SARASOTA, FL – In December – just before the holidays – Abel Gutierrez, a veteran who has been through very rough times but has received significant assistance from several area nonprofit organizations, was surprised with the gift of a car by SRQ Vets and the Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services Program team.
Gutierrez moved to Florida with a promising job prospect that did not pan out as planned. He found himself broke and hungry but several area nonprofit organizations helped to get him back on his feet. Gutierrez found shelter at the Salvation Army; housing through JFCS’s Operation Military Assistance Program; furnishings through Streets of Paradise; and job search assistance, clothing vouchers, a monthly bus pass, and much-needed support and empathy from fellow veterans through Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program.
The gift of a car – donated by a veteran to SRQ Vets and fixed up by veteran-owned and operated shop Freedom Auto Repair – has already further supported his independence and financial stability. Shortly after receiving the vehicle, he was offered a land surveying job – with more responsibility and better pay – in Clearwater. With his new car, he was able to accept the position and now commutes each day to his new workplace.
Gutierrez was born and raised in Texas. He entered the military and served from 1987-1991, spending three years of his service in Germany. Prior to coming to Florida, he had a job as a surveyor. The job that lured him to Florida was as a surveyor but that fell through, resulting in financial crisis and homelessness.
When Gutierrez arrived at Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program office, he was provided with reassurance and a friendly ear, clothing and work boots. He was connected with Meals on Wheels, which provided him with daily meals. The veterans’ team even purchased him some canned food to tide him over until he received his first paycheck from his job. Team members Janet McBride and Jeremiah Robinson knew immediately Gutierrez needed help, even before he realized it himself.
“I was greeted and I’m not sure how everyone knew I was hungry but, soon, I found myself in the kitchen with Jeremiah. I remember the sincerity, the look in his eyes when he told me, ‘I am going to help you,’” said Gutierrez. “That’s when it hit me that I did need help. I was in crisis.”
Gutierrez made himself a promise that day that he was going to do whatever it took, and whatever he had to endure, that he was going to get on his feet again. He showed up to his job every day, worked any shift available, using the monthly bus voucher to get there. When he was hungry, he visited the veterans’ services office for a meal.
Gutierrez was moved to tears when, upon entering the housing secured through JFCS, he found the apartment fully furnished through Streets of Paradise – complete with plenty of furniture, a king-sized bed and linens, a flatscreen TV, and various decorations.
“I felt like a contestant on ‘The Price is Right’ when they say you won a new car!” he said.
Gutierrez is grateful for the many people who contributed to help him get on the road to stability. “In the books, I am referred to as a client and that is just fine,” he said. “But to me, Jeremiah, Ms. Janet, the folks from SRQ Vets, Streets of Paradise and everyone else who cared enough to lend a hand have become family.”
He encourages other veterans who are in need to reach out to their local Veterans Affairs office and research which resources might be available to them. “Help is definitely out there,” he said. “Go to your appointments and do what they suggest you do – good things can happen when you do. It’s amazing!”
For more about Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program, go to experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721, ext. 451.
PHOTO ID: (From l-r) Janet McBride, Goodwill; Cathy Bryant of Streets, Paradise; Todd Hughes, Goodwill; Jeremiah Robinson, Goodwill; Abel Gutierrez; Bill Sterbinsky, SRQ Vets; Greg Cruz, Streets of Paradise; and Richard McDaniel, JFCS
About Goodwill Manasota Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading 501(c)(3) not-for-profit 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 www.experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721.