SARASOTA, FL – In an effort to help reduce suicide risk as well as decrease isolation, eliminate the stigma surrounding health issues, promote veteran-specific services, and enhance connections with others for area veterans, Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System is partnering with Goodwill Manasota to provide weekly coffee socials at Goodwill’s Veterans Services office (8490 N. Lockwood Ridge Rd.) in north Sarasota. These informal gatherings – which began on May 16 – will take place on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon and all veterans are welcome.
The Veteran Outreach Into the Community To Expand Social Support (VOICES) initiative is being offered locally as a pilot, with Goodwill leaders assessing the effort over the course of two years to ensure it is achieving the desired impact. The socials are staffed by members of Goodwill’s American Veterans and Their Families Program team – all of whom are veterans themselves – along with a peer support specialist from the local VA who provides resources about the Veterans Crisis Line and various VA program. Suicide prevention coordinators will be made available to attend on an ad hoc basis.
A primary goal of the VOICES intervention is to enhance social support among veterans in the community and connect them to needed Veterans Administration and community-based health care services. VOICES harnesses the power of social support to reduce the risk for suicide and other adverse outcomes of social isolation. Socials are open to all veterans and their family members and supporters in the community.
“Veterans are statistically much more likely to be at risk for suicide than those who haven’t served; additionally, there is a stigma around needing and asking for help among the veterans community,” said American Veterans and Their Families Program manager Todd Hughes. “When we bring veterans together, bonds and a support system are created that help them to feel less alone and more likely to access the services they need to get on the path to physical and mental health.
Socials are designed to provide a setting in which veterans can connect with others and talk openly, including about difficult topics (e.g., mental health challenges). The discussion of personal triumphs and struggles creates bonds between attendees that may lead to a stronger sense of community and personal empowerment.
The VOICES Coffee Social began in 2012, built on an informal morning gathering of coffee and conversation in the canteen of a VA medical center. The coffee socials expanded into the surrounding communities based on staff observations that previously isolated veterans who attended the socials built bonds that lasted beyond their hospital stay and expanded their social networks. These socials evolved into a coalition of hosts and veteran support networks in the community. Socials formed based on the notions that each location is unique and that veterans and communities working together can connect veterans with resources and support systems that enable them to thrive.
“We’re waging a war against mental illness and veteran suicide, and the way we win this conflict is by working together,” said Bay Pines VA Healthcare System’s Chief of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences Service Dr. Rod Velezmoro. “We’re excited for this partnership with Goodwill Manasota because it allows us to bring veterans together and forge that bond of support that reinforces we’re here to help, and that those who are battling never have to fight alone.”
For more information about the weekly coffee socials, contact Eric Gary at the VA: 941-681-4089. To learn more about Goodwill’s services for veterans, visit experiencegoodwill.org/veteransservices.
About Goodwill Manasota
Goodwill Manasota is an industry-leading 501(c)(3) nonprofit 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 experiencegoodwill.org or call 941-355-2721.