PALMDALE — For the past decade, Vietnam veteran Tom Hilzendeger has used his own experiences as the catalyst to help others like him who have served.
Hilzendeger has led efforts to assist and support other veterans in the community, whether it be for housing assistance, scholarships or other means of a helping hand.
He founded Vets4Veterans, a nonprofit, volunteer organization that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and spent countless hours dedicated to providing assistance to their brothers and sisters in arms.
Hilzendeger was honored as Palmdale’s inaugural Veteran of the Year on Tuesday, presented with a proclamation and recognized at the City Council meeting.
“I couldn’t think of anybody better, who has worked any harder and dedicated his entire being to helping the veterans in our community,” Mayor Steve Hofbauer said.
“It’s not one guy (in the organization), but it takes one guy to get out in front and to lead,” he said. “You’ve made a difference, you’ve helped the group make a difference, and what you’ve done matters.”
More than a dozen of his fellow veterans were on hand to join in honoring him for his efforts.
“These past 10 years have been amazing for me,” Hilzendeger said. “I have dreams … they’ve went further than I had dreamed.”
Assistant City Manager J.J. Murphy, himself an Air Force veteran, introduced Hilzendeger.
“As veterans, we all hold something special, no matter where we served,” he said. “We count on each other.”
Murphy cited Hilzendeger’s own tireless efforts to raise money and provide support to others.
“I just can’t thank you enough,” he said. “You’ve done so much for this community.”
“To stand up here as a veteran and to say thank you for your service, to say how proud I am to call you a friend and to be part of this to … recognize you as our 2019 Veteran of the Year,” Murphy said.
One of Vets4Veterans’ accomplishments, and Hilzendeger’s dream, is the Operation Restart House in Lancaster, which provides transitional housing to veterans and was dedicated earlier this year.
Built with $187,000 raised by the organization, plus donations and volunteer labor, the house provides a home at little or no cost for six months to a year for veterans working toward self-sufficiency.
Vets4Veterans has raised another $176,000 toward a second house, Hilzendeger said.