Interview Series: Jennifer Schmidt, Director of Donor Relations

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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!

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And I mean is he not the cutest?!

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. 

Allison Foster

Director of Communications

Jennifer Schmidt

Director of Donor Relations

Interview Series: Nathan Plym, Director of Marketing and Advertising

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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. 

Allison Foster

Director of Communications

Nathan Plym

Director of Marketing & Advertising

Interview: Susan Fochs on The Make an Impact Podcast

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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. 

Allison Foster

Director of Communications

Susan Fochs

Founder & CEO

Using Your Voice to Make a Difference

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“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. 

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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

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“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