A benefit event slated for Veterans Day is anticipated to raise tens of thousands of dollars for nonprofits centered around serving current and former military service members locally.

Hill Country Gala Inc. announced this year’s beneficiaries of proceeds from the Nov. 11 event, which will feature a performance by acclaimed Texas Country singer Pat Green, will be Together with Hill Country Veterans, Veterans Assistance Dogs of Texas, Hill Country Veteran Center, Meals for Veterans and Wounded Warriors Project.

Toby Appleton, president of Hill Country Gala Inc, said the organization hopes to triple the amount it raised last year — $35,000 — for the Wounded Warriors Project.

The “Here’s to Our Heroes” gala will include a plated, steak dinner catered by Chef Martino Orgega and Chartwells, as well as a wine pull, whiskey pull, dancing and more. 

“Stories of help that our veterans have received and continue to receive from the five beneficiary organizations will be shared with the gala attendees throughout the evening,” reads a press release from Appleton.

Appleton spent 21 years in the U.S. Army, recruiting command, and retired in 2013 as a sergeant first class, he said.  

“My desire to help veterans organizations is definitely prodded by my own time in the military,” Appleton said.

Appleton also works as Schreiner University’s community relations officer. 

“Schreiner University's support of this event goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to the military, to our own heritage beginning as Schreiner Institute and to our continued support of current military veterans as a Yellow Ribbon school,” Appleton said in a statement.

Danielle Sabia, office manager and financial coordinator for Meals for Veterans, expressed her appreciation on behalf of her organization, which funds meals for Veterans who are 59 years old and younger in Texas and are financially struggling. One of the nonprofit’s major projects is working with 25 colleges and universities to provide meal assistance to college students who are veterans, she said. It hopes to expand its services to qualified dependents and surviving spouses of veterans.

“We are very excited and honored to be chosen to be a beneficiary of the Hill Country Gala,” she said.

Verla Bruner, executive director of the Veterans Assistance Dogs of Texas, said everyone at the nonprofit is honored to be chosen as one of the beneficiaries of the gala. The organization rescues dogs that are either stray or owner surrenders from shelters all across Texas and placed into its training facility and given “a purpose and a job,” which is to assist disabled Texas veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities, seizure disorders and even can help by alerting them for changes in diabetics' sugar levels, she said.

“At this time, the service dog training program can graduate up to 15 dogs a year, and we are only restricted by funding,” Bruner said. “Our goal is to double the amount of Service Dogs given, trained and placed with a veteran in the next 24 months.”

Many of the service dogs are from Kerr County shelters, she said.

“Being the beneficiary and having support from the Hill Country Gala is an enormous boost to our organizations' presence in Kerr and surrounding counties,” Bruner said. “In addition, it will help us get the word out that we are here to help our veterans and spotlight our veterans' issues.”

Alexander Hill, veterans service officer for the Hill Country Veterans Center, said the gala’s funds will be put to good use. The center offers the following services:

  1. Food pantry (frozen, boxed, canned, etx) and hygiene products, open every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m.

  2. Barber who gives free haircuts every Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m.

  3. Helps veterans with paying electric bills, water bills, cell phone bills, etc., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The center also helps fund operations by renting out its space on Meadowview Lane for group meetings and events.

“We are excited about being chosen as one of the recipients of this year's Hill Country Gala, we will be able to help more veterans in Texas,” Hill said.

Susan Becmer, executive director of Together With Hill Country Veterans, also expressed her gratitude to the gala for funding the nonprofit, which offers suicide prevention training and education to the public in an effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide. 

“Very grateful, very inspired that the community is getting involved in (veterans) suicide prevention,” Becmer said. 

The nonprofit offers classes in QPR — Question, Persuade, Refer — suicide prevention and Lethal Means Safety every month via the internet. The classes addresses common myths, the signs of suicide, and how to have “the conversation” with someone, she said. A veteran-led support group is available every Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m., and a six-week class for family members begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28. Training is free.

“Rural veterans have a higher likelihood of death by suicide than urban veterans because of additional barriers such as lack of resources, greater distances to travel and access to firearms,” Becmer said.

The organization also provides tools to primary care and behavioral health clinics and promotes connectedness and help seeking in the community. The nonprofit’s staff are available to speak to groups, places of business, and events in the Hill Country.  

“Death by suicide is preventable and together we can make a difference,” Becmer said. 

Its office is at the Hill Country Veterans Center, 411 Meadowview Lane in Kerrville. Call 830-315-5012 for more information.

Earl N. Fontenot, of the Wounded Warriors Project, also thanked Hill Country Gala Inc. The project, established in 2003, provides wounded veterans and their families with assistance such as dental and overall physical health and wellness, financial help, independence programs and networking with other veterans. The money raised by the gala will be allocated to Hill Country-area veterans.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the Hill Country Gala choosing us, we could not do what we do without the support our great communities give us,” Fontenot said.


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