United Way of Denton County announced this week that the 2022 Dr. Bettye Myers Humanitarian Award will recognize Terry and Bob Widmer for their pivotal impact on mental health, homelessness and veteran issues in Denton County.
The prestigious award will be presented at the organization’s 11th annual UNITED Tribute gala celebration on Jan. 28.
Many people in Denton County have been involved in the collaborative effort to increase services for mental health, or people experiencing homelessness, or veterans and their families, but very few have had a pivotal role in all three like Terry and Bob Widmer, according to a news release from the United Way of Denton County. A Denton native with a 20-year nursing career, Terry’s philanthropic resume was already impressive when Joe Mulroy approached her in 2013 about forming a Citizens Council based on alarming mental health data from United Way of Denton County’s first Community Needs Assessment.
A year later, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute supported the creation of the Denton County Behavioral Health Leadership Team, a collective impact initiative powered by United Way of Denton County and community leaders. This group of appointed community leaders advocates and facilitates a collaborative person-centered behavioral health system to repair and restore lives. Terry volunteered to spearhead the Housing Workgroup.
In 2016, the Denton County Homelessness Leadership Team was formed out of that DCBHLT workgroup with Terry again serving as a charter appointee. That same year, Bob Widmer, a board-certified tax attorney, created the North Texas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic giving local graduate accounting students the opportunity to assist low-income members of Denton County who need specialized and qualified tax assistance.
“I created it with a two-pronged approach,” Bob said. “To give these students the experience of working with low-income people before they go work at large accounting firms and to teach them the importance of giving back to their community.”
Bob and the LITC initiated a collaboration with United Way of Denton County’s free tax prep program called VITA – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance – to help taxpayers with more complicated returns. In addition, Terry referred Veteran clients to the LITC from the Veteran Community Navigator pilot program born from the Veteran Workgroup of the DCBHLT.
Bob soon learned from Terry that the VCN was working out of the overcrowded offices at United Way of Denton County with some client interviews being conducted in a storage room to protect confidentiality. Bob contacted Veterans Affairs about office space across from the LITC. He then mobilized the community with donations and volunteers to renovate the space to create the Denton County Veteran Center.
In spring 2017, the center opened with a variety of services under one roof including housing assistance, counseling, job placement, VA benefits, tax assistance, and peer support, assuring effective and integrative care for Veterans and their families. Two years later, Bob was again instrumental in working with United Way of Denton County to mobilize the VA and community support to open the Veterans Mental Health Annex just down the sidewalk from the Veterans’ Center with the goal to increase capacity for mental health services for Veterans in Denton County.
“No two people embody the phrase ‘Live United’ quite like the Widmers,” said Gary Henderson, President and CEO of United Way of Denton County. “Bob and Terry have been critical to putting issues like behavioral and mental health, housing insecurity and homelessness, and crisis intervention services for Veterans in the public consciousness.”
Both U.S. Air Force Veterans, the Widmers met on Homestead AFB. Bob and Terry have been active members of the Denton County community since the 1980s when the couple returned to Denton. Both played roles in the early stages of Denton’s soup kitchen at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (now Our Daily Bread) and have served countless years on nonprofit boards including the Denton Community Theater and Selwyn School.
“Just like this award’s namesake, Terry and Bob Widmer share a passion for giving back and inspire those around them to do the same,” said Laura Behrens, United Way of Denton County Board Chair. “They’re tremendous examples that two people who are willing to roll up their sleeves can be a catalyst for impactful change in our community.”
Named after the Denton County icon whose community involvement was unparalleled, the Dr. Bettye Myers Humanitarian Award was established by the United Way of Denton County board of directors in 2012 to recognize the highest level of community leadership and philanthropy with time and resources. Recipients of the prestigious award are purposeful in promoting human welfare and have demonstrated active engagement in the community. Previous Dr. Bettye Myers Humanitarian awardees include its namesake, Dr. Bettye Myers, Janet and Joe Mulroy, Stan Morton, Debbie and Mark Merki, Bill Patterson, Denton County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, Ellen M. Painter, Denton County Judge Andy Eads and former Denton mayor Chris Watts and Michelle and Brian Cree.
The 11th annual UNITED Tribute Gala featuring the crowd-favorite “Dancing with Our Stars” will be held on Jan. 28 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center. This event celebrates the year’s successes for our community and pays tribute to the companies, employees, and community leaders who are part of the tapestry of United Way of Denton County. Event sponsorships, tables, and individual tickets can be reserved by visiting UnitedTrubute.org, emailing [email protected], or by calling Kristin Jones at United Way of Denton County at 940-566-5851, ext. 102.