Veterans suicide awareness group hosts fundraiser, concert at Joey Armadillo’s

Published 3:30 pm Sunday, September 11, 2022

NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — A local organization is doing its part to make a difference in the lives of veterans and first responders across Michiana.

Stop 22 Southwest Michigan is hosting a 9/11 Remembrance Day fundraising event today at Joey Armadillo’s in support of their new branch. 

Founded in South Bend by medically-retired Air Force veteran Travis Pitts and his wife Angella after a veteran committed suicide in the parking lot of the Mishawaka, Indiana VA parking lot in 2018, Stop 22 provides a variety of support options to address veteran suicides. According to a 2013 study by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately 22 military veterans commit suicide every day.

A raffle tent featuring items from local businesses, including Sunset Coast Provisions, 980 E. State St., Cand Behind Bars Motorsports, 3125 S. 11th St, Niles, is on-site at Joey Armadillo’s. An after party will take place at approximately 6 p.m. with band PS Dump Your Boyfriend putting on a show at 7 p.m. Cover is $11.

A poker run and motorcycle ride were originally a part of the day’s events but were canceled due to inclement weather. 

Event proceeds will go toward the purchase of a veteran community center in Niles. According to Angela, the legalization of cannabis played a significant role in the pursuit of a community center in Niles.

“That’s one of the reasons the VA actually told (my husband) to move here,” she said. “He had adverse reactions to the medications they were giving him; you’re given a so many different ones., so the VA was like, no you need to move and be able to access your medications. So that’s what I want to let the other veterans know too. Now that we have a legal state like this, you have alternative medicines you can choose from.

“We want the community center to be there for anybody and everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re just a regular community member, if you’re feeling suicidal, if you need somebody to talk to you or if you need to just figure some stuff out like bills or housing, or something. We want to be there for people when they need help.”

In addition to the community center, Stop 22 is raising funds for a retreat cabin at Rainbow Farms in Vandalia.

“We worked all summer (at Rainbow Farms) in order to secure a spot for a cabin that’s gonna be called ‘Freedom Cabin,’” she said. “It will be a place where veterans can just go and stay at the cabin for free. It’ll have non-perishable food in it and they can come hang out for a couple days where there’s peace and quiet.”

On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Almost 3,000 people were killed during the terrorist attacks, which triggered major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism.

Hosting the event on Sept. 11 was meaningful for the Pitts; Travis was inspired to join the military because of the tragedy.

“It means a lot to me to be out here doing something to give back because a lot of these veterans are getting out after 20 years of being in right now,” Angela said. “It’s been 21 years. It means a lot to just be out here and just for people to know we’re out here.”

Angela hopes people come out to support a good cause.

“We’re not trying to get money out of this, we’re not trying to get any fame or fortune,” she said. We just want people to know you’re out here. If you see this, reach out, people care. I went to every business around here asking for support and nobody told me no, everybody donated whatever they could because they want to help. It was neat to see that and veterans see that, too. Even if you don’t have any family at home, if things are rough for you, people do care. Reach out and somebody will help you.”