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HomeBusiness & CommunityVeterans’ HEAT Factory Celebrates its New Look

Veterans’ HEAT Factory Celebrates its New Look

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Last month, the public, along with Hernando County Chamber of Commerce officials and members, business people, as well as volunteers, supporters and clients of the VHF, came together to celebrate a “grand re-opening” of its center located in a converted warehouse.

They were celebrating the facelift of its interior, made possible by a generous donation from Lowes in Spring Hill of material and labor to paint the walls in the large common area and the office cubicles and install laminate flooring.

The Veterans’ HEAT Factory (VHF) has been around since 2017. Gus Guadagnino, a local businessman, founded it with the intention of assisting first responders and veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as their families. It is a 100 percent volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, funded by private and corporate donations, a few grants, and various fundraisers. Their services are free to those individuals who need them. However, the most important part of their success has been the volunteers, who have given hundreds of hours to this cause.

Joe Borzell, Department Supervisor of the Pro Desk at Lowes, coordinated the project, helping pick the colors and the flooring, measuring, and organizing the volunteers.

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Guadagnino welcomed everyone to the event and introduced some of the key people who have helped the organization flourish. Two in particular are Diane Scotland-Coogan and Daryl Lynn Cox.

Ms. Scotland-Coogan, came on board first and volunteered her time to counsel the men and women who come to the VHF. She is an Associate Professor of Social Work at St. Leo University. Since becoming a part of VHF, Ms. Scotland-Coogan has recruited interns from the school to assist her in this work.

Ms. Scotland-Coogan explained that Post Traumatic Stress is not a psychological disorder. It’s a physical response to stimuli that you can’t control. Stress actually shrinks the hippocampus, which regulates motivation, emotion, memory and learning.

Stress and trauma impact your amygdala also, which has various functions, such as detecting danger. People with post-traumatic stress are hyper-vigilant and see danger when it isn’t there, such as overreacting to a sudden loud noise. They also tend to withdraw from people and relive bad memories.

Daryl Lynn Cox is another counselor who devotes innumerable hours to counseling these veterans and first responders. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work, is a Registered Clinical Social Work Intern, and is now pursuing her doctorate. In addition to all of this, Ms. Cox also serves as Administrative Director, a job that includes public relations and supervising other volunteers, all while conducting a private counseling practice outside of the HEAT Factory.

She remarked, “Once I started to interact with the veterans and first responders, I realized this was my calling and made a commitment to join the HEAT. Seeing them [the clients] be successful has been the most impactful thing in my life.”

Present at the ribbon-cutting was Ana Segovia, District Aide to U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who has been a staunch supporter and advocate for veterans. He has held town hall meetings for veterans, sponsored several bills on behalf of veterans and serves as veterans’ advisor to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson. Ms. Segovia presented a Certificate of Recognition to Guadagnino on behalf of the congressman for the work that VHF is doing to help veterans.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Ashley Hofecker and Amy Bledsoe Baldwin, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Hernando County Government, were in attendance and they officiated at the actual cutting of the ribbon. It was a family affair for Guadagnino, with his wife, Annmarie, and daughter, Nicole Hernandez, by his side for the special occasion.

HEAT is an acronym for Honoring, Empowering, Assisting, and Training. VHF works with those in need by helping them mitigate the effects of this “invisible wound.” There is no cure. The organization offers support to these men and women through classes on anger management, repairing relationships, and other skills, as well as giving them a place to hang out and enjoy getting together with others who have something in common. Several of the current and past clients of the program have said that they were contemplating suicide before they found the HEAT Factory because they couldn’t cope with the struggle anymore and felt their families would be better off without them.

Besides the very real benefit of the counseling and the classes, there’s also an intangible benefit of being able to socialize with people like themselves. There are comfortable couches, a big-screen TV, arts and crafts materials, jigsaw puzzles and games. They even have a gym where their clients can work out.

This “grand reopening” marks the beginning of another chapter in the Veterans’ HEAT Factory’s mission and the start of bigger and better things. Guadagnino would like to expand this program to other counties so that more of these heroes can be served and, in some cases, “saved.”

(L-R) Steve Wilson, Gus Guadagnino
(L-R) Steve Wilson, Gus Guadagnino

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