Using Your Voice to Make a Difference

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” 

Maya Angelou

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.

Allison Foster

Communications Intern

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:

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.

Allison Foster
Communications Intern

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! 

Allison Foster
Communications Intern

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.

Allison Foster
Communications Intern

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