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Local suicide awareness group donates to Guitars 4 Vets

A bench in Evans City honors A.J. Smith, a veteran and former firefighter who died by suicide in 2016.

A.J.’s Stop 22, an organization that raises funds for suicide awareness, will sponsor 16 veterans through Guitars for Vets, providing the organization with funds to purchase guitars and guitar lessons.

The suicide awareness foundation was established by Deb and Jim Smith of Evans City eight years ago in the wake of their son, U.S. Army veteran A.J. Smith’s death by suicide.

On Friday evening, they presented Guitars for Vets with a $3,360 check.

Deb Smith shared Thursday the funds had been donated to A.J.’s Stop 22 in December by Circle of Friends, a nonprofit group of singers in Butler County that donates all of their concert proceeds to different charities.

“When (Circle of Friends) gave us this money, we thought, this money was raised through music and we should give the money back to music,” Deb Smith said.

“They say music is a really good outlet for veterans with (post-traumatic stress disorder),” she said. “Music’s really good for them.”

On their website, Guitars for Vets shares that the nonprofit helps veterans cope with PTSD through music. The organization has sponsored over 50,000 lessons and given 5,000 guitars free to veterans.

Since its founding in 2016, A.J.’s Stop 22 has donated to a number of suicide prevention groups and causes. The mission is to shine a light on suicide awareness and help veterans suffering from PTSD, Deb Smith said.

The organization was named after Deb and Jim Smith’s late son, A.J. and refers to a slogan commonly adopted by many suicide prevention advocacy groups stating an average of 22 veterans a day in the United States die by suicide.

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