Interview Series: Allison Foster, Director of Communications
How did you get involved with ONA?
I started following ONA on Instagram after following several other Miss Wisconsin titleholders including our CEO, Susan. I loved the mission from the very start, having a deep appreciation for veterans myself. When I saw that they were looking for interns this past spring I figured it couldn’t hurt to apply. I have a strong interest in communications and marketing, so I wanted the opportunity to learn and grow as well as serve an amazing mission that I believe in whole heartedly. It was also something I could do in my spare time and still look for a full-time position. I applied and was pleasantly surprised when they wanted to add me to the team — and then keep me around!
What do you love most about working with ONA?
Quite honestly: everything! I love the projects that I’ve been able to not only work on, but jumpstart and take ownership in. However, the thing I absolutely love the most is the team of people I get to work with! They are some of the most passionate, inspirational, and driven people I have ever met! They make me want to work harder and do more for our organization and encourage me both personally and professionally. What I do at ONA brings me so much joy!
You’ve been working with ONA since March of 2020, how have you grown since then? What new skills have you learned?
Oh man — I’ve grown a lot since this March! I’ve been able to dabble in a few things throughout my time here, but my main projects were starting the ONA blog (hi – thanks for being here, reader!) and email marketing initiatives. I’ve learned so much about the platforms we work with like WordPress and Flodesk. I’ve also learned how to better communicate with our donors, volunteers and those we serve through emails or the stories we tell on the blog. I’ve also been able to gain a deeper understanding of non-profit organizations in general and how they work. Non-profits and ONA kind of operate on a whole different system than you would in most other jobs, so it’s been very enlightening to learn exactly what goes on behind the scenes and how the gears of these organizations turn!
Aside from ONA, what are you doing now that you’ve finished college?
Well, let me tell you, finding a full-time position that utilizes your degree in a global pandemic is slightly harder than you may think. Well, at least that has been the case for me. While I’m waiting for the right job to come along, I work at one of Wisconsin’s most prized possessions: Kwik Trip. I currently work third shift and go between working the floor as a cashier and frosting donuts in the bakery! Not exactly what I dreamed to be doing post- college, but it pays the bills and reminds me to stay humble and always treat everyone you meet with kindness. Other than my Kwik Trip career, I’ve excitedly re-invested in my home community serving on the county fairboard, being more involved in church committees, and spending lots of time with my family.
Tell us about your involvement with 4-H. How has that helped you with this organization?
Oh my gosh, my heart! I was a faithful 4-H member for 13 years, from kindergarten all the way through high school. Besides my parents who have always taught me and my siblings the importance of helping others, 4-H is what truly fostered my servants heart. I took leadership roles throughout my time, including President of my club, eventually became a county ambassador, and later worked for a local extension office as an assistant for the summer! The 4-H motto is to, “make the best better” whether talking about ourselves, our relationships, or our communities. These years in 4-H not only allowed me to exhibit and win prizes at our county fair, but also to take on projects such as the community garden, hosting a community meal, and adopting a family for Christmas. 4-H taught me how to give and serve my community and I credit most of my talents to this great organization.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? 10 years?
I’m definitely one of those people that wants it all. I want to have a career that I find meaningful and fulfilling, while also having a family and children. When I think about the next 5 or 10 years, I hope that I find a job where I can use my unique skill set to the best of my ability. I would expect that to be in some sort of communications role because I simply love to talk, write, and manage social media. On a more personal note, I want to own and operate a farm of my own. It’s been my dream since I was a little girl and someday I hope to have an on-farm processing facility where we sell products directly to consumers. I want to find someone to share these dreams with and maybe someone who will dream even bigger than I can! Lately, it has become abundantly clear how much I love kids! So, whether they are my own or not, I know I always want children to be a big part of my life!
If you had a day off, how would you spend it?
To be honest…lately it has been eating and sleeping, haha! When you work 3rd shift your whole life is kind of wonky (in my opinion). However, I do like to take full advantage of any extended time I get off. I would probably spend it getting lunch with my mom or one of my brothers. And right now, I’m usually doing some Christmas shopping or baking! I also love to read on my days off, but sometimes I nod off in the middle of the page…
What’s your “motto?” What keeps you motivated?
I would say that my motto is, “love with your whole heart.” I recently had this realization when I said something to my brother about our pizza delivery guy and how I loved him with my whole heart. My brother said, “you sure do love a lot of people with your whole heart?” I replied, “yes it’s a blessing and a curse.” I believe in loving people extravagantly whether we think they deserve it or not. It’s what I am called to do, not only as a Christian, but as a human. We don’t know what other people are walking through, but we always have the ability to show them love and kindness. Sometimes, we/I mess that up, but when we make that our motto or goal, we can have the ability to impact other people’s lives. That is also what motivates me. How can I show up and love myself and someone else today? Now, I’m not always great at the loving myself part, but the loving others…that I can do! It’s that simple really. I attempt to bring that to every aspect of my life. It’s what keeps me going even when life is discouraging and disheartening, I know that if I bring some love into the world it’s a little bit better.
What’s your most memorable ONA Mission Moment?
