Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Trusted Voice for Homeless Veterans | Navy Veteran Will Counsel Them as Part of New Goodwill Manasota Program

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

A Trusted Voice for Homeless Veterans | Navy Veteran Will Counsel Them as Part of New Goodwill Manasota Program

Article excerpt

SEASON OF SHARING

BRADENTON -- When Rich Lopez begins working with homeless veterans next week, he'll have lots of stories to share.

The New York City native decided to enlist after the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. So he joined the Navy.

He was 34 years old.

"No other service would let me in at that age," Lopez says, laughing. "I was 10, 15 years older than everybody else. They called me 'Grandpa,' of course, but I think they ended up looking to me for leadership."

After serving in the Navy for six years, Lopez worked as a home inspector in Norfolk, Va. In 2014, he and his wife and three kids moved to Florida.

Things went wrong. He couldn't find work. They faced eviction from the house they were renting, which turned out to be in foreclosure.

Lopez turned to Goodwill Manasota.

"December was the desperation point," he says. "I felt like the tail-between-my-legs guy going in, but the people there took ownership of my case. It felt good. It felt right."

Goodwill helped him find a new rental home. It hired him to work part-time, and then full-time, in computer support.

That job led to a new position when Goodwill got a grant for a Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program.

Lopez plans to share his experience of service and struggle.

"Coming alongside them," he says. "Not being this guy above them - - that doesn't work. Being nearly in the spot they are, I want to give them the same opportunities that I had. It means something."

Vets helping vets

Goodwill already has several programs for veterans and their families. The new initiative will focus on homeless veterans and the challenges of helping them find jobs and a place to live.

C.J. Bannister, director of veteran services at Goodwill, loves the idea of hiring veterans to help veterans.

She served in the Air Force.

"There's a camaraderie you have that's second to none," she says. "When you can help a brother or sister in arms, it's special. I knew it as soon as I started talking with Rich."

Yankee fan, Navy man

Lopez, who's now 47, has a balding head and graying beard. …

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