IN HER EARLY TWENTIES, WHILE SERVING IN THE ARMY, Farmington native Beverly Charley felt her heart grow three times bigger. Charley was leading a supply convoy in Somalia when one of the vehicles behind her broke down. As the soldiers waited for repairs, a group of locals wandered onto the empty dirt road. She didn’t know where they came from, but they all had the same question: Did she have any food? “When you see the poverty and the need in person around the world, you realize that it’s real,” she recalls.
Stationed in Somalia, Haiti, and Iraq from 1991 to 2006, Charley came to appreciate things many Americans take for granted, like food security and access to water, sanitation, and basic health care. It’s not what she expected when enlisting after high school in the Four Corners region. “I felt like I was running from the rules in my home,” says Charley, who now serves as a tribal liaison with the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services in Farmington. “But I was running into the same. I grew up a lot in those years.”
It all clicked for her after a veterans’ Christmas party when she returned to Farmington several years later. A sergeant offered her a ride home but said he’d be stopping along the way to give leftovers from the gathering to people experiencing homelessness. “It planted the seed for me,” she says. “In the military, we weren’t supposed to give out food in these different countries, but we sometimes did because there was so much need.”
In 2012, that seed sprouted into San Juan County’s inaugural Stand Down, modeled after the original in San Diego. Charley collaborated with New Mexico Workforce Solutions and several veterans’ organizations to fund the event, which featured hot meals, clothing, dental screenings, health checks, tent giveaways, and other services for Farmington-based veterans, unhoused individuals, or people at risk of becoming homeless.
“In the military, after people are fighting on the front line for a few days, there’s a switch,” says Charley. “New troops take their place; old ones stand down. They recuperate. That’s the spirit of the event, to help give relief to homeless veterans for just one day.”
That first Stand Down served 160 people and included the distribution of 77 flu shots, nearly 100 backpacks, and $2,700 in transit vouchers and waivers for city services, like storage rental.
“Beverly is a rare find,” says Larry Campos, a congressional liaison who nominated her for the national Veterans Affairs Trailblazer Award in 2019. “She has a lot of drive, initiative, and so much energy.”
San Juan County’s Stand Down celebrated its 10th anniversary in October with an event at the San Juan College Health and Human Performance Center. “Homeless veterans are still fighting the war in their heads because of PTSD,” Charley says. “They don’t want to bring that war home to their families, so they end up on the streets.”
As a Navajo woman, Charley is keenly aware of how her service can inspire generations to come. Her work as a tribal liaison unites veteran communities across New Mexico’s reservations and pueblos, and she supports tribes seeking to host their own Stand Down events. “We have to unite,” she says. “That’s the only way to move forward.”