I shared our Cheer Package announcement on my personal Facebook page and a friend from my church requested one for a mutual friend and Vietnam Veteran. The best part? I was able to sponsor his cheer package this year! The day he got it, I received a text from his significant other saying how touched they were to receive this package and that the veteran wanted to call me later. I gave credit to the woman who requested the Cheer Package and that I was so glad he liked it. When he called me later, he was so thankful and thrilled to receive a token of our appreciation. He said, “it made me feel special and appreciated for once and I will definitely be enjoying that coffee.” Seeing our mission so deeply affect someone I know and care about was such a beautiful and powerful mission moment for me.
What advice do you have for people interested in non-profit work?
Don’t be afraid to volunteer, or offer pro-bono work, and get involved in a mission you feel strongly about. You have no idea where those kinds of opportunities may lead you. I know right now I’m gaining valuable skills I could use in my career someday, while pursuing something that brings me joy and fills my heart. How can you go wrong with that? Some of my greatest experiences have come from just showing up and being willing to serve and they have taught me so many skills that I put to good use and hopefully will soon for the right job too! Never be afraid to try something new because you can always learn, but if you don’t try you’ll never know.
Allison Foster Director of Communications
Nathan Plym Director of Marketing and Advertising
Where Does ‘Giving Tuesday’ Come From?
This year, Giving Tuesday is on December 1st, which is right around the corner! In the non-profit world this day is basically a Christmas/New Years/4th of July/Sparkler jamboree. But what exactly is Giving Tuesday and when did it come to be?
The History of Giving Tuesday:
While you’ve probably heard of (and participated in) the holiday shopping events like Black Friday or Cyber Monday, society tried to balance out the rampant consumerism with new themed days following Thanksgiving. Mainly, Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday. This has actually been a pretty new addition!
Giving Tuesday was initially created in 2011 and was originally called Cyber Giving Monday. This was, “the brainchild of the non-profit Mary-Arrchie Theater Company and then producing director Carlo Lorenzo Garcia urging donors to take a different approach to filling up an online virtual cart with goods,” (Source: Wikipedia).
By 2012, it was rebranded into ‘Giving Tuesday’ and now has become a global phenomenon. Over the last 8 years, millions of dollars have been donated to charities on this day!
What is Giving Tuesday?
Well according to the experts, “#GivingTuesday is a day to inspire generosity around the world and for people everywhere to support the causes they believe in and the communities they care about. It is celebrated annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It started as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past few years, it has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity,” (Source: GivingTuesday.org).
Basically? It’s the one day a year that the world helps us push the idea of donating to charity and sharing missions that inspire you. (Although, for non-profit people, Giving Tuesday feels like every day – amiright?)
Giving Tuesday by the Numbers
As a growing trend in giving, millions of dollars will be donated to charity on this day. But just how many people get into the spirit?
A recent report from Funraise showed that 26% of people in the U.S. and Canada donated to charity on Giving Tuesday in 2019. Just 26% of the population was able to donate tens of millions of dollars. (Which is outstanding, but that’s such a small portion of the population! Let’s see that number start to skyrocket! *star-eye emoji*)
HOWEVER, get ready for a warm hearted humanity boost! Just a few months after 2019’s Giving Tuesday, our world went into full blown Coronavirus pandemic. The economic strain on the country (re: the world, but I can only speak on trends in the U.S.) meant something different to every individual person. In response, we saw an increase in charitable giving up to 62%! Even in some of the worst economic times, people were able to come together and show true care for their neighbor and we love to see it.
You can click here for the full Global Giving Trends Report.
In 2020, as per the theme of the year, the world had to adapt and do things a little differently. It was announced that May 5th would host a #GivingTuesdayNow with the intention of giving coronavirus relief themed donations. While as a global community of non-profit professionals and fundraisers, we were thrilled about this additional call-to-action for service, it also means that we are quite uncertain what this means for December 1st.
In the last few years, Facebook has even joined in on the trend (and buying themselves some good PR) by matching all donations made through Facebook fundraisers. The trick to this is, they release the matching capabilities around 7am central time and give a limit of $2 million (roughly). Well in anticipation of getting the most bang for your buck thanks to Facebook, that matching money is usually claimed in the first few minutes. Wild to think about – but how cool that we really get into the generous spirit so early in the morning?!
**Fun Fact: Facebook is increasing their matching level thanks to the insanity of 2020 and $7 MILLION is up for matching grabs! Read more about the breakdown by clicking here!
Giving Tuesday, The ONA Way
In Operation Not Alone history, we have participated mildly on this day. This was for a variety of reasons; from lack of resources, lack of a solid donor base, and honestly a lack of time from a small team who was recovering from Veterans Day services. Plus, Giving Tuesday used to seem overwhelming and intimidating by seeing these million dollar benchmarks from the big non-profits. We felt like we could never get a crumb of the pie. So, we would put out a Facebook fundraiser, try to get some matched dollars, and call it a day.
But this year, that all is about to change.
This year, our website has received an amazing fundraising facelift thanks to Harness Giving, our team has grown by 150%, and we’ve cultivated some amazing new relationships! Enter: our sweet friend Jack Cheng and The Cheng Real Estate Group!
This will be the 3rd holiday season that we have gotten to grow with Jack Cheng and we could not be more grateful. As a person, he is such a generous and heartfelt man who has embraced the ONA mission from the first time he heard about us. And this beautiful partnership has only grown.
Last year, he decided to keep the ONA love going all year long by dedicating a % of any commission on his real estate sales if the home buyer mentions ONA in the process. How incredible is that?!
And now in 2020, he decided to be our matching partner for Giving Tuesday! Any donation made (on any platform) on Tuesday, December 1st will be matched by him and The Cheng Real Estate Group up to $2,000!
