November 07, 2018ATTICA TWP. — For a period of 22 school days this fall, when the clock strikes 1 p.m., students and staff at the Lapeer County Ed Tech Center simultaneously pause from their work to put in a quick 22 push-ups.
This isn't some mini exercise challenge. Participants do the calisthenics as a way of remembering and honoring veterans and veteran families impacted by suicide.
Headed up by the school's National Technical Honors Society, students and staff are raising funds for Mission 22, an organization dedicated to the prevention of veteran suicide. The non-profit's name represents the average number of veterans lost to suicide every day in the United States—22—when Mission 22 was first founded. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, that number has fortunately dropped slightly. In 2016, the most current year the VA is able to publish complete data, the average number of veteran suicides was 20 per day.
"Mr. Najor came to us and suggested this was a project we might want to do to start out the school year," said NTHS President Nathan Russell, referring to Tony Najor, Ed Tech's assistant principal.
"Doing the push-ups and the fundraising is how we've decided to honor veterans."
Since October 12, they've been working to collect donations for Mission 22 and raise awareness about the sobering statistics.
Najor, who's been an Air Force National Guard member for the last 16 years, said he became acquainted with Mission 22 and the veteran suicide rate while taking suicide awareness training.
Students and staff, doing both traditional and modified push-ups, have lined the Ed Tech hallways in the 22 days leading up to Veteran's Day to raise awareness and funds for veteran suicide prevention. photo by Maria Brown.
"That's a hard number to hear. That's a lot of folks," Najor said.
Later he learned that some groups were undertaking the 22 push-up challenge and introduced it at Warren Consolidated Schools where he oversaw their career and technical education program. Today, his former school is still doing the challenge and now he's proud to see it initiated in Lapeer County too.
"This has become a passion of mine," Najor said.
Brett Coultas, vice president of the school's NTHS group, said it's nice to see staff and students coming together to honor veterans.
"I was sworn into the Navy two months ago and I have a lot of family members who have served, including my grandpa, uncles and cousins," Coultas said.
Whichever program raises the most money for Mission 22 will earn a trophy that Russell, a senior from Lapeer, is custom designing in his CAD classroom.
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Mission 22 is an Oregon-based non-profit founded by three veterans-Brad Hubbard, Magnus Johnson and Mike Kissel—who completed tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and, because of their personal battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, have pledged to "raise awareness, enlist support and end veteran suicide in America," the Mission 22 website states.
Mission 22 assists veterans by sponsoring gym memberships and training programs like Crossfit or Judo. They also offer a full spectrum health program called Warrior Integration Now (WIN) that through both physical and psychological means seeks to help veterans reduce trauma symptoms.
Mission 22 also partners with other veteran organizations that offer an array of services like providing service dogs to military veterans, equine-facilitated therapy, individual and family retreats and financial resources.
Mission 22 has also commissioned two memorials that honor those veterans lost to suicide. "The War At Home" memorial, currently on display in Norfolk, Virginia, features 20 steel plates crafted in the likeness of actual veterans. "Soaring" is on display in Nashville, Indiana and features 22 large scale leaves to represent the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.
For more information about Mission 22, visit their website at www. mission22.com.
•The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Crisis Line for both veterans and military personnel at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.
•The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is a free, confidential service.
•The Crisis Text Line, 741-741, is a free text messaging service that offers support for anyone in crisis.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.