Civilian Thanks Veterans Through His Tireless Efforts at a VA Hospital

Daily Point of Light # 7838 Jun 20, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Glenn Hebert. Read his story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

Glenn Hebert worked in the Albuquerque, New Mexico broadcasting industry for 20 years before retiring 11 years ago. At that point, he decided he would spend some of that free time doing something meaningful. Although not a veteran himself, Glenn is dedicated to serving veterans to thank them for their service. 

The Raymond G. Murphy Veterans Hospital supports veterans in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico with an all-encompassing list of medical services including psychological care, physical rehabilitation and much more. In addition, it helps get veterans back on their feet through clothing donations, job and housing assistance, and transportation to the facility. 

What inspires you to volunteer? 

My mother’s oldest brother served in World War I, and two other brothers, two cousins and my father served in WWII, but I had never had contact with the Veterans Administration (VA) prior to retiring. I’m not really sure where the inspiration came from to see if they needed a volunteer. Divine intervention, maybe? When I contacted the Volunteer Services office I found out that they had hundreds of volunteers helping in virtually all departments, but could always use more. It turned out they needed another hand to serve veterans in their men’s and women’s Clothing Closets. Each receives a steady stream of donations of new and gently used clothing.

Raymond G. Murphy Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center volunteer Glenn Hebert inside the Clothing Closet located on the hospital campus. /Courtesy Glenn Hebert

Tell us about your volunteer role at the Raymond G. Murphy Veterans Hospital. 

On Mondays, I’m in the Clothing Closet serving the vets. On Fridays, the Closets are closed and I use that time to look for and put out new donations, straighten out the items on the shelves and clothing racks, and sometimes shine the donated shoes to make them look better. I also sweep the floor and mop if needed. We treat the Clothing Closets like they are stores at the mall with even better service along with respect, dignity and always a, “thank you for your service.”  

The Clothing Closets are stocked with new and gently used clothing, shoes, blankets, sweaters and more, all donated by civic groups, families of veterans and members of the general public. Veterans who qualify for the program can come twice a month for a calendar year to pick out shirts, pants, brand new underwear and socks, a jacket, shoes, sweatshirts and pants. In the women’s Clothing closet, there are similar items as well. New Mexico is a military friendly state, and the vast majority of what we have on the shelves comes from generous donations. Local service clubs perform clothing drives, and others even knit wool lap blankets for the winter months. Others bring in much needed hygiene items like soap, shampoo and lotions. We’re like the pawn shop; we never know what will come in the door!  

Our donors are the real heroes in our efforts to support our veterans who sometimes come in with only what they have on their backs, but leave knowing there are so many people here willing to help. If they still need assistance after their voucher expires, they can ask their social worker who often will approve one for another calendar year to keep their help coming. It is not unusual for a veteran who comes in with little more than the clothes on his back to leave with a complete outfit and the opportunity to return twice each month for a calendar year and beyond, if necessary. It’s not charity. It’s gratitude from donors around New Mexico who want veterans to know they are appreciated. 

On Wednesdays, I roll out our brand-new popcorn machine, just like the ones at the circus. I cook the popcorn and my partner handles the money for the next four hours. Such an odd item, but it has turned into a very successful fundraiser that supports the Volunteer Services programs. We often have a line from the machine out into the hallway! Some buy multiple bags for the people in their department. So far, the record is 27 bags! And if any vet comes in and doesn’t have even a dollar, he or she will always go out with a complimentary bag from us or another vet will pick up their tab before we can. Another great spot to be in, as these people love their popcorn, especially when it is doing so much good. We also have a husband and wife who oversee the popcorn duties on Mondays.  

At various times I have pitched in on other projects. Last year I helped many others put up 100 American flags along the driveway leading to the hospital on Veterans Day weekend. Seems like there is always something going on and I am fortunate enough to have the free time to lend a hand. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

I love seeing up close how a person’s self-esteem can change for the better with a little help from their friends in the Clothing Closets. Early on, one veteran who needed clothing for his new job and some new clothes for just hanging around got some of both, all in great condition. As he put his new boots on, he said, “Now I feel like a human being again.” That hit me like a thunderclap. How easy it is to take clothes, meals and even vacations for granted. To have even a small part of his transformation really hit home, and gets me out of bed and out to the VA to try to make that happen again. 

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer? 

What a unique tribe our veterans are. And when I thank them for their service, so many will say, Best thing I ever did,” or Wish I could go back,” or I should have stayed in longer.” I think they miss the camaraderie and the experiences with their buddies. I will never meet a group who is more thankful for anything you can do for them.  

Over the years I have met veterans from virtually every branch: from a member of the very first Seal Team in 1962, to submariners and an Army ranger. I even had a customer who was a member of the Cheyenne tribe who was stunned when I asked him, Northern or Southern?” He had some great stories that are passed down through the generations, even some about General Custer, who might have run into this veteran’s ancestors at Little Bighorn! 

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about. 

We have an amazing new program that the Volunteer Services Office is looking to get started. It’s a series of songwriting seminars, where vets pair up with one of our many talented local songwriters to help them express themselves through music. A longtime friend of mine has put these programs on for veterans all around New Mexico pre-COVID and wants to get them going again. What a unique and powerful form of therapy. 

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about? 

It’s simply good for the soul. Yours, and the people who you help. When someone is going through tough times, it can often take very little to get them over the hump. Is there really anything more rewarding than being someone who is a part of that? 

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering? 

Ask around! Your friends and family members may know of, or already donate their time for a good cause that needs volunteers. My wife works with a group that hosts incoming immigrants who have gone through the process and have sponsors who pay their costs for permits and other expenses. Her group hosts them in a participating hotel where they stay for the night and then fly out to their permanent location the next day. They also try to have some clothing, especially children’s clothing, to give if needed, and a meal that is donated by local restaurants. Being the grandson of immigrants from Ireland and Quebec, this hits home for me!  

Also, if you have a skill or special interest, how about sharing it with a veteran? And of course, you can just Google “local nonprofits needing volunteers” and you’re sure to find some. You could help in their offices or other administrative positions as well as volunteer in positions with face-to-face interaction. 

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

I consider volunteering at the VA hospital the most rewarding endeavor I have ever been involved with, and want people to know how it can do that for them, too. People often underestimate the value they can bring in just a few hours of volunteer work. When I’m in the Clothing Closets I see people with a need who I can do something for. Veterans are keenly aware when they are being helped or being given the runaround, and when people volunteer their time to help them, they will never forget your kindness and you will never forget how good that feels. 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Glenn? Find local volunteer opportunities. 

Jarmila Gorman