The second weekend of December was a warm one in Sebring, Florida, with the average temperature hovering around 80 degrees. That was just the ambient air temperature for “Chin Track Days” at Sebring International Raceway. On the track, it was warmer with the asphalt soaking up the heat from the sun.
HOPE had a table set up for the event, which featured sports car enthusiasts kicking it into high gear on the 3.7-mile track. Ken Lugo was invited to attend as a service member guest, with his family slated to come along for the ride, but those plans fell through, so Ken came out to the event solo.
Danielle Rose, HOPE’s National Donor Events Manager tried to make the best of the situation, getting Ken in a race car, but going around a 17-turn track at high-speed, was not ideal for the 21-year Army veteran.
“One of my injuries is I have screws in my neck, so going around the track in a race car [was difficult.] I didn’t think much about it, but it put me down for a couple of hours,” Ken said.
At that point, Danielle realized that the 3-day event might be a bust for Ken. His family could not make it, everything was outside, and driving the cars wasn’t an option because of his neck, “Just like the shirt says, ‘leave no man behind,’ so I didn’t want to leave [Danielle] by herself,” and that’s what he did, staying with Danielle every day in the hot sun, helping with the table, speaking with guests, and sharing his story. He started out as HOPE’s special guest but transitioned into a volunteer role, which just came naturally to the former Army recruiter.
“It seemed like he had a connection with everybody that came to the table. It seemed so easy for him. Just incredibly personable, super energetic, and willing to talk to anybody at any time. He was great,” Danielle said.
Instead of going around the track, Ken was in his element, sitting at the table for three days, talking about HOPE, because by being active and giving back, he knows it’s the best thing he can do after his service. “It’s therapeutic no matter what you’re doing. It gets you out of the house, it keeps you active, it keeps you engaged. I enjoy it.” Ken knows there are a lot of guys like him that have a tough time readjusting to society when they got back from Iraq or Afghanistan, finding other means to “water down or hide the pain.”
He’s grateful to have found HOPE, and people like Military Relations Director Lee Bonar, who encouraged him to go to events like Chin Track Days. “Ken has always been the type of individual and veteran that reflects the spirit of selflessness in wanting to make events best for others which in turn creates a better atmosphere for all,” Lee said.
Ken is already eager to answer Lee’s next call. “I already got my suitcase packed by the door waiting to go. I’m not looking for anything out of it, I’m just looking to be active and to be involved.
Volunteers are the heartbeat of our organization as they show our military community the country is behind them. If you are interested in hearing how you can bring your talents, skills, and desire to serve our nation’s heroes to HOPE, please email us at email@example.com or click here for more information!