Roberto Gonzalez is 25 years old and proudly half Dominican and half Ecuadorian. After graduating from high school in his hometown of Bridgeport, he quickly realized that he was not quite ready for college and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He spent four active years in Oklahoma working on the cannon crew and as a field artillery member. While on active duty he married his wife Julia and became a father to his first child.
Roberto’s job required a lot of tedious work and heavy lifting and didn’t lend itself to transitioning to a “real-world” job. The onset of the pandemic affected his ability to explore new positions within the Army and made raising his son in isolation very difficult. He shares that “one of the biggest lessons I learned was being able to appreciate my family. It was my first time being away from home and that gave me the opportunity to mature and grow as a person.” But once his contract expired, Roberto was ready to return to Connecticut.
Anticipating the difficulty of being able to find affordable housing, before Roberto and his family returned home, they reached out to Middlesex Habitat for Humanity of CT, Inc. and applied to their Veterans Build program – a program that works to provide homeownership opportunities to current military and veterans of all service branches. The program partners with homeowners who are service members working to build a better life for their families. Roberto’s family lived with Julia’s parents in Naugatuck while they completed their 350 hours of sweat equity on their new home in Middlefield. The Gonzalez family gratefully moved into their new home in May of this year.
Roberto is a full-time student at UConn Waterbury, exploring the fields of Information Technology, Computer Engineering and Finance. He also raises his children and takes care of them while Julia is at work and studies respiratory therapy full-time. Roberto’s GI benefits help pay his school expenses and provide a basic housing allowance. He also receives disability benefits for the toll his job took on his body and his mental health. And like some veterans, Roberto and his family participate in as much public assistance as possible, like WIC and SNAP. Five percent of Connecticut’s financially insecure veterans received Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and 17% participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Roberto shares that it’s “important to have a plan, whether you stay in active duty or get out. We had a pretty decent plan – we have a house, go to school and raise our kids with lots of love and appreciation. The end game far outweighs all the stuff I’ve ever been through.” And because he wasn’t able to completely give up on his dream of serving in the military, Roberto is currently enlisted in the National Guard, and is being re-classed as an IT Specialist to better align with his interests.
Hear directly from Roberto and learn more about ALICE Veterans by checking out these news clips:
Steve MacHattie, LCSW and Owner of the Charter Oak Family Center in Manchester, has lived experience – he began experiencing suicidal thoughts and survived his first suicide attempt when he was six or seven years old. “I remember being in my bedroom alone. I had a suicide plan that I thought would work and I tried to carry that plan out. After some amount of time, I realized what I was doing wouldn’t work and went downstairs to find my mother. The conversation I had with her, which simply dismissed my experience as a childish incident, was just the beginning of a battle with depression and suicide that would last for decades.”
Steve began his journey of recovery, little by little, with the help of those around him. He shares that his “struggles with my illness resulted in my illness often being my first reaction to life. If I had a bad day or week, depression was right there to remind me who I was. I feel like I internalized the stigma of mental illness from those around me. Even as things were going better and I progressed in my recovery, I still held myself back. I spent years, literally, hiding from people. My need to hide started when I was a child, though it gained strength as I got older.”
Shortly after Steve’s father passed away, he was struggling with suicidal thoughts while driving to a meeting. He pulled over and called 211 because “I needed to connect with someone who cared.” In a moment when he thought no one cared, he said the contact specialist who answered his call was patient, not rushed, really listened and cared. “Being able to talk through it helped me feel less anxious and angry. Having someone listen decreased my suicidal urges. She reminded me that there were still things in my life I wanted to do – that I had a future with hope and goals.”
Having experienced 211 as a lifeline, Steve, now a clinical social worker, pays it forward by sharing his experience, strength and hope with his clients and by referring them to 211 when in crisis.
Steve says that faith and hope are an important part of his story, and he isn’t hiding any longer. He joined a suicide prevention board, specifically, the Board’s lived experience committee. He’s taking singing lessons, and he puts himself up front and center teaching at the college level and loves it.
According to Steve, “Mental illness may be chronic, but it does not have to be terminal. We can still accomplish great things. Life comes with challenges, stresses, sorrows, even successes. Life is full of surprises, and I don’t have to allow those surprises to define me or stop me. My hope is that by talking about mental illness and my struggles with mental illness, I will help open a door that others will be able to walk through. I also hope that people with mental illness can learn to not judge themselves as harshly as I have been known to do.”
If you are struggling and need crisis and suicide prevention assistance, call 211. In Connecticut, 211 is the point of entry for all crisis intervention in Connecticut (988, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline [1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK (8255)], the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Service’s “Action Line” (1-800-HOPE-135) and the Youth Mobile Crisis Line through Connecticut 211.