After nearly a decade of service in the U.S. Army, Chris Landis has dedicated his education and career to helping other veterans in his community.
Landis also has his own setbacks; injuries that he sustained during his military service have left him with chronic neck and back pain. The condition prevents him from doing some physical tasks, like putting up Christmas lights each December.
On Monday afternoon, a team of volunteers came together to give Landis a different kind of holiday gift as a special thank you for his efforts.
Florida Power and Light honors one veteran in Florida each December by transforming a yard into a holiday wonderland, complete with energy efficient and solar lights.
According to Margie Genter, vice president of mission service for Goodwill Manasota, Landis was the perfect candidate.
Genter says Landis has made a difference in the lives of many local veterans, reaching former service members who would have otherwise been disconnected from services and support.
“Chris Landis for sure is that veteran,” Genter said. “He has dedicated his after-military life to helping other veterans.”
After retiring from the military as an Army sergeant, Landis earned a master’s degree, focusing his graduate research on veterans with PTSD. He then worked with Veterans Treatment Court, a program that helps veterans going through the justice system, for several years before joining Goodwill’s veteran service’s team in 2017.
Goodwill Manasota nominated Landis for the festive honor. His wife Jennifer also helped coordinate the surprise.
Chris was sent to an arranged meeting so that the crew would have time to put the lights up.
“It’s going to last a lot longer than he thought it would,” Genter said.
The Landis’s daughters, Gabi and Izzi, went out with their grandparents.
A team of volunteer decorators that included employees from the local Florida Power and Light service center had less than two hours to dress up the yard with holiday cheer. The team was led by another veteran.
Bryan Swindell is an Air Force veteran who deployed to Iraq in 2009. He remains in the Air Force Reserves today.
Swindell works for Florida Power and Light and is also somewhat of an expert Christmas decorator who creates elaborate light displays as a seasonal, part-time job.
“He looks at a house, looks at what we have, and he knows what to do,” said Mariela Quintanilla with Florida Power and Light.
Swindell says the “community bond” he shares with other service members makes decorating for them even more special.
“It’s very cool when they find out I’m a veteran,” Swindell said.
Swindell has been a lead of the program for years now, and he has witnessed all kinds of reactions from the recipients.
“One guy cried, one guy was in awe,” Swindell said. “You never know how they’ll react.”
As for Landis, he took it in stride, breaking out in a grin as he pulled up to a yard full of volunteers, family, friends, neighbors and media members.
“Thank you for what you do for veterans like myself,” Swindell told Landis in the driveway.
Then, Chris and Jennifer Landis led their daughters through the yard to get a closer look.
The whole family agreed that the favorite decoration was a blow-up Santa Claus decked out in camouflage.
I’m totally grateful.” Landis said, standing in the yard. “Now we’ve got more to pay forward. A lot of veterans are willing to help each other, but they’re not willing to help themselves. So sometimes it takes a veteran.”
The crowd gathered in the Landis’s front yard lingered as dusk settled in and the lights took center stage against the proper backdrop of night.