Manatee vets among 500 expected for Sept. 7 event

August 29, 2013 


The exchange was much like one that occurs in any men's store.

Mitch Helton held up several ties for appraisal by Albert Bartholomew, who had already selected a handsome navy blue suit Wednesday morning.

One cravat had black and gold stripes. Another, a checkered pattern. A black and red number was third.

"I like that one," Bartholomew said, taking the last. "Oh, man. That's nice."

"Try it on," Helton said. "That's the nice thing about navy blue. So much goes with it."

Only Helton wasn't a salesman.

Bartholomew wasn't just another customer.

It wasn't a men's store, either.

It was Goodwill Manasota, 5150 N. Tamiami Trail, where Helton, a U.S. Navy veteran and Northern Trust wealth adviser, was helping Bartholomew, a jobless Army veteran of three tours in Iraq, select the right clothes for the Veterans & Their Families Job & Services Fair Sept. 7 at Ed Smith Stadium.Bealls, Chase Bank, FedEx, H&R Block and Macy's are among the 60-plus businesses signed up and 500 veterans are expected to show.

Goodwill officials, who hosted Wednesday's "Dress for Success," are hoping for more.

"It's been challenging," said marketing director Yen Reed. "A lot of veterans don't know where to turn and the ones who come to our door are in dire need of help -- homeless, no family, no support group.

"We want to be an extension for them to come for finding education, training, shelter, work, food and clothing."

Such was the case Wednesday.

A dozen veterans spent two hours at Goodwill, going through racks of suits, jackets, slacks, shirts, ties, belts and shoes.

Helton, who usually spends his time with high net worth clients, was helping Bartholomew, Tony Fiscalini and Steve Pitt find threads that fit and matched.

All for under $40, paid for by Goodwill.

"Most of these guys, it's out of high school and into the military," Helton said. "When you get out, you've got no experience how to interview, or how to dress for a job interview. A lot of people can't relate, but I can and I want to help."

It worked for Bartholomew.

The Southeast High School alum looked sharp.

"The only time I got to dress up in the Army was in my Class A uniform and dress blues," said the 26-year-old, who has a commercial driver's license.

Discharged a year ago, the former infantryman has been trying to move up after working in a fast-food joint and department store warehouse.

Between getting resume help at Turning Points and getting spiffed up at Goodwill, Bartholomew sees his luck changing.

"I've been putting in applications, bugging businesses and letting them know I'm serious about the job," he said. "Things have progressed slowly, but they're in motion. I sense something's happening. I look at this as a stepping stone and it makes me feel great."

Ditto for Fiscalini, 53, a U.S. Marine for 20 years and Desert Storm veteran, living temporarily in a Bradenton men's shelter.

He wants to get back into the restaurant business.

"Vets like myself who've been in so long, coming out of the military is a tough thing," Fiscalini said. "Everything's been so regimented. You're always told what to wear and when to wear it. You lose touch.

"But here they're helping us get back into the community. I love it."

So does Steve Pitt, 57, a Navy vet who is homeless, jobless and living at the Salvation Army in Sarasota.

"They found me a place to stay and got me some money to get my LPN (licensed nurse practitioner) license transferred," he said.

Pitt tried on a dark blazer and gray slacks and looked downright dapper, if he had to say so himself. "I'm used to wearing scrubs," he said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix

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