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Hometown Heroes Part 1: Woman Helps Veterans Ease into Civilian Life

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Mary James speaking to one of the veterans she counsels Mary James speaking to one of the veterans she counsels
Mary James Mary James
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Each year, Allen & Allen law firm picks people from across Virginia who inspire those in the community.

Lawyers at the firm call these people “Hometown Heroes,” and this year, out of 20 selected, four of those people call the Charlottesville area home.

All week, NBC29 will highlight one of these Hometown Heroes in anticipation for the big award ceremony on Friday, July 27.

First up is Mary James, who’s the founder of Community Outreach to Vietnam Era Returnees (COVER). She works to help veterans ease back into civilian life and overcome some serious issues that they may encounter.

For some veterans, recounting the memories is tough. James is trying to make their transition easier and help them re-enter civilian society on their own terms.

James has counseled close to 600 veterans over the course of several decades.

“I was actually married to a veteran,” says James. “So, that kind of really opened my eyes to this issue."

She also had a lot of family members and friends who served.

"I got to talk to veterans of World War II, Battle of the Bulge, some that were in the Pacific theater," says James.

Over the years, she’s seen a growing need for counseling and veteran connection here in Charlottesville.

“Between my family members and my husband, it was like, ‘wow this is remarkable,’” says James. “‘I mean, isn't anybody doing anything to help bridge these experiences?"

In 1982, James founded COVER. Her nonprofit originally assisted those who were coming home from the Vietnam War, but it has since expanded to help veterans – and their families – of other wars.

She does all of this full-time with no pay.

“The funding just got worse and worse,” says James. “But it's like, why would I not continue to do this as long as I can?"

And for that, she was one of 20 people in Virginia chosen as an Allen & Allen Hometown Hero.

“I felt really bad, because I at first thought it was a prank or something,” says James.

After realizing it wasn't a prank, she says she was in shock. Now, she says she's grateful but thinks the veterans are the real heroes.

“They're upbeat, they're grateful - I feel like I get more out of it than they do,” says James.

On Tuesday, July 24, we'll introduce you to Tony Brown, a teacher at Blue Ridge High School who founded a food pantry in Greene County.