SARASOTA, FL – For those on the front lines of tragedy and violence - like veterans and first responders - the emotional impact of such service can be difficult to explain to others, including loved ones or friends. As a result, many stay silent ... and for some, the stress and pain simply become too much to bear.
In 2013, Janine Lutz of Broward County, Fla., lost her son to suicide. Janos V. Lutz – a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marines, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq – took his own life due to the detrimental effects of PTSD and over-prescribed medication. She was determined that his death would not be in vain; she felt compelled to create a vehicle through which other war veterans could, perhaps, be saved.
In March 2014, Lutz 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. The LCPL Janos V Lutz Live to Tell Foundation, Inc. is the philanthropic umbrella under which Buddy Up chapters are supported; it exists to address issues including veteran and first responder suicide, the ripple effect of suicide on grieving families and friends, and the fragmentation of veteran services within communities.
Goodwill Manasota's Veterans Services Program has organized a Lutz Buddy Up program for local veterans and first responders. A kick-off social event - which was for veterans only (first responders will be invited at a later point) - took place on May 15 at its veterans' program office. Lutz was in attendance for and spoke at this event, during which guests were introduced to the program and its purpose, and each other.
The club will meet once monthly; the next gathering will take place on Wednesday, June 12 at 6 p.m. at the Veterans Services Program office (8490 Lockwood Ridge Rd., Sarasota).
"We have heard incredibly positive feedback about Buddy Up clubs in other communities and we knew we wanted to create one here," said Todd Hughes, program manager for the Veterans Services Program. "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. Our hope is that this club will provide a place where those who serve our country and community can form bonds that will carry forward for the rest of their lives."
Launched in 2013, Goodwill Manasota’s Veterans Services 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 overall goal of the program is to help veterans reintegrate into their families, communities and jobs. The program – which is staffed by veterans – provides comprehensive case management and vocational services, while helping veterans navigate the wide array of available social service programs.
In response to a troubling upswing in suicides among veterans, Goodwill’s Veterans Task Force – which provides counsel and guidance for the Veterans Services Program – has taken on mental health as a critical item of focus. Creating the Lutz Buddy Up social club is just one way the task force plans to address the mental health needs of the local veteran community.
For more information about Goodwill's Veterans Services Program or the Lutz Buddy Up club, go to experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721, ext. 451.
PHOTO ID: 1. Lutz Buddy Up founder Janine ‘Mama’ Lutz (second from right) with Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services Program team members Jeremiah Robinson, Jon Bhatia, program manager Todd Hughes, Janet McBride and Paul Dabule