Lutz Buddy Up Offers Support to Vets, First RespondersJan 02, 2018 06:00AM ● By Marjorie Turner Hollman
Veteran Rocco Bortone
Area veterans have a new way to get support, perhaps something they haven’t even realized they needed. “Lutz Buddy Up Bellingham” is set to launch this month, with a first gathering scheduled for Wednesday, January 10, 7–10 pm, at the VFW Post 7272 Hall, 920 S. Main Street in Bellingham. All veterans and first responders are invited. The framework for the gathering is that there is to be no recruiting for other organizations, no alcohol is to be served at the event, and no speaker is planned. “Proof of service or Government ID is required for the first meeting,” said Rocco Bortone, a local vet who was inspired by a successful program in Broward County, Florida. “No dues, no membership, just a free dinner,” he explained. “Leave your wallet at home and come join us.”
Bortone reached out to Janine Lutz, the founder of Lutz Buddy Up Broward (in Florida) to start a chapter here in the Bellingham area. He first heard about the program through the Lutz Buddy Up Broward Facebook page. After seeing what was happening with vets there, Bortone wanted to see this same sort of supportive program start and grow in this area. “We need a manual,” he told Janine. Turned out that she had already written the manual and was thrilled to get Bortone on board to start a Lutz Buddy Up chapter in Bellingham. “It’s all volunteer,” said Janine. “I need more Roccos.”
Bortone got the manual and has been working for months to begin this program locally. He works full-time himself, but has made reaching out to vets a priority in his life.
Janine Lutz’s son died of pharmaceutically-induced suicide. She explained, “When my son came home he couldn’t connect with his old friends, but he lit up when he spent time with other veterans. After he died, I heard a song, and a line in the song said, ‘They’re showing the signs, but no one’s listening. You all need to buddy up.’ I knew that’s what I had to do, to help vets ‘Buddy Up’ on the local level.”
One initial meeting in Broward County, Florida, has grown into an organization with over 500 members that meets monthly, with 50-60 members in attendance each month. “Our meetings are always free. We’ve had a few speakers, but the key point of these gatherings is to focus on solutions, the comradery, getting these vets together,” Janine explained in a recent conversation. “At first it was just post-9/11 vets, but turns out the Vietnam vets were feeling excluded, so we opened it up to include all vets, and in 2017 we opened the doors to first responders.” Janine noted that her organization has partnered with local law enforcement to intervene with vets in crisis, and they have been able to help de-escalate volatile situations involving vets in their area.
Linda Trites, Commander of Bellingham’s Post 7272, which has donated space at the VFW for the Lutz Buddy Up Bellingham meetings planned for each month in 2018, said, “We would like to get the word out that all vets and first responders are welcome and you don’t have to be a VFW member to attend. We are providing a private place where vets and first responders meet for an evening of food, fun and comradery. Here they will be swapping stories and bonding with brothers and sisters that they never knew they had. This is what Lutz Buddy Up is all about.
When in training, service members get drilled into them that they have to rely on each other. Lutz Buddy Up is a reminder that what worked well while they were serving can continue to work in civilian life when veterans gather together with the intent to “buddy up.” Welcome to Bellingham, Lutz Buddy Up.