Serving those who served

Veteran Ed Wellborn visits with senior service officer Alan Hill at the Hill Country Veterans Center.

The Hill Country Veterans Center in Kerrville has support services for veterans as its primary function, staffed by a combination of trained volunteers and paid staff members.

The former National Guard Armory on Meadowview Lane now includes offices, meeting rooms, and a large hall with a full kitchen, that also can be rented by an individual, agency or group.

The building sits on 4.2 acres, most of which is grassland.

The front entry is decorated with a Memorial Garden where bricks display the names of veterans to be remembered.

General hours at the HC Veterans Center building are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but some of the services have different specific times.

Alan Hill, the senior service officer and leader of the board that runs the center, is in his office Wednesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

He can be reached by phone at 315-3100 or 315-3101. The address is 411 Meadowview Ln.

While he sees walk-in citizens and clients, he can be called ahead of time to set up an appointment. Otherwise clients wait their turn in chairs outside his office.

In the “Endeavors office,” Gary Powers offers “Veterans Supportive Services.”

Powers can be called at 323-0023 for an appointment. He has office hours Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Powers’ flyer says he has homelessness prevention and stabilization services, including outreach case management, addressing VA benefits, emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities, and assistance in obtaining and coordinating other public benefits.

This office provides supportive services across 28 other counties in addition to Kerr; and each veteran must begin by calling or visiting the building to make an appointment, and then presenting a DD214 or other proof of active duty service or VA card. Powers would provide information on other requirements.

A suicide prevention program is offered at HCVC under the direction of Susan Becmer.

She calls “Together With Hill Country Veterans” an over-arching program of “virtual suicide prevention training.”

She said the training is offered free. Upon completing the 1.5-hour “QPR Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention,” a person can recognize someone at risk for suicide; demonstrate increased knowledge of intervention skills; and refer someone to life-saving help.

Of the four sessions planned in September, three are coming up:

• Friday, Sept. 11, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.;

• Friday, Sept. 18, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.;

• Friday, Sept. 25, 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

Contact Becmer at 315-5012, during her office hours Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. for the flyer with the website connections to the training.

She works with Mike Oates as board chairman and Jim Myers as COO.

Becmer is open to speaking to groups about her programs.

Other programs, services

Another meeting held in the building is a PTSD support group for Vietnam veterans. This therapy group meets the first and third Wednesdays of each month, from 12 noon to 3 p.m.

Also, members and guests of the Vietnam Veterans of America group meet in this building the third Tuesday each month at 6 p.m.

Specifically for military veterans and their families, the HCVC has a Food Pantry in the building. It is open most Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m.

“The Food Pantry clients have been coming in by sporadic numbers one week to the next,” Hill said. “We have volunteers those days to help them. The vets need to be ‘qualified’ in an interview to get food the first time, based on their ‘average monthly income’ and show proof of that,” Hill said.

He said after the first time, they can return to get more food based on that registration.

Also during that same time, most Wednesdays, a volunteer lady barber named Nga Nibblett provides free haircuts to veterans.

“We try to help local vets with bills including electricity, cell phones, gas and propane, and water. We give out $375-400/month for that, and rely on donations for that,” Hill said. “Some of our food is donated, but some is bought with cash donations. We spend about $7,000 per year total.”

Hill occasionally gets calls if an area organization or company is willing to consider hiring an unemployed or under-employed military veteran.

“Sometimes they call me if they need someone, and ask me, ‘Do you have anybody who can …?’,” Hill said. “I try to keep tabs on the ones that tell me they are looking for work.”

Other services, classes,

organizations

The HCVC usually hosts five gun shows per year; and the next one is booked Oct. 10-11. Hill says they have 70-plus tables sold.

Hill said the local leader of a Martial Arts group also has booked meeting times in the building every Wednesday, from 5 to 8 p.m. The group leader can be called at 896-8209.

A second martial arts group has booked meeting times in the building starting in September.

When Arredondo booked the space, he told Hill he was organizing an adult class during the daytime; and a children’s class in the evenings. Arredondo can be reached by phone at 896-1987 or 955-0520.

As an educational opportunity, Hill and the rest of the board have given over one space in the building to the “Military Museum.”

It’s free, full of varying eras’ uniforms and other memorabilia, and open when the building is open, but closed on federal holidays. Otherwise they post signs on that door.

Overall, Hill said school groups from kindergarten age to Schreiner University are encouraged to visit.

Hill said the Texas Hill Country Beekeepers have a meeting time reserved for the third Tuesday, 6-8 p.m. This is a new group as of September; and Linda Williams is the contact at (830) 688-0560.

Hill said HCVC usually hosts a Thanksgiving dinner, so far planned Nov. 19; and a Veterans’ Breakfast still to be determined.

And Hill said he and other volunteers have planned an inside “Yard Sale” on Saturday, Sept. 19, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Area residents are encouraged to attend.

Medical equipment

Hill said they also, through donations, have some medical equipment available to loan to veterans and their families.

Items presently include two electric scooters and one wheelchair lift for a vehicle. He also, as of the end of August, had shower chairs, walkers and an electric hospital bed.

Homelessness

Hill hears a big share of the tales of homelessness in Kerr County, because of the HCVC services.

He sees as “incomplete” in some ways the recent “point in time” count of the homeless in the Kerrville area, as those volunteers counted only about 20 persons.

That may be the “official” count, Hill said, but, one-on-one in his HCVC office, he has heard from 200 to 300 others, or more, who are “couch-surfing” to stay with others; or checking into the Salvation Army overnight lodge; or sleeping in their vehicles, or in tents at sites in Kerrville-Schreiner Park.

Hill said some of his clients come to the Veterans Center to use the washing machine to wash clothes, or to take showers in the restrooms in the building.

“Some of them give us an address, but I can’t really check them to verify that,” Hill said.

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