Two weeks ago, a number of Lowe’s employees spent just over two days, totaling approximately 16 hours, working on a project to beautify the Veterans’ HEAT Factory (VHF) headquarters. Armed with paint, brushes and laminate flooring, along with assorted tools, they transformed the 6,000-square-foot warehouse into a cheery place where veterans and first responders with PTSD can gather. These men and women come to the HEAT Factory for counseling, camaraderie, art workshops, to share a meal, play checkers, chess, and other board games and other activities. Mostly, they and their families come to see that they are not alone or unique in their struggles with post-traumatic stress.
Except for some HEAT Factory volunteers, VHF Founder Gus Guadagnino, and a hard-working seven-year-old, all of the participants are employed at the Lowe’s store in Brooksville.
Daryl Lynn Cox, Administrative Director/Program Director, wrote letters to everyone in the county who had a painting company. Jeff Battig, the manager at Brooksville Lowe’s, came to the Veterans HEAT Factory to meet Gus Guadagnino and his volunteers and learn about the program.
“He offered to not just donate paint but also the flooring and the labor!” Ms. Cox remarked.
Joe Borzell, Department Supervisor of the Pro Desk at Lowe’s, did all the coordinating—helping Ms. Cox pick the colors and the flooring, measuring, and organizing the volunteers.
“My boss [Jeff Battig] knew that I had a soft spot for veterans, and that’s why he put me in charge of this project,” said Borzell.
Also there to observe the activities were Michele Overland and Dustin Francis representing the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Linda Campo with the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, and Ana Segovia from Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ office.
Dustin Francis, the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Veterans’ Administration, has been a social worker with the VA for ten years. His mission aligns with that of the VA, which is to end suicide among our veterans and improve their quality of life.
“My function is to be the liaison with community partners and educate providers, veterans, families, community members about risk factors and warning signs for suicide and treatment options,” stated Francis.
Ms. Overland has been with the VA for sixteen years and is the Community Engagement and Partnership Coordinator.
“I handle social services for the VA, and I’m part of the suicide prevention team,” Ms. Overland stated.
Her mission is similar to that of her colleague: getting people in the community to work toward suicide prevention among veterans by identifying people who may be prone to suicide and helping friends and family recognize this serious problem before it is too late. Ms. Overland also helped to start a coalition in Hernando County two months ago, composed of groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Veterans’ HEAT Factory and the Homeless Coalition.
Joe Borzell estimates that the value of the material alone for this project was at least $2,200. The cost of labor if the HEAT Factory had to hire workers adds up to about $2,000. For a non-profit organization operating on a shoestring, that’s no “drop in the bucket.”
For more information on the Veterans HEAT Factory, to donate money or items, to volunteer, or to seek their services, which are free of charge, go to www.veteransheatfactory.com.