Giving parents, personal loss drive Jones’ volunteer efforts

Mary Lyn Jones is a volunteer in the Williamson County Sheriff's Office Victims Assistance Unit.

Mary Lyn Jones is a volunteer in the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office Victims Assistance Unit.

By Christine Bolaños

On July 12, 2004, the worst event imaginable to a parent happened to Mary Lyn Jones of Liberty Hill.

“My son died in a car wreck and so I was on the other side of a death notification,” she shared.

Her youngest son, Levi Jones, had only begun to realize his potential. He wanted to become a high school coach just as his mother had been. So the 20-year-old, who was home from Tarleton State University, took a coaching job at a children’s basketball camp in Austin for the summer.

As he was headed back to Liberty Hill, he fell asleep at the wheel, causing his car to cross four lanes and strike a tree. Jones said the Liberty Hill High School graduate died instantly. Those initial moments following his death were filled with immense sorrow and confusion. A trooper from the Texas Department of Public Safety came to her home to inform her of the news. A friend accompanied the trooper and provided Jones some sense of comfort.

That experience motivated Jones to look for a way to provide support to those grieving the loss of a loved one.

“I wanted to be able to help families that go through that trauma and be with them and help them know what to do in that situation,” Jones said. “To make sure it’s done in a compassionate way to help those families. I have been on the other side.”

Jones has volunteered for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office Victim Assistance Unit for seven years. She is on call three Mondays a month ready to respond in emergency situations. Jones provides comfort to victims of crime and traumatic experiences.

Volunteers in the unit provide support in a number of cases including homicides, death-by-suicide, attempted death-by-suicide, natural death, death notification, fires, child and elder abuse, family violence, sexual assaults, traffic accidents, general welfare concerns, violent crimes and natural disasters.

The unit responds to calls 24 hours a day seven days a week. Jones commits a 12-hour shift three Mondays a month. She is ready to provide support to victims and their families, assist law enforcement and provide resources and information about the criminal justice system.

“Hopefully, I can relate to what they’re going through and know what needs to be done when they receive that call,” Jones said. “I usually stay and pray with the family so they’ll know that there’s someone that does care about them.”

The retired educator was raised by parents who showed her the importance of serving the community.

“My dad was in the Lions Club and that’s one of the reasons I joined the Lions Club,” Jones said. “He was county commissioner and served the community.

“My mom volunteered at the school and they did Meals on Wheels and they volunteered for everything they could,” she added. “They had a department store and if anybody needed clothes or work boots or anything like that they made sure they had them.”

Her mother was also an ombudsman for the local nursing home. She continues their legacy through her involvement with the Victim’s Assistance Unit and other causes.

On Tuesdays, Jones spends her time reading with students at Liberty Hill Elementary School.

“It’s an excellent excuse to eat lunch with grandkids,” she said.

Then on Wednesdays, she meets with a mentee as part of the judicial mentoring program.

“The student has been court ordered to actively participate in the program,” Jones said. “The mentor makes a six-month commitment to meet weekly with the mentee.”

She said as a mentor it is a process of working together to achieve agreed upon goals She offers support, advice, friendship, reinforcement and is a positive role model.

She attends Liberty Hill Lions Club meetings twice a month on Thursday.

She also serves on the Liberty Hill Development Foundation Board and the Liberty Hill Parks and Recreation Board.

Jones helps her church congregation get through some of the most trying times of their lives via the Grief Support Resource at Leander Hill Country Bible Church.

Though she is retired, the only day she allows herself some time off is on Fridays.

“For now,” she said, with a smile.

Jones has served on the Parks Board for about five years. During her tenure, the board has helped provide a playscape with a cover, a pavilion and basketball courts at Liberty Hill City Park.

“I want to contribute to the improvement of the community of Liberty Hill and help to provide areas that families can go to with their children,” Jones said. “And spend family time and enjoy the outdoors and get exercise.”

She has served on the Foundation Board for about three years. The board’s greatest calling presently is supporting plans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Liberty Hill International Sculpture Symposium.

Jones believes though a few individuals may disagree on how to get there, both boards, as well as the City of Liberty Hill, have a common end goal: to improve and preserve what the community has to offer its residents. So she hopes all representatives can work together despite any differences.

“It should not matter what board, city or individual are doing or who gets the credit,” she explained. “The focus should be on what is best for the citizens of Liberty Hill and how best to make improvements and grow into the best community we can become.”

She said it takes many people to make a project a success. She said the recent Easter Egg Hunt and the 5K run is an example of the community working together to make the event a success.

“The Lions Club hosted the 5K, the (Mission Liberty Hill) Lutheran Church had the Easter egg hunt,” Jones said. “The school district let us use the Intermediate and Middle School (Junior High) campus. The maintenance mowed to make sure it was a safe path to run on.”

That is why she passionately encourages others to get involved within their communities.

“It takes so many people to have events for people in Liberty Hill to enjoy,” she explained. “I’d encourage more people to get involved to help with events that benefit the community.”

One of the greatest joys in Jones’ life is volunteering.

“You have a sense of accomplishment and also good will with the people you help,” she shared. “It’s really better to give, or pay it forward, than to receive.”

She also believes firmly that God puts people in a person’s path. There have been some experiences through her volunteer efforts that have made her feel closer to her late son, Levi.

“Levi had a great attitude about having no regrets and living every day to the fullest,” Jones said. “I get up every day and try to live life to the fullest. I’m excited to see what God puts in my path every day.”

Volunteering has provided Jones not only a chance to give back to the community but helped her through the healing process following her tragic loss.

During one of the calls she responded to as a volunteer at the Victim’s Assistant Unit she came across a young police officer who recognized Jones’ car. He explained he attended Tarleton with Levi and was a fraternity brother.

“It was like a message from Levi, ‘Mom, I’m around,’” Jones said, with a smile.

Jones has lived in the area since 1978. Both Levi and her oldest son, Lance, attended Liberty Hill schools. Her grandchildren currently attend Liberty Hill schools.

“We have a lot of Panther loyalty,” Jones said. “I go to all the games and that’s what’s fun.”

She enjoys the friendly interaction among families in the community. Fellow parents are now fellow grandparents.

“My son and his friend’s kids are playing together so it’s kind of like déjà vu,” Jones shared.

She enjoys going on church mission trips. She recently worked at an orphanage during a mission trip in Lima, Peru. She has traveled as far as Alaska and Hawaii with her family.

“This summer I’m going to take my kids to Disney World,” Jones said excitedly.

Her son Lance and daughter-in-law Ronni moved to Liberty Hill to be closer to Jones and her husband Roy. They are grandparents to Brady Levi Jones, a first grader, and Laney Jones, a kindergartner.

“You can’t even describe the joy your grandkids bring,” Jones stated.

Originally from the West Texas town of Eldorado, Jones earned her bachelor’s degree in education and biology from Abilene Christian University, her master’s degree in education from Sul Ross University and education administrator certification from Southwest Texas University, now known as Texas State University.

She spent 34 years coaching and teaching in Leander including stints in Georgetown and Liberty Hill.

Jones keeps the latest book she read, Wake up happy: The dream big, win big guide to transforming your life, by Michael Strahan on her night stand.

“It just reminded me of Levi so much,” Jones shared. “Levi was such a happy person and believed that every day you can wake up happy and enjoy the day and seize the day.”