Reporter: Ellie Mahan
March 29, 2023
Veterans Pardners, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, was founded by Donna Pickett in December of 2016 to support local veterans. The nonprofit organization partners veterans with resources that will help them meet their needs, accomplish their goals and make their dreams possible. After the organization’s founder passed away recently, Donna “Red” Richardson, who has stepped up as temporary assistant manager, and her team at Veterans Pardners, are working to pick up the pieces and carry on Donna Pickett’s mission to serve local veterans.
“We know from statistics and census and other governmental counts that there are approximately 4,000 veterans in Hill County alone,” Richardson said.
Veterans Pardners works with governmental entities that citizens in rural communities may have trouble accessing, such as Veterans Affairs (VA) and Endeavors Veterans Support Services, which prevents homelessness in veterans.
Getting help from such governmental agencies can be a time-consuming process for veterans, so Veterans Pardners strives to alleviate veterans’ stress by helping them through the process and pulling from local resources whenever possible.
Richardson said, “That is why Ms. Pickett created Veterans Pardners, was to close that gap. Veterans who are living in rural communities suffer the most because Waco, Temple and Dallas are the nearest VA systems. That is an hour at best away.”
The spelling of Veterans Pardners recalls a time when neighbors helped neighbors frequently, with everything from rounding up cattle to cutting hay. Rural community members depended on each other and cared for those around them. Veterans Pardners draws on the idea of working together to help neighbors in need.
The nonprofit utilizes local partners, such as the Lake Whitney Ministerial Alliance, Our Daily Bread Food Bank and Hill County Veterans Service Officer Brad Orban.
One project Richardson has helped with since she has taken on her new leadership role is working to find housing and basic needs for a veteran and his 11-year-old child. With the assistance of Serenity Cove and American Legion, Veterans Pardners has been able to find housing and food for the veteran and his child for five weeks.
Richardson decided to pursue a leadership role in Veterans Pardners because she could not stand the thought of the facility not being available to veterans in need. She has been involved with Veterans Pardners since 2017, when she started as a business manager and public liaison. Richardson has personal connections with the mission; eight generations of her family have served the country in the military, with representation of five branches of the military.
Her favorite part of her role at Veterans Pardners is listening to veterans’ stories and finding different ways to help people every day. Richardson said, “We never know who is going to walk through the door. It could be that a veteran is just frustrated and wants to vent; it could be that they need a ride to a VA facility. It could be that they don’t get paid until Wednesday of next week, and they need to get in the food bank. It could be that they need help with utilities…” In addition to connecting veterans to resources, the organization also makes an effort to emotionally support veterans. “We’re here to listen. We are here to gather around them and support them and let them know that they’re not alone,” Richardson said.
In 2020, the average number of U.S. veterans who committed suicide a day was 16.8, according to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report for 2022.
Veterans Pardners works to bring down veterans’ stress levels and connect them with mental health facilities whenever necessary. Donna Pickett was a licensed counselor, so in her absence, the president of the Veterans Pardners Board of Directors has reached out to a mental health team in Waco to eventually work on bringing a counselor to the location.
In addition, Veterans Pardners offers a peer support program and hosts a “Feed A Vet” potluck luncheon every second Wednesday of the month. The organization hopes to eventually join in activities hosted by the VFW Auxiliary and the American Legion, to become more involved with community events.
Richardson estimated that Veterans Pardners has about 36 part-time volunteers. A few of them volunteer under a federally funded program called SCSEP, which stands for Senior Community Service Employment Program. SCSEP consists of training and employment services to help low-income Texans who are ages 55 and older gain the skills needed to secure jobs and become financially self-sufficient. SCSEP volunteers at Veterans Pardners have learned skills that would be necessary for becoming an administrative assistant or a retail employee.
Veterans Pardners always welcomes volunteers who have a passion for helping veterans. Those interested in donating to the cause or becoming a volunteer can call 254-206-3852, visit the organization’s physical location at 111 North Colorado Street in Whitney or email email@example.com.
Veterans Pardners’ thrift store, located at 105 North Colorado Street in Whitney, sells a wide range of items, including clothing, antique items and board games. Proceeds from the store go towards the Veterans Pardners facility operations.
The physical location for Veterans Pardners is open Tuesday through Friday, and the Veterans Pardners thrift store is open Tuesday through Saturday. Richardson encourages community members who have an interest in donating, volunteering or finding help for a veteran to visit her and her team in downtown Whitney.