SARASOTA, FL – On Veterans Day, Todd Hughes – a veteran of the U.S. Army who serves as the manager for the Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services Program – was honored by the Sarasota County Veterans Commission with the John H. McLain Veteran of the Year Award. Recipients of this prestigious award are selected based upon their service to other veterans, active military and their families, patriotic endeavors, educating the community about veterans’ historic impact on democracy throughout the world, and other community service. This is the highest honor that the commission bestows annually upon a veteran.
"This nomination was easy because Todd easily met all of the criteria for the award: contributions to patriotic endeavors, educating the community about veterans, service to veterans' widows and children, and more," said Ted Smith, 2nd vice president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission. "But what really stands out is his appreciation for America: he has seen the devastating impact of dictatorships and poverty in Iraq, especially on children who are the same age as his own. I and others have always sensed his incredible heart and concern for fellow veterans."
Hughes joined the National Guard at the age of 17, while still in high school, and then went on active duty two years later. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004, with numerous responsibilities, including serving as a perimeter guard and driver for the company commander. He was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) and, although he did suffer some immediate health impacts, he completed his tour of duty and returned home a few months later. Several months after returning home, his headaches continued to get worse and he began to suffer symptoms of PTSD. Eventually, he was diagnosed with a serious closed head injury, which significantly impacted his day-to-day well-being as well as his ability to keep a job.
He used his GI Bill benefits to enroll at the University of South Florida; while on campus, he worked to help veterans who were also returning to school to complete paperwork in the admissions office. He was integral to the groundwork being laid for a veterans program at USF Sarasota-Manatee and then became the first administrator of the Veterans Program at USF Sarasota-Manatee. Then, while in that position, Hughes helped to raise the funds to build a dedicated veterans center. His work with veterans who benefited from services through Goodwill Manasota's Veterans Services Program led to an invitation to join the staff there.
At Goodwill, Hughes – along with his service dog, Ghost – works to 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.
In addition to helping veterans at Goodwill Manasota, Hughes serves as Senior Vice Commander of the Disabled American Veterans Post 97, a member of the Vietnam Brotherhood Alpha Company, and coordinator for the Lutz Buddy Up program, which connects area veterans with one another for networking and support. His wife, Jessica – whom he met while the two were at "missile school" at Red Stone Arsenal – also serves veterans in her job with the Jewish Family & Children's Service veterans' program.
The Veterans Day event was held at VFW Post 3233. Highlights included a color guard, invocation and benediction as well as a flute performance by Jan Solomon, featured speaker Ted Smith, who is the 2nd vice president of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission, the Veteran of the Year presentation - among other honors - by Sarasota County Veterans Commission president Carlos Moreira, "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" performed by singer Lauren Nielson, the performance of "Taps," and more.
For more about Goodwill Manasota and its service to veterans, go to experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721, ext. 451.
PHOTO ID: Christopher Kielty (far left) and Carlos Moreira (far right) of the Sarasota County Veterans Commission with Veteran of the Year Award-winner Todd Hughes (second from left, with service dog Ghost) and his family: Xavier, Bailey and Jessica
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.