Retired Veteran Volunteers Full Time at Sheriff’s Office

Daily Point of Light # 7823 May 30, 2024

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

Gary Anderson left small-town Maine when he joined the Marines and saw the world. Upon leaving the military, he continued his explorations stateside via various jobs—a food and beverage director for a hotel chain in Florida, a branch manager for a financial institution in St. Louis and president of a company in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire that bought and sold companies to name a few—before landing in Texas.

It was here that he eventually retired and found himself seeking a new kind of role, unencumbered by the necessity of a salary. Research led him to Hays County Sheriff’s Office, but before he became a volunteer, Gary spent 15 weeks in Citizens Academy, three hours a week learning about basic Sheriff’s Office responsibilities: the 911 Center, Animal Control, jail, criminal investigations, SWAT operations, etc. He has now been volunteering for more than 12 years, full-time and then some, spending the last six years in the Community Outreach Unit and saving the office thousands of dollars and human-hours. He’s become family to his colleagues and built long-lasting bridges with the community through his outreach.

What inspires you to volunteer?

When I retired, I was thinking I needed to do something. I didn’t really need to make money, so I looked into volunteering. I saw an opportunity with the Sheriff’s Office to go through their Citizens Academy. After I did that early in 2012, one of the lieutenants asked if I’d like to volunteer.

Gary (right) and the Hays County Sheriff’s Office Community Outreach Office receive an award from the Central Texas Crime Prevention Association for their work in crime prevention.

Tell us about your volunteer role with the Hays County Sheriff’s Department and beyond.

I started out working in the Criminal Investigation Division in 2013. I was there for three and a half years, handling juvenile records and doing the uniform code reporting for the sheriff’s department that went to the state and then to the FBI. I went through Kyle Police Department’s Citizens Academy and became an alumni. Then, I moved to community outreach, and I’ve been there since late 2015.

We help with Junior Deputy Academy for kids nine to 12. We give them basics of how 911 and the crisis negotiation team works, Animal Control, etc. They get to look at some of the SWAT equipment and learn about criminal investigations. It gives kids an introduction to police work. Some have gone on and graduated through criminal justice courses before coming back to work for the Sheriff’s Department and in other city departments within police.

I’m the point person for the annual National Night Out program, which is a nationwide program that gets neighborhoods together. Officers go out and talk to HOAs and neighborhoods. I’m also treasurer of the Hays County Honor Guard Foundation and Citizens Alumni Association. The latter is made up of all the people who’ve gone through the Academy who raise money to buy things not funded by the county. The last thing we helped fund was for the SWAT team. It was a high-tech camera for looking around corners and doors to reduce risk for police officers. We raise $20,000 or more a year and spend all of that on things for the sheriff’s office. And I’m a member of the Texas Citizens Academy Alumni Association and Texas Crime Prevention Association.

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

It’s just being able to help out. When I’m doing a lot of these things, it frees up a real sheriff’s deputy or police officer to go do things they need to do. It saves them time.

What are some things that people might be surprised to know that police officers do?

They’re surprised at our education and outreach efforts. We go to schools and show them different equipment and everything else. Also, in the fight against fentanyl, we have two deputies who have gone all over the US and even Mexico City to speak at an international conference. They gave a fentanyl presentation. I helped work on that program some.

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

One of my big passions every summer is helping an organization called Sunshine Kids based in Houston. They come here for a trip they call the Hill Country Adventure with kids 12 to 20 years old who are battling cancer. We fundraise through our alumni and support them with food and trips. We throw a big Bingo ice cream social party for them and give away about $5,000 in prizes every year. While they’re here, the Sheriff’s Office does a big barbecue for them and we close the interstate down and take them to the state capitol in really cool cars for a tour.

At Christmastime, I dress up as the Sheriff’s Office’s Brown Santa. I go to all the fundraising events and collect toys. Last year we helped 525 families and over 1,500 children in Hays County. Those things are really dear to my heart, because these kids don’t have a lot.

In Texas tradition, Gary dresses up in a Santa suit designed to mimic the brown uniforms of the Sheriff’s Office for a toy drive at Hays High School. The Brown Santa Program gifts toys to local children in need.

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

There’s so much need out there, whether it be in hospitals or the food bank. There are many different programs and not enough people to do it all. It’s very beneficial to the community to get these programs working better.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

Whatever you want to get involved with, go learn about it. There are a lot of good people who want to help people, and a lot of them maybe don’t know how or where to do it, but you just have to go out there and look.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

It’s really rewarding. I feel so satisfied that I can help people. I don’t care where you are in your walk of life, there’s always someone that’s worse off than you are, and if you can help make their life better, it should make you feel good.

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

Kristin Park