Our Final Feels
We hope that you’ll consider giving this Giving Tuesday — to any organization or mission that has tugged at your heart strings or that you feel called to. We hope that you take an extra moment to be grateful, give thanks, and give kindness (every day, obviously) but especially on December 1st.
However, if we have persuaded you, please feel free to donate to Operation Not Alone for our #GivingTuesday campaign and know that your donation will be matched all day long thanks to Jack Cheng and The Cheng Real Estate Group! Check out the links below and save the date with ONA:
- Instagram (Click on the ‘Donate’ button the top of our profile)
Susan Fochs Founder & CEO
Interview Series: MeKenzie Lund, Vice President and Director of New York Operations
How did you get involved with ONA?
Susan and I connected through the Miss America Organization in 2013, about six weeks after she founded Operation Not Alone. As daughters of veterans, we formed a very special bond. It was the dedication and drive that she put behind the ONA mission that drew me to volunteer with ONA. Seven years later, Susan is a sister to me and we have grown the organization beyond what we thought possible under her leadership.
What has been your favorite part of working with ONA?
I love knowing that we’re making a difference, and we’re doing it together. Serving our country in the military is not a thankless job. We live out the mission of giving thanks to our veterans and military personnel in everything we do.
How have you helped the organization grow? How has it helped you grow?
I became ONA’s Director of Community Relations in 2016, after helping out here and there with some of ONA’s initiatives. After moving to New York, Susan and I met to talk about the future of Operation Not Alone. We knew that in order to grow, we had to make big moves. So we worked together to expand operations and have a broader reach, re-branded our mission, vision, and the look of the organization, and we added a few new services.
It has helped me grow by challenging me to work on projects I have never done before. There is still so much to learn, but I’m grateful to do it in a setting with my best friend and the greatest team we could ask for.
Tell us about your full time job.
I am currently the Lead Community Engagement Specialist at Girl Scouts of Western New York. I love my job. Girl Scouts is a changed organization today than it was 50 years. Yes, girls still sell cookies (yes to female entrepreneurship!), go to camp, and learn life skills. But they also engineer robots, become more civically engaged, and make the world a better place with service to their communities.
Why girl scouts? How did you become and stay involved?
I was a Girl Scout for 8 years when I was younger. My mom signed me up in 1st grade along with my friend and her mom. Together, our moms were our troop leaders and it was so much fun to earn badges, go to sleepovers at the YMCA, go to camp, and make tons of new friends. As an adult, I was excited for the opportunity to work with Girl Scouts. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the organization had progressed and evolved to stay relevant for girls.
How long have you been in Buffalo, NY? What is your favorite part of living there?
I’ve been in Buffalo for 4 years. The city and the whole area, really, has grown on me. The people here are wonderful. I’m happy to have surrounded myself with the most amazing co-workers, friends, and networks. One of Buffalo’s nicknames is “The City of Good Neighbors” and I 100% agree. I also love being here during Buffalo’s revitalization- it’s a cool place to be!
What are some of your hobbies?
I love crafting and DIY projects. I also enjoy trivia and baking. In a non-COVID world, I love to travel and explore new places.
What are your favorite books?
I enjoy the Harry Potter series. Lately, I’ve been more interested in self-help books and non-fiction when I get time to read.
What is your biggest dream right now?
I don’t know if it’s the biggest, but one of my most unique dreams is to build or buy a cozy tiny home and travel the country in it. I’d love to have the ability to travel and work wherever I wish!
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Recognize and play off of your strengths. What are you good at? What do you like to do? How can you apply that to your work? I love interacting with people, and public speaking, and solo projects. Some of my strengths play off of what I love to do. I continue to navigate how I can further integrate what I love to do and what my strengths are. And that is all thanks to the advice that I received from a colleague- to understand your strengths and find a place to utilize them.
Allison Foster Director of Communications
MeKenzie Lund Vice President and Director of New York Operations
Interview Series: Jennifer Schmidt, Director of Donor Relations
Are you all ready for this super fun interview with another one of our new board members? Jennifer came to us back in May of this year and has already led a successful fundraiser with Kendra Scott and has been working tirelessly on our newest campaign, ‘Train Like a Warrior’ coming this January! We are going to learn all about Jennifer’s passion for fundraising, dancing and dogs in this month’s blog feature. Take a read to learn more about the face behind the fundraising…
How did you get involved with ONA?
I first learned about ONA when I met Susan through the Miss America Organization and both of us were serving as local titleholders. Then, in 2018, when my sister was serving in the United States Army overseas, I saw firsthand ONA’s mission at work. My sister received a personalized care package just in time for her birthday and Thanksgiving, which reminded her during such a difficult time that, although she couldn’t celebrate with family and friends, she was not alone. After losing my job with the American Diabetes Association (#ThanksCOVID), I was catching up with Susan who jokingly asked if I wanted to join the ONA Board. Although she was somewhat joking, I saw it as an opportunity to continue to learn and build my resume while helping an organization that I absolutely adore grow their impact and donor relations program. I told Susan ‘yes’ and now I serve as the Director of Donor Relations for Operation Not Alone!
What has been your favorite part of working with ONA?
I’ve loved seeing the big impact ONA has — especially as such a small nonprofit! It’s funny, whenever I talk about ONA, people assume that we are a large organization because we send care packages all over the country and world. I take pride in telling them that we are just a small but mighty team of 5!
