Good evening guys! We hope everyone had a fabulous Veterans Day! As you all know Veterans Day was on Sunday, and we figured what better way to show our support then to do a special post on a non-profit organization very near and dear to our hearts called The Zola Initiative. If any of you follow my sister or I on any social media platforms, then you have probably seen a lot about the Zola Initiative. Just in case you haven’t checked out the website, or heard about it at all, we wanted to give you all some background on how it started, what it is, and obviously why it means so much to us.
Saturday, my boyfriend Matt and a few other Marine friends walked in the veterans day parade in downtown St. Louis. As they walked the streets, the banner they carried read “The Zola Initiative”
So what is the Zola Initiative? The Zola Initiative was founded by my amazing boyfriend, Matt Palozola. Matt created the Zola Initiative after his big brother Tom committed suicide memorial day weekend 2017 after losing his battle with PTSD. The Zola Initiative is a non-profit organization aimed to enhance veteran outreach programs in communities and colleges across the country. The Zola Initiative was created to be that extra helping hand that lets vets know they are not alone in their fight against PTSD. 22 veterans a day lose their battle with PTSD, and the Zola Initiative aims to be an early preventative measure to veterans’ suicide.
Tommy “Zola” was a United States Marine Corps Veteran who served three combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He served as an infantry marine on his first deployment and then as infantry squad leader on his second deployment to Iraq. When Tom was nearing the end of his contract he heard that Matt was set to deploy to Afghanistan so he decided to extend his contract for third deployment as the lead turret gunner for the Personnel Security so he could look after his little brother. During his deployments Tom saw intense combat including a situation involving a bomb blowing up his vehicle and leaving him with brain trauma. Through it all he was credited by the Regimental Colonel and Sergeant Major with “saving their lives in multiple combat engagements”
The love and support that Tom had for his fellow veterans did not end when he returned to the states. Instead he found a way channel his passion and opened the first Veterans Center at Webster University. Tom obtained a $10,000 grant after writing a business proposal to Home Depot to build the veterans center. Once again Tom’s dedication did not end there. Once he graduated from Webster University he worked as a veterans advocate at the VA helping to guide veterans with whatever issues they may have after returning to the civilian world.
Tom’s list of accomplishments goes on and on. To say that this man was a hero is an understatement. To an outsider Tom looked like he had it all together. He worked so hard to help other people, that he forgot to help himself. On the inside Tom was slowly losing the battle that he fought so hard against for everyone else.
Saturday, May 27 I watched the strongest man I know crumble within my arms. Matt received a phone call from a friend that his brother took his life. When I say that Matt is the strongest man I know, I’m not just saying that because he’s mine. I watched him have to relive that phone call not once, not twice, but three times as he had to tell both of his sisters and his dad individually. If you think the strength ends there, your wrong. Matt held his head high as he not only had to process the death of his brother, but while he planned his funeral. The following weeks after Tom’s death were rough ones, but somehow, somewhere in the pit of his heart, Matt found way to turn it all around. He came to me with the idea of creating a non-profit organization in memory of Tom. He talked about continuing his legacy, and working to help put a stop to veteran suicide. I loved the idea however, I never anticipated how serious he was about it. Matt used the Zola Initiative as a means of therapy. Building the business plan, working on a marketing strategy, electing board members, and creating the website, were all ways to help Matt mourn. I’ve watched him push and work damn hard to get the Zola Initiative where it is today. Not even 6 months later and the Zola Initiative is a running non-profit organization. This man took the worst day of his life and turned it into something amazing. I don’t know very many people (zero if were being honest) that have that kind of drive and courage in life. Matt’s ability to bring so much light to such darkness inspires me every day. I don’t go a day without thinking about how lucky I am to have been blessed with such a passionate, selfless human in my life, and I felt like it was time that I shared how proud I am of him with everyone.
To the troopers that stuck it out and read until the end. Thank you. I have only one more favor to ask of you, and that’s to share. Share Tom’s story, share Matt’s story, and share The Zola Initiative. It’s just the beginning for us here, but we need everyone’s help to get the word out. Let’s put a stop to veteran suicide!!
Find more information on The Zola Initiative at thezolainitiative.org
We have had a ton of requests regarding the t-shirts! We will be putting in a new order shortly so we will need specifics and sizes. There is the black and green, both men and women sizing and black and white, also both men and women sizing (see below). If you would like a t-shirt simply comment below or message us on Instagram (@twinstakeover2) and someone will contact you. They are $20 a piece.
Like always thanks so much for all the love and support. It really means a lot <3 Have an amazing week!