On Saturday, January 15th, a formal gala, “Cigars Under the Stars”, was hosted by Cigars on the Boulevard (Apollo Beach, FL) in benefit of The Long Walk Home. Cigars on the Boulevard is co-owned and operated by Charlie Buntin, a U.S. Army Veteran who served the country for over a decade. Attendees came dressed to the nines, and all were treated to delicious local food, the finest cigars, and excellent bar service. Credit must also be given to Southshore Ladies, a social club in Apollo Beach that plans and organizes events and fundraisers. They helped orchestrate the raffles and entertainment for the evening.

The Long Walk Home is incredibly grateful not only to those who donated, but also everyone who simply showed up to create a sense of community and comradery. During a time when division seems at an all time high, it was amazing to see such collective support for our country’s Veterans. Our organization believes in the power of sharing values, so we are humbled whenever we get involved in events that bring people together for a common purpose. Our core mission remains the same: helping Veterans and military families have a safe and seamless transition to civilian life. The funds raised during the “Cigars Under the Stars” gala will go towards funding two flagship services–ASIST Workshops and a Mentorship Program. 

ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) is taught to educate the community on the subject of suicide, equipping individuals with the tools they need to help a Veteran or family who may be at risk. Suicide is an uncomfortable topic and therefore often avoided. Despite it being difficult, TLWH believes in facing the facts. The fact is that the suicide rate among Veterans is twice that of civilians. To us, that is unacceptable. We provide ASIST workshops to give individuals the confidence to address the subject of suicide and ask the difficult questions. Our next ASIST workshop falls in early March, with more to follow in the months to come.

Then there is our Mentorship Program, which was created by our founder, Ron Zaleski. A Vietnam-era Marine, Ron was hit by a wave of emotions when he got news that two of his squad members had been killed in combat. For 30 years, he wrestled with feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. He found himself a prisoner of his own mind. Ron created the Mentorship Program in 2020 so that no young man or woman leaving the military has to endure the same mental turmoil that he did. The program pairs a Veteran with one of our Mentors, who guides them along a series of personal challenges designed to combat negative thinking, build healthier habits, and nurture personal relationships. At the core of the Mentorship Program is an idea that in order for someone to change their behavior, they need a reason to want to change and it cannot be forced upon them.

Thank you again to everyone who made last week’s gala a success, and to those who showed their support for The Long Walk Home. The generosity of our donors makes our ASIST workshops and Mentorship Program a possibility. Also, be sure to stay up to date with our upcoming local events in Florida. Our next outing will be an exclusive tour at Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota, FL!

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