Helping our Heroes: Brenda’s Story

Being homeless and alone was a circumstance that had never crossed U.S. Army veteran Brenda Tolliver’s mind. An ambitious self-starter, the native of Memphis, Tennessee began pursuing her dreams fresh out of high school. She would join the Army and then use G.I. Bill benefits for college and the law degree she wanted. And so, from 1990-1992, Brenda became one of the soldiers serving through operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Her service unfortunately left her disabled from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but not even that stopped her forward progress. She came home to Tennessee, accessed her benefits and earned an undergraduate degree in political science.

She also married and had three children. But then the world she had created began to crumble. After 20 years together, she and her husband divorced. Her mother was stricken with cancer, and Brenda became the caregiver. After her mother died, the unthinkable occurred. One of three triplet girls, Brenda’s siblings floundered after their mother’s loss, creating a level of chaos Brenda could not endure.

“I decided I had no peace there,” she said. “I walked away.” Brenda got in her car and drove to Dallas, Texas. Why Dallas? Her son, Robert, who also had served in the Army from 2011-2017, was in North Carolina but had a son in Texas and spoke often to his mother about wanting to go to the Lone Star State.

Once there, Brenda connected with a Veterans Administration representative. She explained she was mentally unstable; he explained her options. She got a hotel room, then moved into a shelter. The coordinator at the shelter helped her get into an apartment, the VA connected her to Volunteers of America Texas and things began to happen, not the least of which was calling her son and convincing him to join her in Dallas so they could pool their resources and start over together.

Brenda became a client of the VOA Texas Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, a program whose mission is to provide a foundation of hope to veterans in the Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth areas.

“Zella Richards was a godsend,” Brenda explains. Zella, her VOA Texas representative, took on Brenda and her son. “She linked me to a therapist, provided gas cards and gave us leads for jobs. I don’t know how else to say it but she saw me as a person. I take pride in caring for myself and my family. When I found myself in a position where I couldn’t, VOA Texas was here.”

Brenda landed a job at the Department of Justice as a legal assistant in the Office of Immigration Review. VOA Texas found Robert a job in Fort Worth, but later he found a job in Waco in the aviation field for which the Army had trained him. The two were definitely on their feet again.

In fact, Brenda has just completed the first year of a two-year graduate program to earn a master’s degree of jurisprudence. And a daughter is likely to join her mother and brother in Texas.

VOA Texas was, she said, the bridge she needed to get from homeless and alone to achieving more than it looked like was possible for a time. “Everything I needed, they helped with.”

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