Coming Home isn’t Always Easy and Help is Available
Military veterans and first responders have long been considered heroes. That honorific has been increased many-fold over the last several years, and rightly so.
As our country and world have become more populated, the conflicts and crime rates have reached significant numbers. Our military and law enforcement agencies have had to respond. The price paid by our soldiers, police, fire fighters, and others on the front lines, to protect and serve has reached unprecedented numbers.
Help for men and women suffering from issues related to their service to our country, whether at home or in foreign countries, seems to be increasing.
Veterans’ clubs and volunteers are reaching out; individuals are donating to organizations that offer free assistance to our heroes, and more men and women are finding the courage to ask for help although it is not an easy thing to do.
Good News for Hernando County Veterans and First Responders
The Veterans H.E.A.T. Factory of Hernando County is a 501(c)3 corporation. This 14-week program features multiple steps including group meetings “to work on anxiety, anger, relationships, self-care, nutrition, communication skills.”
The program offers financial counseling, job training and yoga, which is known to help with inner peace and meditation along with the physical benefits of stretching.
Help sessions and gatherings for families and friends are part of this program because an overlooked side effect of trauma is that it isn’t confined to the individual on the front line. More good news: there are no fees for any services provided!
Why the H.E.A.T. Factory?
Gus Guadagnino is the CEO and Founder of The H.E.A.T. Factory. He is long-time Hernando County resident, local business owner, community volunteer and School Board member.
Gus came to believe that some of the issues faced by veterans and first responders are “under-acknowledged”. He decided to do something about it, determining “that the rest of my life will be focused on helping those Warriors who have served this country, our American Veterans.” That commitment quickly broadened to include law enforcement, firefighters, and other first responders.
Gus Guadagnino’s family opened Joni Industries & Seaboard Pencil Company in Brooksville, which has been providing businesses with a variety of promotional items for 35 years. Almost two-thirds of the structure that houses the business on Aviation Loop Drive has been converted into a home for The Veterans H.E.A.T. Factory.
A Step Back
The doors to The H.E.A.T. Factory (aka The Factory) opened on October 10, 2017. I was first introduced to the program in 2019, when I did an interview there for Hernando County Government TV, with Video Manager Rick Foti.
I had been inside Joni Industries several times over the past three decades, but when I first walked inside the re-purposed building I was stunned. To the left I saw the business part of the company that I was used to: sales counter, display cases, office equipment, etc.
To the right was the welcoming new home of The H.E.A.T. Factory.
The young man who greeted me at the reception desk was a former law enforcement officer who had become part of the Factory Family. From there, I met and talked with military and law enforcement veterans, including a man with his therapy dog. He was very passionate about how that beautiful animal changed his outlook on life.
Rick Foti filmed as I walked around exploring the conference area, well-equipped exercise room, kitchenette and dining area, and the cozy seating space for informal conversations.
It was one of the most moving, heartwarming interviews I have done in all my years as a journalist. We didn’t talk about details of what they had seen or felt; it was mostly about what happened to them and how they felt after they came home or left law enforcement.
Each person I talked to felt a sense of gratitude for the comfort and safety of “The Factory”.
A Step Forward
I started wondering about the effect COVID-19 was having on The H.E.A.T. Factory and our veterans after I saw an ad in a local paper (paid for by Joni Industries) that stated The Factory “urgently needs your help to keep our doors open.”
On August 5th, I walked into The H.E.A.T. Factory again. I felt so welcome, starting with a “round table” chat with Gus, one woman and four men: three former military and two from law enforcement.
I asked Gus what we should call those who are at The Factory, and since he didn’t have a specific designation, I will henceforth refer to them collectively as heroes.
The consensus for why the heroes were there was pretty much one word: stress. Each one agreed part of the healing that comes at The Factory is the family atmosphere and the opportunity for socialization. Our conversations were open and casual; sometimes serious, sometimes humorous. One veteran is still in the workforce, which is a goal of The Factory program.
In a couple of cases, the heroes admitted they had not thought they would be candidates for such a venture. When they saw the positive changes The Factory had on a friend or acquaintance, they decided to give it a try. Each person seated at the table had been participating for over a year.
We discussed how they might have a similar opportunity to help another hesitant hero decide to try The Factory.
There should always be hope; another goal of the program.
Veteran’s Tool Kit
Each hero who participates in The Factory program receives a Tool Kit. It provides information on several “Veteran Specific Services” along with other crucial resources and information (i.e., crisis, emergency, and support contacts).
Families, Friends and Volunteers
Families and friends are invited to participate by attending Lunch and Learn Sessions along with their heroes.
There are currently five members of The H.E.A.T. Factory Board of Directors. They are volunteers from the veterans and business communities. Like many 501(c)3 corporations, financial assistance is always necessary, along with the amazing help that community volunteers can provide.
The Factory also has projects and fundraisers, so if you can help out in any way, see the contact information below.
If you are a hero who needs counseling for anxiety, depression, or anger; if you want to learn how exercise can promote physical health and wellness; if you need financial counseling or job training, please reach out to The H.E.A.T. Factory.
The H.E.A.T. Factory Contact Information
Call 352-251-7015 or go to the website at www.veteransheatfactory.com. If you are a Facebook member, like @veteransheatfactory
A Note of Thanks and Deep Gratitude from the Author
Gus, thank you for what you are doing for our heroes and for your friendship. Carmine, Lucy, Bob, Cody, John, and Richard: thanks for being heroes and for sharing the “round table” with me. — Deanna Dammer Kimbrough