Sonya Hebert says goodbye to Veterans Home

Published 6:09 pm Saturday, September 7, 2019

LAPLACE — When Sonya Hebert first started working at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home in 2007, there were only about 10 Veterans living at the facility.

That number has grown to approximately 150 in the past 12 years, and Hebert bid a tearful farewell to the group of people who have become not just friends, but an extended family.

Tuesday was Hebert’s last day at the Veterans Home in Reserve. In a beautiful show of gratitude, Veterans at the home presented her with flowers and a giant card covered in signatures.

Hebert will soon embark on a new journey at the Ochsner In-Patient Hospital for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, opening at the end of this month. She plans to work three days a week and spend more time with her mother and grandchildren.

As activity director and volunteer coordinator at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home, Hebert has brought an unmatched positivity to work each day for more than a decade. She’s bonded with the Veterans from the silliest moments to the most sincere, whether it meant participating in a “Prettiest Feet” contest or saying goodbye to a dear friend.

“We are losing the WWII Vets, but I was blessed to be in the twilight of their lives and be able to bring them some smiles and bring them laughter,” Hebert said. “That’s what my goal was, and that’s what I did. To be a part of this community and part of this home, besides my children, has been my greatest accomplishment.”

Pictured with Les Naquin, Sonya Hebert, left, has inspired others with her passion for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home since 2007. She is now leaving for a new journey at Ochsner.

Hebert started her career in the private sector in nursing homes before coming to the Veterans Home. She has coordinated the annual Veterans Day parade and celebration in addition to putting on exciting events for residents living at the home.

The Veterans love dancing to the tune of visiting musical groups and participating in monthly auctions, according to Hebert. Last week, she joined them in a luau party. The Veterans have also participated in Mardi Gras balls, dressing up to join the Krewe of Heroes.

Hebert has additionally helped coordinate golf tournaments and an annual 9/11 tribute to first responders, firefighters and police officers.

One of her greatest memories at the Veterans Home is of a dedication naming a wing of the building in memory of Navy Chief Petty Officer Emile D. Hotard Jr. Prior to his passing in 2016, Hotard was a proponent for the opening of the Veterans Home. He was also a trusted friend who was always there when Hebert needed to talk.

“A lot has gone on in the last 12 years,” Hebert said. “Weddings, marriages. We’ve lost a lot of good people. We’ve cried a lot of tears when they would pass away. That’s the hard part of this job.”

Despite the hardships, she has enjoyed getting to know family members who come to visit. The Veterans themselves are wonderfully unique, and she said they each bring a New Orleans flare that makes the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home one of a kind.

Also unique to the home is the outpouring of community support from the River Parishes.

“I’ve never seen a more supportive team of volunteers,” Hebert said. “The way that they are so on fire for this home shows that people genuinely love these Veterans.”

Scott Conner, assistant administrator at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home, said Hebert has is loved by the Veterans and staff.

“She will be sadly missed and not easily replaceable,” Conner said. “She gravitates to them all, and everyone gravitates to her. She has a unique quality that they all embrace, not only Veterans, but staff as well. She was born for this position. That’s what I feel.”

Hebert said it has been an incredible journey.

“I’m going to miss them terribly, but it’s time for me to move on and see what the Lord has in store for me,” Hebert said.