Brandy Baxter was a recipient of a 2020 Governor’s Volunteer Award. If you know an individual or organization making a significant impact in Texas communities through service and volunteering, you can nominate them for the 2021 Governor’s Volunteer Award here.
For U.S. Air Force veteran Brandy Baxter, serving others is a way of life that extends beyond her career in the military. She has found many ways to remain involved in her community, but her greatest calling has been in serving her fellow women veterans.
“We recognized that women veterans in the Dallas area were coming home and looking and finding resources, but they were not finding connection. The military is very much built around connection and camaraderie and working together, and if you didn’t need resources but you just wanted a new community, there were very few places to go,” Brandy said. “We came together and said, ‘Let’s build an organization that focuses on connection.’”
Brandy has collaborated with nearly every veteran organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to increase awareness about the unique needs of women veterans. She uses her professional experience in personal finance to host webinars and workshops for women veterans who may need assistance in managing their household income, and she has been a voice for women veterans as a frequent speaker on panels, podcasts, advocacy, and training events. Through her work with At Ease Texas, a nonprofit for women veterans by women veterans, Brandy was instrumental in bringing the Women Veteran Network program to Dallas and has created many networking opportunities for women veterans who want to connect with each other.
“My personal belief is a lot of the challenges that we are facing as a culture stem from self-centeredness versus other-centeredness,” said Brandy. “Volunteering allows you the opportunity to center someone else other than you. I think it’s healthy if we spend some time making others a priority. It influences our decisions because we’re more likely to make inclusive decisions when we have experiences from other people.”
Even when COVID-19 inhibited in-person events, Brandy continued to foster connection by serving on outdoor volunteer projects and hosting digital events in which participants wrote encouraging notes and assembled personalized care packages. As an added benefit, the online engagements allowed her to reach even more women veterans. Brandy spoke with OneStar about how she cultivates a life of service.
How did you first get involved in service?
I always give credit to my grandparents. My grandfather had a garden in our backyard and would always share veggies with our neighbors. It felt like a community garden. My grandmother always had open arms: she would welcome anyone in the neighborhood to dinner. What I saw with my grandparents was this other-centeredness. It wasn’t about hoarding or being selfish—it was a very open environment. It impressed upon me to be grateful for what you have and to use what you have to help make someone else’s life better. We never know what that “better” is until we step into that space and offer what we can.
For me, volunteering started at a very early age. I remember in elementary school, I was a crossing guard. I have found myself involved because it is my way of impacting the world around me. It also comes out of a heart of gratitude for the little that I have—which still is a lot compared to someone who doesn’t even have that.
What motivates you to continue serving?
I’m inspired by a strong desire for change. Initially, volunteering for me was just a really neat way to give back. Now I feel volunteering is an opportunity to impact change. If something is bothering me—litter or trash, the way people are caring for their homes, or anything challenging in our society at large—I have found volunteering is a way to feel empowered to impact that change.
Here in our city, I volunteer on the local housing board, and it helps me to understand why affordable housing is important. I’m able to hear the stories firsthand of what people are experiencing. That shifts my perspective, so rather than pre-judging what I think is going on, I have a renewed respect for people who are living in tough situations. That’s one of the examples that keeps me going.
What benefit does volunteering provide to you?
Volunteering keeps me humble. My background is in personal finance, so I have seen both sides of the spectrum: clients who have affluence, and clients who have poverty. Volunteering helps me to never take anything for granted because you never know which end of the spectrum you’re going to be on with a turn of events.
Just think about COVID: all of those employees who could not go to work because their businesses or companies were cutting back. Those poor families were not expecting that. Volunteering reminds me to be grateful for all the things that you have because one decision can change the entire trajectory of your life. How do you want people to treat you? Do you want to be treated with respect and honor and recognition that you’re a human first? Every time I find myself in a situation where I’m able to provide for others, it just affirms for me that they are still people deserving of respect. Their circumstances are different, but you know what? Anything could change in your personal life that could also put you in a similar circumstance, so treat others the way you would want someone to treat you.
Why is it important for people to volunteer?
Volunteering is so much bigger than the task. It is so much broader than just picking up trash or reading to students or serving a meal. Really take the opportunity to allow volunteering to help you step into a world that someone else has to live in every single day. Hopefully that will influence the decisions that you make or the conversations that you have.
We often think of volunteering as homelessness or soup kitchens and shelters, but there are amazing organizations here locally and across the country that offer volunteering in so many areas. Whatever your area of interest is, I am certain you can find a way to volunteer. If you are troubled by something, I encourage you to volunteer so you can see the behind the scenes of what is going on in this situation. Volunteering gives you that insight.