How have you helped the organization grow? How has it helped you grow?
I really can’t take credit for any of ONA’s growth. Most of the team has been here either as long as I have or a lot longer (hi Susan and MeKenzie). But ONA has absolutely helped me grow. It has given me a sense of purpose during what has been a really difficult time. For that, I am so thankful!
How excited are you for our ‘Train Like a Warrior’ campaign?
I am SO excited for ‘Train Like a Warrior’ (or TLAW for short)! The campaign combines three of my favorite things: health, fitness, and fundraising! I believe it was initially Susan’s idea. For a while she has been wanting to do a large fundraiser. In the past, ONA has really only done small, third party fundraisers. She was talking about doing a third party fundraiser with CycleBar (who will be hosting one of our TLAW fitness fundraisers) and it grew from there. I shared with Susan my experience fundraising with fitness studios; that while they are so fun they don’t often fundraise THAT much. Our solution? 31 straight days of fitness class fundraisers and sharing other health resources! TLAW combines fundraising, fitness, health resources, and ONA’s birthday. I CAN’T WAIT!
Please tell us all about Murray and your passion for fostering/ rescues.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic the Miss Wisconsin competition was postponed, most events were canceled, many places closed, and I eventually became unemployed. I found a bit of extra time on my hands and I wanted to do something good with it! I became a dog foster for Rescue Gang, a rescue shelter in Milwaukee! I provided a temporary home to 4 dogs and played a role in helping them find their furever families.
Murray’s mom, Lorna, was rescued, fostered, and adopted through Rescue Gang. Shortly after her adoption, Lorna’s furever family realized she was pregnant! She temporarily went back to a Rescue Gang foster family to birth her two puppies. Murray and his brother, Elliot, were born on May 16th. Their foster mom shared the exciting news with the volunteer Facebook group. IMMEDIATELY, I fell in love with Murray! At the time, I was fostering my first dog, Chewy. I didn’t think I was ready for a pup of my own so I didn’t even think about applying to adopt him, and it wasn’t long until Murray was claimed by another family…⠀
About 2 months later, I had fostered 1 dog and 3 puppies. I was confident in my abilities to be a great doggy parent. As a 7 week old pup, almost ready to leave his mom and brother, Murray’s foster mom posted in the Facebook group that the family who was going to adopt him backed out. I quickly filled out an application only to find out he had two approved families ahead of me. I figured there wasn’t even a chance that two more families would pass on such a cutie. For some reason that I can’t explain other than fate, they did, and on July 9th, I brought Murray home! I can’t help but think it was meant to be. He was meant to be my Murray! P.S. you can follow Murray on Instagram @Meant2BeMurray!
Besides rescuing dogs, what else do you enjoy doing?
I love moving! I’m a dancer and have been dancing since I was 3 years old. Now that I’m 24, I don’t dance that much other than when competing for a pageant. My body is old for a dancer and it honestly can’t take much more! However, I have fallen in love with other ways to move my body including working out and yoga. I also love traveling. My boyfriend is a professional pickleball player and teacher and I am very lucky to be able to travel with him to camps, clinics, and tournaments all over the country (pre and post COVID). Lastly, I love volunteering with nonprofits. My parents raised me to be a service minded individual and have now found myself heavily involved in one or two… or 5. 😉
What is your favorite book/ books?
Honestly, I don’t really like to read books! When I was younger, I used to get horrible headaches when I read. Turns out I just needed reading glasses, but I never really found it all that enjoyable. I read a daily newsletter and listen to a ton of podcasts! The Skinny Confidential Him and Her Podcast, Pantsuit Politics, the Grit Behind the Glitz, Food for Thought, and The Make an Impact Podcast are just a few of the ones I listen to religiously!
What is your dream job?/What do you want to be when you grow up?
I wanted to be a country music singer when I grew up. LOL YIKES. But my dream job… ooof. That’s a tough one. I hope to continue working for a nonprofit health organization. I love health, but I have a passion for health equity, something I’m worried we’re far from achieving. I would love to work with communities to implement programs and policies that strive to achieve health for all. I think we often give large organizations, like our state and federal government, that responsibility but I think real change is made in our communities. That’s my dream job. To be the person who works everyday to achieve real change and really improve the lives and health of others.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
‘Never give up. Things always work out the way they’re supposed to.’
I know it’s advice we’ve all heard before, from many different people. I’ve never been the girl to get things right on the first try. I applied to UW-Madison 3 times before I was accepted, I competed for 4 years before winning my hometown title (Miss Racine) and I will be making my 3rd attempt at Miss Wisconsin. I’ve also applied to 100,000,000,000 jobs I’m waiting/hoping to hear back from. But I will never give up and I believe things always work out the way they’re supposed to. This advice has gotten me through the toughest times and helped me achieve my greatest accomplishments.
Director of Communications
Director of Donor Relations
Interview Series: Nathan Plym, Director of Marketing and Advertising
Our last blog was an interview with our CEO, Susan Fochs – and it was such a hit, we thought you should all get to know the rest of our team a little better! We were so excited to sit down with the latest member of the ONA Team, Nathan Plym, as he has quickly become an integral member that we simply couldn’t operate without. He’s become our advertising guru, cracked the code on all things Google Ads, has designed some killer billboards for us, and more. Take a read and get to know the man behind our ads!
