Program provides peer support and community building for veterans and first responders, with goal of overall well-being for those who serve our country and communities
For those on the front lines of tragedy and violence – such as veterans and first responders – the emotional impact of such service can be difficult to explain to others, including loved ones or friends. So many stay silent ... and, for some, the stress becomes so overwhelming that they see suicide as their only way out. In 2013, Janine "Mama" Lutz of Broward County, Fla. lost her son – Lance Corporal Janos V. Lutz, who served in the U.S. Marines in both Afghanistan and Iraq – to suicide. The next year, she formed the "Buddy Up" program, through which military veterans can network and form bonds, and really talk about what they are going through; the ultimate goal is that a buddy in crisis could be connected to needed resources before it becomes a life or death emergency. Lutz was determined that her son's death would not be in vain; she felt compelled to create a vehicle through which other veterans could, perhaps, be saved. In May of 2019, Goodwill Manasota's American Veterans and Their Families Program team – led by program manager Todd Hughes, with input and encouragement from Lutz – launched the Lutz Buddy Up program at its veterans services office on North Lockwood Ridge in Sarasota; a second location was offered in South County in 2021. Approximately 40 veterans participate at the two locations each month. Chris De Aguiar, a former "battle buddy" of Hughes's – with whom he served in Iraq – had been following the veterans services program's Facebook page and reached out to Hughes about the Lutz Buddy Up program. Hughes encouraged De Aguiar to start a chapter in his hometown of San Antonio, Tex. and connected him with Lutz for guidance and encouragement. After finding a host venue and doing significant outreach to the veteran community, De Aguiar planned the Lutz Buddy Up launch in San Antonio for April 27; Hughes flew out to Texas to provide support and to speak about the history and purpose of the Lutz Buddy Up program as well as to describe what he has observed since Goodwill launched the chapters in Sarasota and Venice. A total of 30 veterans were in attendance that evening and many promised not only to return the next month but also to bring fellow veterans to participate as well. "As a veteran, I can attest that it's difficult to talk about what I've gone through in combat with people who haven't been through it; my friendships with other veterans are crucial to getting me through some tough times," said Hughes. "I truly believe that the Lutz Buddy Up program helps to save lives through the power of camaraderie and I am hopeful that the veterans in San Antonio will benefit tremendously from the program as well." Lutz Buddy Up gatherings are currently taking place in Sarasota and Venice. The Sarasota program takes place the third Wednesday of every month, 6-8 p.m., at Disabled American Veterans 97 (7177 Bee Ridge Rd.); in Venice, veterans are welcome the first Tuesday of every month, 6-8 p.m., at American Legion NO-VEL Post 159 (1770 E. Venice Ave.). Call 941-355-2721, ext. 451 for more information. Launched in 2013, Goodwill Manasota’s American Veterans and Their Families program was created to help eliminate barriers to employment, provide opportunities for higher-paying positions for veterans and their families, and connect veterans with needed social services. The program provides comprehensive case management and vocational services, while helping veterans navigate the wide array of available programs. The overall goal of the program is to help veterans successfully reintegrate into their families, communities and jobs. For more information about the American Veterans and Their Families program, visit experiencegoodwill.org/veteransservices or call 941-355-2721, ext. 451.
PHOTO ID: Todd Hughes (left), program manager for Goodwill Manasota’s American Veterans and Their Families program, with his service dog, Ghost, and Chris De Aguiar, who has started a chapter of Lutz Buddy Up in San Antonio, Texas
Courtesy photo/Goodwill Manasota
About Goodwill Manasota
Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that changes lives through the power of work. With philanthropic donations and revenue generated by the sales of donated goods, Goodwill is able to assist people with disabilities, veterans, seniors, and those with other barriers to employment by providing jobs, job skills training, and free career services. For more information or for a listing of locations, visit experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721.