As we celebrate Memorial Day, we wanted to give a special shout-out an organization we are honored to support – the Five STAR Veterans Center, whose tireless efforts provide homeless veterans with the care and support they need to get back on their feet.
How a Jacksonville Law Firm Connected with Local Veterans
Farah and Farah was founded in Jacksonville in 1979. Being raised right here in North Florida, Eddie and Chuck Farah developed a deep and profound respect for our military men and women. The firm has championed veteran’s causes in the past, including advocating for servicemembers who suffered hearing loss due to the defective 3M earplugs class-action lawsuit. Still, the Farah brothers wanted to do more. So, when introduced to Colonel Len Loving, USMC (retd.) and his wife Suzie, who together lead the charge at 5 STAR Veterans Center, Eddie and Chuck knew they had found an organization worth partnering with.
For the past two years, Farah and Farah’s “Salute to Veterans” fundraising campaign has generated $278,482 in donations to the Five STAR Veterans Center through a dollar-for-dollar match offered by the firm. We wanted to learn more about how the fundraiser’s dollars helped the Center do good for our heroes, so we went right to the woman who is said to never leave a veteran behind.
Veterans Regaining Their Independence at Five STAR
In speaking with Suzie Loving, we were told three incredible stories of bravery, sacrifice, and redemption; all of which were aided by the generosity of those in our community that contributed to the Salute to Veterans campaign.
These are their stories:
Charles LaMar, United States Marine Corps:
The U.S. Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis”, usually shortened to Semper Fi. In Latin, this means “always faithful”. For Charles LaMar, this meant looking out for his fellow Marines no matter what. LaMar served a total of four years in the Marines, and in that time, was deployed twice to Iraq.
Providing key security elements for high-profile targets like ammunition caches and transports, LaMar’s day-to-day was incredibly high stress. On top of this stress was the incredibly difficult responsibility of gathering the remains of his fellow servicemembers for identification. Being a constant target and dealing with death every day took its toll on LaMar, who turned down a promotion to Sergeant if only he’d extend his service contract and accept a transfer to Afghanistan.
LaMar instead decided to return home to his wife and family. Sadly, that homecoming could not stop the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms that had been built upon by the horrors Charles had witnessed in combat. His personal life quickly unraveled, and he could not escape the grip PTSD was having on his life. At the end of his rope, LaMar attempted suicide. Waking up in a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital after his second suicide attempt, LaMar was encouraged by a counselor to seek out the Five STAR Veterans Center in Jacksonville, FL.
Since coming to live at Five STAR, LaMar has seen incredible progress. “This place is a lifesaver”, says Lamar of the Center. With the help of a specialized case manager, whose salary was made possible through Farah and Farah’s Salute to Veterans fundraising campaign, LaMar has been able to find security in his new home, tools to work through obstacles, and the support to enjoy life again. “I plan to finish my degree and take this opportunity to change my life,” says LaMar when asked where he’ll go from here.
Etienne John, United States Army
Etienne John is an American success story. But, like a lot of stories, there are some really difficult parts. Etienne grew up in the middle of a bloody civil war in his native Tanzania. His mother, wanting a better life for her nine children, took them and fled to a refugee camp, which would later transfer the family all the way from Africa to Aurora, Colorado. Etienne faced countless hurdles during this transition and leaped over each of them. He learned English, joined his school’s track team, and enrolled in the JROTC program. After witnessing 9/11, Etienne felt compelled to serve and joined the U.S. Army.
Etienne was deployed into combat for 14 months during Operation Iraqi Freedom. His daily grind included dodging enemy sniper bullets, which routinely peppered his outpost. One of these rounds would end the life of Etienne’s good friend, whom he still honors by wearing a wrist bracelet.
Leaving the horrors of the battlefield behind and returning stateside, Etienne would eventually be stationed in Jacksonville, where he was able to complete a degree in aviation management. Unfortunately, after leaving the Army and graduating, work was hard to find and Etienne’s PTSD could no longer be kept at bay by what he describes as a “self-medication regimen”. Eventually, Etienne was living on the street in his car. “I believe that no matter how big the problem, you just don’t quit,” says Etienne, “but I didn’t know how to restart my life”. Luckily, that’s when Etienne was put in touch with Five STAR. There, he found the safety, security, and attention to his mental wellbeing that helped restore his confidence.