How did you hear about Operation Not Alone and how did you get involved?
I first heard about ONA through the Wisconsin Leadership Seminar (WILS), a non profit organization that fosters leadership skills and volunteerism in young student leaders. ONA Founder and CEO Susan Fochs is a fellow WILS Alumni, and she spoke at one of our events. From there, I got in contact with Susan to bring some WILS volunteers to help make blankets for ONA care packages. Susan informed me about their internship program, and she was able to tailor it to my needs as a Communication major. Since then, I have continued to volunteer with ONA as the Director of Marketing and Advertising and I am loving the experience.
Tell us a little bit more about WILS how you got and stay involved with it?
I attended WILS as a student leader the summer of 2016. There I met some amazing role models and made friendships that have continued to today. At the seminar, students are met with a weekend full of fun and engaging activities that help them discover more about their own leadership style, foster empathy for others, develop teamwork and collaboration skills, and so much more. I could not be more grateful for that experience.
After I attended the seminar, I joined the Alumni Association, which is composed of WILS Alumni that volunteer together throughout the year at different locations around the state. We also held reunions throughout the year to bring back some of that “WILS energy” for our alumni. At these reunions we would volunteer at different locations, take tours of the local attractions, and spend time getting to know each other better. I stayed involved in WILS by attending all of these events as well as joining the Alumni Association Board, an elected group of alumni in charge of planning these events as well as coordinating volunteer opportunities for our student leaders. I volunteered on the Board for four years, and again, I am extremely thankful to have had that experience teach me so much about leadership and working in a non-profit setting.
What do you do with ONA and what has been your favorite part thus far?
I am in charge of marketing and advertising for Operation Not Alone. I work with online platforms such as Google AdWords and Analytics, Pinterest, Canva, and more to bring more awareness to the services that ONA provides. I have been creating billboards for a future outdoor advertising campaign, running Google search ads, and working on ways to shed more light on the ONA brand. One of my favorite parts thus far about working on this team has been our bi-weekly meetings where all us team members meet virtually to report on what individual projects we’re doing. Seeing all the effort and determination from my fellow team members is always inspiring and provides a burst of motivating energy to push myself further. Another really fun part about what I do with ONA is working with Susan to figure out what new forms of advertising we haven’t explored yet, but know would be a really good opportunity to begin.
We hear you have a new title! What made you want to stay involved after your internship?
As my internship for credit at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point came to a close in the middle of August, I knew that I couldn’t just drop everything that I was doing with ONA, nor what ONA has taught me over the summer. I really believe in ONA’s mission, and working on this team has fostered a new sense of motivation and passion in myself that I don’t believe I could have gotten anywhere else. I love learning more about the workings of a non-profit organization, as well as what it takes to work in public relations. Susan has done a wonderful job of crafting an experience that helps me learn the skills I can continue to use in a future career, and I’m excited to see what else I can learn from my ONA experience.
How is school going? What is your major and future goals?
I am currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point majoring in Professional Communication and double-minoring in Business Administration and Psychology. While I’m not quite sure exactly what career path I’d like to enter, I hope to be working in Public Relations, Social Media Marketing, and/or Non-Profit Administration. ONA has shown me that I could do all three if I find the right organization!
I’ll be honest, school is a little difficult right now. UWSP and other colleges have put in a lot of effort and hard work into providing us with the best possible education options during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, online/virtual learning is very different from what I’ve been accustomed to my first two years of college, and it is definitely taking some getting used to. Aside from that, though, I am happy to be getting back into a routine with my education and learning more about what awaits me in the communication field.
What is your favorite book, movie, TV show, podcast? You can answer one or all!
I remember absolutely LOVING the Hunger Games series as well as the Divergent books. I stand by the idea that books are often better than movies!
A few of my favorite movies include “The Greatest Showman,” “Avatar,” “Dead Poets Society,” and more!
Lately, I have been watching the newest season of “Lucifer” on Netflix. I also really enjoyed The 100 and Riverdale, but my favorite TV Show of all time is hands down Game of Thrones. Everything about it is so so so awesome!
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My parents, teachers, high school principal and vice-principal, and many others have always reminded me to “not fill up my plate too much.” In other words, they would remind me to push myself to succeed, but not so hard that I never had time for myself. I remember becoming overwhelmed in high school with trying to be involved with each club/organization, making sure I was doing the best in all my classes, and trying to be friends with everyone. I realized that sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and let go of something causing you stress, and that taking care of yourself first should be a priority.
Besides ONA, what are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I play Men’s Club Volleyball at UWSP, and help run the Club Sports Coalition, which is a group dedicated to promoting and advocating for all club sports on campus. I enjoy meeting new people and hanging out with my friends whenever possible. I play guitar, rollerblade, go outside to hammock, take and edit photos, just to name a few hobbies. I like to stay busy and have fun along the way!
What is the coolest or most interesting thing you’ve learned during your internship/position with ONA?
Though I am still learning the ins and outs of Google AdWords and Analytics, working on setting up Google Search ads has been more interesting and enjoyable than I first imagined. I really enjoy the marketing side of using these tools, and learning new ways to integrate our message and mission online is exciting!
What are you looking most forward to with ONA in the future?
