a supervised home for these adults to live, enjoy each other's fellowship, and to work and contribute to the community for the last 18 years. Residents ranging from age 22 to 75 enjoy their productive lives in the stability of this faith-based group home under the leadership and guidance of Watkins and the rest of the devoted staff. Many of these residents may have been abandoned or ignored as adults without New Horizons. Instead, these adults can function as members of a caring family, living together. Through Watkins' hard work and dedication in helping the disabled population, he has become not only a hero on foreign shores, but a hero within our own local community.
Watkins becomes the 256th Lightning Community Hero since Jeff and Penny Vinik introduced the Lightning Community Hero program in 2011-12 with a $10 million, five-season commitment to the Tampa Bay community. Through this evening's game, in total, the Lightning Foundation has granted $12.85 million to more than 300 different non-profits in the Greater Tampa Bay area. Last summer, the Vinik's announced that the community hero program will give away another $10-million over the next five seasons.