Judy Pierce is a mother of 12, but at the veteran aid organization she and her husband Wes run, she's everyone’s mom.
Heroes Night Out started small. First, it was just giving out gift cards so that veterans and their families could go out to dinner and spend some quality time together. After Pierce's sons came home from Iraq, she saw the need for a centralized place where veterans could easily access the resources and support they needed, physical and emotional, after service.
Soon, they outgrew the small home office they had started out in and moved into the Twin Lake Fellowship’s old youth center building. With the help of Home Depot, they remodeled the neglected building and made it into a place where all veteran services could be found under one roof.
Hill Country News had the chance to visit the place many veterans in the area call a second home to speak with Pierce about her organization. From the moment we walked into Heroes Night Out to the moment we left, the people there couldn’t speak highly enough of Pierce showing how much her efforts are appreciated in the community.
HCN: How do you think that Heroes Night Out has impacted the community and how has it impacted you?
PIERCE: It affected a lot more [people] than we thought [laughs]. We didn’t know at the beginning how many vets would come through that door. We actually expected more of the younger vets, the ones that are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, which at the beginning, it did. But now it’s doing another circle, kind of steering away from the younger vets but yet going into the older vets. Although, we are trying to draw the younger vets in a little bit more with different types of programs.
We have a PTSD support group on Wednesday evenings, and also have two outdoor groups going. We found that for the ones that don’t really want to socialize, the PTSD small groups are the best for them, but the ones that really want to go out and do different things, well then they go with our outdoor group. It’s the socializing in these groups that’s the therapy. Just the fact of getting out, being amongst their peers, doing things that they actually like to do.
It’s affected me a lot. In my life, it has actually given me a different outlook on life. When I see some of the vets that come in here — the wounded vets especially — you look at them, or their family and think, you know my day really isn’t that bad. I may have a little bit of a headache, but they have a lot more going on than what I do, and that’s actually what pushes me through it. It really does.
HCN: What has been the best part of running Heroes Night Out?
PIERCE: The best part? The people [laughs]. We have a great staff. They’re very dedicated, they’re also veterans so they understand, they get it. So, even if I have a question on something I know I can go to them and ask them as well. It’s very rewarding to be around the veterans.
HCN: What do you think is the importance of supporting veterans?
PIERCE: Because if we don’t who will? [laughs] And because in my understanding, they need a lot of help. I mean you know there are a lot of organizations out there that help veterans, don’t get me wrong. The one thing with us in comparison with some organizations — not all, because there are a lot of good ones out there — quite a few of these guys that walk in this door, they have Wes’s cell phone number or they have my cell phone number. If my phone rings at that time in the middle of the night it’s obviously someone in your family or now it’s a veteran or a spouse in need and I think that’s what kind of differentiates us from them.
For more information or to donate, visit heroesnightout.org.