I’m beyond excited for some of our upcoming fundraising campaigns (details coming soon!) that our team has been tirelessly working to create. I also look forward to employing more social media tactics/platforms to spread ONA’s message to as many people as possible. We are more than just a non-profit working with veterans and active duty members. ONA is a community, or more like a family, of people dedicated to making a positive change and impact on those around them, and it’s that idea that I hope to spread further as I continue my work with Operation Not Alone.
Director of Communications
Director of Marketing & Advertising
Interview: Susan Fochs on The Make an Impact Podcast
Hello ONA Friends and Family!
I’m so excited to share this very special blog post with you all because we are getting the inside scoop on our founder and CEO’s newest adventure!
Starting Operation Not Alone is the spark that started Susan’s love and passion for non-profits. Ever since then her goal and personal mission have been to Make an Impact! She has done so in more ways than one and continues to do so through her new Make an Impact podcast which gives you all the insight, wisdom and advice you could want about the nonprofit world! With just one month of podcasting under her belt, she has already been bringing some exceptional content and experts onto the show!
So, I thought it would be fun to get to know our founder and the show’s host a little bit better with an exclusive interview right here on the ONA blog!
Why did you decide to start The Make an Impact Podcast? What about the podcast platform made it appealing to you as opposed to a blog or something else?
This idea came to me about a year ago. It was one of those ideas that hit me like a freight train while I was on my lunch break while at my marketing job. I came back from that break and wrote down every idea for episodes, guests, names, etc. which filled 3 pages in my notebook. I held off launching it for a long time because I wanted to wrap up grad school and clean off some commitments from my schedule, so that I had the time to really dive into the podcast.
I also choose the podcast route for many reasons. First of all, I am a huge podcast fan and usually have something in my ear and I saw the great audience diversity it allowed me to get in front of. Second, I get *so many* questions from people about how to start their own non-profits that I wanted to be able to discuss, candidly, with the masses. Third, podcasts allow the listeners to hear tone and inflection, versus a written piece of content. Fourth, I knew it would be a great opportunity to sit down and have impactful conversations with the best people in the non-profit field, that I never would be able to chat with otherwise. And lastly, I didn’t want to get dolled up for the camera everyday, so I stayed away from a YouTube Channel.
What is something you’ve learned in the process of creating a podcast or in the first few episodes?
It’s so much more work than I anticipated! But, I learned that I oddly enjoy editing, which I thought was going to be my least favorite part. I also just learned that the rankings process is basically a popularity contest with ratings and reviews, which is a little annoying.
How did you become so passionate about learning and teaching others about non-profits?
This is definitely something I never anticipated. This passion really developed over the last few years when people started flooding me with questions about how to start their own non-profits, how to fundraise, how to build a board, how to run a well curated social media, and the list goes on. Then within the last year, these questions started coming to me on an almost daily basis.
After collaborating with people on their non-profits and helping them get them off the ground, it became a little addictive, if we’re being honest! I love watching other people light their world’s up with impact and craft a new generation that they want to see. Being able to play a small role in that is incredibly humbly.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
The first female President of the United States – haha.
Then I wanted to be a high-powered lawyer, an environmentalist, an activist, a pediatrician, and then Miss America. So basically, I’ve always been rooted in the idea of having a helping career; even when I didn’t know it.
What is your favorite book? Non-profit and for fun?
Sorry, I couldn’t choose just one!
- Thirst by Scott Harrison
- Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie
- Chasing the Bright Side by Jess Ekstrom
- Girl Logic by Iliza Shlesinger
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle
- Only Love is Real by Dr. Brian Weiss
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Oh gosh – that feels impossible to narrow down.
Overall, I’ve really embraced the idea that the universe is always listening and guiding you to what your life can be. And once you’re on that path, work as hard as you possibly can to build the life of your dreams. The universe is always listening and that’s how we get the concept of ‘universal intelligence’.
Also, don’t be afraid of therapy. Find the right one for you and heal yourself from the inside out.
When you aren’t out changing the world and ‘making an impact’, what do you enjoy doing?
Taking a nap, haha! I try really hard to rest, slow down and just enjoy my surroundings and my people. Some of those things include: sipping coffee slowly, sitting on the beach and listening to the birds and the waves, snuggling my twin rescue kittens, watching my routine Netflix binges, enjoying stand-up comedy specials, hiking, kayaking, or grabbing a really well crafted cocktail with friends.
You also just started a consulting business with the podcast. What questions can we bring to you? How is that going to work?
I am so excited to open up this avenue alongside the podcast! This is really for anyone in the founding and new stages of their non-profits trying to get them off the ground, or if you’re looking to scale and grow your non-profit, especially through grassroots efforts.
This opportunity allows me to give people 1-on-1 work and conversations about their initiative, instead of giving catch-all info, which is on the podcast. I am able to really dive into the problem areas, hurdles, and niches for those nonprofits and I am thrilled to grow that client base and watch them change the world.
What can we expect to see in future episodes?
EVERYTHING! Amazing guests have been coming up to bat to share their founding stories, empowerment through social activism, to more step-by-step explanations of details to non-profit founding steps. I also plan on being very raw and unfiltered about the challenges that the helping field faces and how to combat them as we craft a new generation of non-profit and social entrepreneurship work.
Director of Communications
Founder & CEO
Using Your Voice to Make a Difference
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
This was the theme of a recent discussion held by our ONA team. Why, you may ask? We were talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion!
Recent events have inspired important conversations to be had in the name of moving our society forward in the most anti-racist and most inclusive way possible. As an organization that strives to empower others and aid the mental and emotional health of all, ONA recognizes that it will be critically important to be a part of these conversations.
