Volunteers help area veterans heal, transition

Volunteers and board members at Heroes Night Out have just one goal: help the next veteran to walk through their doors.

What began in 2008 as a way to give wounded veterans and their families gift cards for restaurants and activities has now grown to a veterans resource center that each month assists more than 1,000 veterans from throughout Williamson County and the surrounding areas, co-founder Judy Pierce said.

"We help them figure out what type of resources they really need," said Pierce, who started Heroes Night Out with her husband, Wes, after witnessing the struggles their own children faced trying to separate from the military. "The resources we offer are based on what the veteran asked for."

Veterans from any branch of the military are welcome to use the Heroes Night Out facility as they recuperate from mental and physical post-combat injuries, search for jobs and housing as they prepare to leave the military and apply for veterans benefits.

"Very few veterans walk in looking for something and don't leave with a lot more," said Paul Pro, chairman of the HNO board of directors.

Though a psychiatrist is available on-site, many veterans find comfort in HNO's peer-to-peer counseling sessions.

Jimmy Welton, an Army infantryman currently in the process of transitioning out of the military, said HNO's peer-to-peer interaction is what he seeks out the most.

"They've been through it," he said. "You can't train a person to handle a veteran."

Pro said he can see veterans "decompress" as they spend time at HNO.

"Our on-site psychiatrist witnessed a peer-to-peer get further with [a] veteran in two hours than she can in six months," he said.

In addition to offering various forms of assistance, HNO hosts monthly dinners and magic shows at no charge for veterans and their families. Pierce said more than 100 families show up for the dinners.

HNO also hosts Thanksgiving dinners for veterans, sponsors families of wounded veterans for Christmas and participates in homebuilding projects.

On May 25, HNO is scheduled to host its second annual Military Appreciation Barbecue on its grounds at Twin Lakes Fellowship Church in Cedar Park. Active duty, veterans and family members are invited to register and attend for free.

"We've raised more than $20,000 in four years, easy," Wes Pierce said. "This place has been blessed. Everything has been donated. Dinners became sponsored, magicians donate their time. Every table, every chair here has been donated."

Although the Central Texas center is the only HNO branch, HNO's notoriety has become widespread. Pierce said veterans from throughout the region visit the center, and she receives calls from veterans and organizations in New York, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Arizona and California asking them to host barbecues or other events.

Heroes Night Out, 1150 S. Bell Blvd., Cedar Park, 512-986-7660, https://heroesnightout.org