Through the encouragement and support of Five STAR and staff members like Col. Loving, Etienne returned to school at the University of North Florida, where he would later earn his MBA. In January 2020, Etienne was offered and accepted a position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District.
Christopher Miller, United States Army, 1st Special Forces Group
With a perfect career as a Green Beret in the Army’s elite Special Forces Group, a loving wife, a beautiful home, and nice cars, Christopher Miller was living the American dream. But a drinking habit, developed from blowing off steam after tense assignments in the military, followed Miller to his home life, eventually ending a 17-year marriage and tearing apart the beautiful life he’d built for himself and his family.
Miller fell into depression and found himself wandering the streets of downtown Jacksonville homeless. But in this dark hour, Miller found rescue at Five STAR and in the tireless efforts of Suzie Loving especially. Because of the support of the Salute to Veterans campaign, the Center was able to take on new residents like Christopher Miller and surround them with the support they need to get back on their feet again.
“People are always giving me thanks for my military service but today I want to say thank you for your service to our vets like me that would be lost without people who care like you.”
These stories of healing and redemption truly sum up why we give back, and why veterans are so high on our list of those that need our community’s support. Through the Salute to Veterans campaign, we were able to come together and help Five STAR do some real good for our service members struggling with life after the military.
“Our people have injuries you don’t see.”
Five STAR operates a 12-18-month on-site program with three levels of progression towards helping veterans at the center achieve what they call a “passport to independence”, meaning the ability to enjoy life again by rejoining society.
The three steps Five STAR uses to help veterans get their lives back are outlined below:
- Restore: step one is providing veterans with a safe and normalized environment, where they feel welcome and accepted. The veterans begin learning ways to cope with PTSD and their other day-to-day mental health challenges. On-site mental health services are available 24-hours a day.
- Reconnect: progressing in their rehabilitation, veterans are encouraged to reconnect with family and friends, to heal wounds and gain support for their continued recovery. This aspect reunites families, torn apart by an invisible enemy that continues its attack on our soldiers long after they’ve left the battlefield.
- Rejoin: in the last step, veterans are provided with opportunities to grow their vocational skill sets and are encouraged to continue their education to successfully return to civilian life.
How Your Contributions Help Save Veterans at Five STAR
Through the funds generated by the Salute to Veterans campaign, Five STAR was able to create and fund a new position within the organization – a dedicated case manager for the veterans. This allows a one-on-one approach for the mentoring, coaching, therapy, and rehabilitation it takes to help these warriors live their lives to the fullest again.
Want to see how contributions make a huge difference for our area veterans? Suzie Loving details just how much this gift meant for the Center, supplying vital needs such as:
- One Full-time Case Manager
- One Part-Time Case Manager/Counselor
- Transport to Enrichment Activities for the Veterans such as Jaguars Games, Icemen Games, Jax Jumbo Shrimp, and the movies.
An unexpected bonus from the campaign for the Center came in the form of a huge increase in visibility. Ms. Loving described a more than 25% jump in veteran applicants after the campaign. Veterans from across Florida and Georgia, eager to get the help they desperately need, have applied for the limited amount of spaces the center can afford.
Q: What is the best way people reading this can help your mission?
A: Monetary donations are the best help as they ensure continued funding for the Center’s operations.
Interested in learning more about how you can help Five STAR Veterans Center? Please visit their website at www.5starveteranscenter.org.
Legal Support for Veterans and Their Families
Being a client-first firm isn’t a sales pitch or a gimmick, it’s how we do things at Farah and Farah. Simply put, if you’re a veteran in need of legal assistance in Florida or Georgia, call on a firm that puts your needs first. We have, and will continue to support our military men and women because we believe in the mission we all have been called to do in support of our freedom. Contact our team now for a free consultation to understand all of the legal options available to you in your unique situation.