It is imperative to note that Operation Not Alone has *never* discriminated against any person based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, political ideology, religion, disabilities, etc.. However, we realize that we haven’t made this point abundantly clear to our supporters, donors, and recipients. Therefore, our ONA team endeavored to craft a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement to accompany our Mission and Vision Statements.
In order to do this in the most effective manner, we realized that we needed to have more viewpoints than our own when discussing our ideas. Therefore, Susan and MeKenzie brought in their dear friend, educator, and volunteer, Sha-Nita Rhea as our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Ambassador to provide a more well-rounded perspective. Sha-Nita is a ninth grade English teacher at Beloit Memorial High School pursuing a Masters in Secondary Education. She is a long-time participant and now volunteer within the Miss America Organization. After serving as Miss Beloit 2007 and Miss Racine 2009 (finishing as 1st Runner Up to Miss Wisconsin!) she has come back to serve as the Executive Director for the Miss South Central, Miss Rock River Valley, Miss Turtle Creek, and Miss South Central’s Outstanding Teen scholarship organizations. Sha-Nita also proudly serves on several other local boards in the Beloit community to contribute important perspectives regarding diversity. We are thrilled she decided to make some time for ONA in her very busy schedule to join our team and help us craft a formal statement as we aim to have a better understanding of inclusivity.
We enjoyed a wonderful virtual meeting with our whole team and Sha-Nita where she provided her insight and thoughts about the dos and don’ts of what our organization can do to make diversity, equity and inclusion a priority.
Personal Note from our ONA Intern:
The part I most enjoyed about this discussion was the practical advice. In a world filled with so many viewpoints, opinions and chaos it can be hard to decipher what our next steps should be in creating a better tomorrow. Sha-Nita did a fantastic job of laying out some of the ways we can be better. It’s a process of growing and changing, but one ONA and it’s team members value and feel is vital.
We’re still working on writing, editing and perfecting our official statement and it’s a responsibility we do not take lightly. However, we realize the more we learn and take the time to understand the more we may need to add or change our statement. Which makes this a process of constantly evaluating what and how we are doing our best to be most inclusive of people from all circumstances and walks of life and we are excited to add that to our mission.
Making an Impact with Kindness
“A little spark of kindness can put a colossal burst of sunshine into someone’s day.” – Unknown
In times of great challenges, the most simple and vital thing we can do is be kind. We can all agree that 2020 has been a year of great challenges. It is easy to get swept up in fear and chaos that is our lives. However, the best way to stay grounded in the battle is to be kind; to yourself, and to others.
ONA was founded on the principles of helping others understand that they are never alone and will never be forgotten — particularly in regards to veterans and military members. In the midst of this global pandemic, ONA was able to adapt to the world around us and serve people in a new way, underneath the umbrella of our mission. Specifically, we created 2 new services to aid people across the country: COVID Relief Kits and the Healthcare Hero Restaurant Campaign.
COVID-19 Relief Kits were created when looking at the food supply from our care packages that weren’t moving as fast as they normally were. Then realizing that the number of families and individuals affected financially during the pandemic, which brings up the struggles and anxieties surrounding food insecurity and isolation. Veterans may not be able to get what they need either because their income has been cut, or they might not feel safe to be able to go out and get it. CNBC reported that 1 in 4 Americans are skipping meals or relying on food donations during the pandemic. Therefore, ONA’s COVID-19 Relief Kits came to be! We send snacks, non-perishable food items, personal hygiene products, and Door County Coffee to those who may need them. If you, or someone you know, is needing a little supplementation to your weekly grocery run, you can submit the form here.
In the few months that this service has been available, we have been so touched as the responses from the families. We recently received a sweet letter from a caregiver for a 90-year-old Korean War veteran in Wisconsin who received one of the first sent out. She described, “he wanted me to read your card over and over and look at all his treasures. He struggles with memory problems but was so surprised and loved his package It really made his day.”
Now, doesn’t that just melt your heart?
On the opposite side of the coin, the Healthcare Hero Restaurant Campaign was created to bring a little cheer to healthcare professionals and help get them some delivery/takeout meals for long days at the hospitals, or when they were too exhausted to cook when they got home. As a bonus, it was a great way for ONA to also give back to some local restaurants, especially those who have supported us in the past. For example, in the Door County, Wisconsin area, many people were thrilled at the idea of getting some Wild Tomato Wood Fired Pizza takeout (and who can blame them when it’s so delicious) — and we were thrilled to support one of our favorite local restaurants. We were beyond thrilled to see that they choose Operation Not Alone to be the June Donation Creation receipt at their Fish Creek and Sister Bay restaurants. $1 from every pizza sold will go back to ONA throughout the entire month of June!
People can submit the email of a healthcare worker and name of their restaurant of choice, and then we send them an e-gift card in return. This is our way of offering a simple thank you for their tireless work and sacrifices to help patients and keep our communities healthy. Requests for this can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One healthcare hero reached out to tell us, “your acts of kindness are forever grateful in these times of need and helping one another.” Another exclaimed, “just got the email from your organization and I could cry it was so sweet! Thank you!” It’s these mission moments that keep us going — and thank you all for the important and life-saving work that you do!
