While growing up in Staten Island, NY, Joe ran with a tough crowd and became alienated from his family. “I grew up with some really horrendous people,” Joe recalls. Then, facing prison time, Joe decided to join the Army—intent on leaving his demons behind. Joe became a highly trained soldier despite only having an 8th-grade education, but those demons from his past were always there waiting in the wings. The discipline and structure of military life were no match for his deep-seated issues, so eventually Joe was discharged from the military because of his dependency on drugs and alcohol.
After being discharged, Joe landed in Sarasota for work. Over the next few decades, Joe was in and out of construction jobs and prison, often homeless, and sober for only brief periods. He didn’t like the person he saw in the mirror. “My family didn’t want, so I figured nobody wanted me. Everyone had written me off and said things like, ‘he’s going to be dead soon.’ I really couldn’t blame them for thinking like that.”
Joe was a participant of Harvest House programs in the past, but his life started turning around roughly 5 years ago when he ran into Harvest House founder, Pastor Jim, downtown. Pastor Jim shared information about how Harvest House was actively helping local veterans through the VETS (Veterans Empowered through Transitional Services) program. He told Joe that they had a bed for him if he would take the next step. Joe accepted Pastor Jim’s offer of help on his journey and was welcomed into the program. Besides accessing VA benefits that he did not know he was entitled to, Joe began learning how to love himself and others.
Today, Joe volunteers daily at the Harvest Food Pantry, and has so for the past 5-years, sorting and packing food that will give a child, family, or perhaps a fellow vet a nutritious meal. “The first thing that had to change was my thinking. Helping at the pantry and being a part of the Harvest family, I transformed from a selfish person into a selfless person. I have a strong relationship with God now and have left the ‘old Joe’ far behind.” For the first time in his life, Joe had found a purpose—helping other people.
Joe Vasta served in the United States Army as a Hawk Missle Fire Crewman. Joe exemplifies a true success story of getting through addiction and homelessness and graduating from the Freedom program in 2016. He now mentors others in the Sarasota community. He also has been a volunteer at the Harvest Food Pantry for the last five years. Joe is a true inspiration and joy to be around. Click below to watch an interview with Joe and City of Sarasota Commissioner, Suzzane Atwell.