These impactful projects would never be possible without each and every single one of YOU! The community that makes up our ONA Family is sensational and always has the power to blow us away with your generosity. For example, when our CEO, Susan’s, birthday came around in April, this community rallied together to donate over $700 towards more COVID Relief Kits and Healthcare Hero gift cards! Plus, thanks to some of our amazing sponsors like Door County Coffee & Tea and Green Bay Packaging, sending these kits out was a snap!
Times like these can be trying, but with kindness, we can overcome it all and make a lasting impact on those around us. Root yourself in your personal mission to guide yourself through difficult times. You never know when your small spark of kindness could light up someone else’s life.
Honoring Memorial Day the ONA Way
BBQ’s, camping, swimming, family, and friends…the unofficial kick-off to summer! Those arethe typical thoughts associated with Memorial Day. But, we know there is a deeper meaning to this historic and heartfelt day.
First things first, what’s the difference in these holidays?
- Memorial Day: Honors those who died while serving
- Veterans Day: Honors those who have served
- Armed Forces Day: Honors those currently serving
Memorial Day is celebrated annually on the last Monday in May. It was originally noted as ‘Decoration Day’, which first began after the Civil War. Decoration Day is exactly what it sounds like, where people would use flowers to decorate war memorials and grave sites to remember the lives of fallen soldiers. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Today, we still use this holiday as an opportunity to honor those who lost their lives while serving their country. We also use it to honor those friends and family members that are no longer with us. This holiday will look different as we continue to adjust to our ‘new normal’ lives of social distancing, face masks, and respecting stay at home orders. However, that doesn’t diminish the honor and values that come along with this day.
Personal Story from our ONA Intern:
Memorial Day is usually spent with family and friends enjoying a cookout if the weather is permitting in Wisconsin. However, my family usually takes part in my community’s annual Memorial Day Parade and special cemetery ceremony by our local Daughters of the American Revolution in part honoring local history buffs and those interested in veteran affairs. The most special part about my Memorial Day celebration happens at my mom’s family cemetery. My grandma and mom always get flowers to decorate the gravesites for the members of our family no longer with us.
About 4 years ago, my brother inspired me with his act of respect and kindness for others. He took a few of the extra fake flowers and took to decorating every veteran’s grave with a flower. Most who didn’t have any or were from long ago and did not have a family to honor them anymore. He explained, “I see how much respect our veterans and military do not get. I thought this was a simple way I could honor a few of those members who died for our freedom”. He has such a passion for showing love and respect to veterans both alive and passed on, that he inspired me to do the same! I think the best way to celebrate Memorial Day is to be thankful for the freedoms you have and participate in a local honoring ceremony to remember how you got them!
Giving’s Impact on You and Non-Profit Organizations During a Global Crisis
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
Have you ever bought someone’s coffee? Left a generous tip? Or simply let someone go ahead of you in line? It makes you feel good right? You are glad that you were able to make someone’s life a little better or a little easier. As human beings, we fundamentally feel good when we do good things for others. It is in our DNA to give and share with others. In fact, the chemical response that our body produces from doing these good things could relieve stress that we hold, help us combat certain plaguing thoughts, and could even help us live longer!
Giving is a part of our DNA and scientists have spent years studying the effects on our mental, emotional, and physical health. When evaluating the brain, we see the effects that giving has on it, because of how we have evolved. Every time you do an altruistic act for others or give back in any way (big or small), it triggers a release of “happiness chemicals” in our brains; such as dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin which gives us a sense of inner peace and tranquility. Arguably, it makes it better to give rather than receive because of those happy chemicals in our brain. Research shows that this can be achieved by donating money, volunteering our time, or even just the thought of giving can make us happy. Currently, our social interactions and ability to volunteer our time can be challenging, so it is good news that we can get the same satisfaction from donating money or putting a little thought effort into giving back! According to a recent USA News article, these kinds of contributions can even help us extend our lives more than going to church or regular exercise! We could all use a few more bright spots and joy in our lives. When something so simple can give you so many benefits like reducing depression, make you happier, and even extend your life – why would you not?
The times we are currently living in are difficult, for everyone, and for a variety of reasons. We obsessively watch the news to see how COVID-19 is moving and shaking. We are concerned about the health and safety of ourselves and our families. However, the deeper we dive into weeks of self-quarantine and social distancing we see more challenges facing us. We may experience loneliness, stress from going to the grocery store to having to go to work, depression, sadness, and even anger. We don’t realize how much we truly rely on others until we can’t be together to go out, have in-person conversations or even help each other in the same ways that we used to. We grieve the loss of life as we know it and that in itself can be very hard. However, just because a global pandemic is sweeping all around us, it doesn’t mean that we can’t find things to fill our time and our hearts. There is a solution! One that gives us hope and fulfills one of our greatest needs as humans. Giving. Which is just as vital for you, as it is for organizations you give to. It just makes a heart feel good!
The non-profits you know and love are pivoting in their services to provide even more to the world. We see people providing for our healthcare heroes, providing masks and other PPE, making sure that people are fed and taken care of. We see the impacts of these groups from time to time, but in times of crisis, these organizations are in their element because their spirit of giving and serving is magnified. Those who run and are involved with these organizations have a heart of service for the people they serve and could be serving. It is truly amazing to see the unique ways that people band together for the greater good!
So today, we challenge you to focus on the good, focus on joy, and focus on the acts of giving – no matter what form they take. Your help and support will be vital to the lives of organizations across the world, and your mental and emotional health will thank you in return.