Train Like a Warrior with Operation Not Alone

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Warrior: a brave or experienced soldier or fighter. 

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘warrior’? I know my first thought is someone who is physically strong. Someone who is ready to take on anything that is thrown their way. These two things together are what make a warrior in my mind because it’s not just about being physically strong and capable. It is about being able to handle whatever life throws at you physically, mentally and emotionally. 

This is where our idea for the Train Like a Warrior Campaign really blossomed. We started with the idea of creating a campaign focused on physical health and exercise, while also fundraising through in-person or virtual fitness events. However, when we considered the term “warrior” as a whole, we knew that we wanted this to be much larger and more inclusive to what it means to be strong: mind, body and soul. We then chose to mix fundraising with access to free resources to create the “Train Like a Warrior Campaign” for all.

In the beginning, this campaign was intended for the month of January (ONAs birthday month). However, with the challenges that COVID-19 has created we realized that many of our plans would have to wait or be modified. To be honest, I think it’s been a blessing in disguise, because it has allowed us to have a year-long focus on health and fundraising.

This will be our nation-wide campaign for 2021 that aims to be half focused on in-person workout events and half focused on providing free resources to the masses via our YouTube and social media channels (mainly Facebook and Instagram). 

Throughout 2021, we will aim to provide weekly content focused on mental, emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual health. Each quarter of the year will set a different focus and primarily push that content. The break down is below:

• Q1: Mental / Emotional Health

• Q2: Nutritional Health 

• Q3: Physical Health (majority in-person gym events happening here)

• Q4: Spiritual / Emotional Health

Especially, in the COVID-era we realized how important mental and emotional health resources are. With the heart for service that ONA has we wanted to make sure that our focus was on helping others take care of themselves. We still have a focus on fundraising because we can’t provide the services we do without that component. It’s been very rewarding to combine that with our constant mission of serving others. 

We are so excited to continue this campaign throughout the year and we’ve already seen a lot of success in the first few months! We were able to hold one in-person fundraising event with CycleBar Brookfield, provide a free meditation resource for PTSD and trauma created by a veteran, focus on financial health and a lesson on investing and give away a free year of full access to the Calm App for meditation and breathing, and more! 

If you’d like to partner with ONA by providing a video resource or an in-person event you can send an email to susan@operationnotalone.net. Or you can simply follow us on social media or join our email list to stay up to date on the latest with all things Train Like a Warrior.

We want to invite you to train like the warrior within you – mind, body, and soul.

Allison Foster

Director of Communications           

Making an Impact in 2020

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“Make an Impact” 

It’s a phrase that defines the work that we do and why we do it. We say it in meetings, social media posts, and in our everyday lives here at ONA. It is what fuels our passion, it gives meaning to the days that are less than stellar, and it’s the joy we feel every single time we know that we did it.

It’s even something we attempt to track. We can’t quantify the good feelings, the joy, or the heartfelt moments, but we can track our impact in other ways. We can track our services, and therefore, we can track what we do. Those numbers can give an idea of how far our reach is and the lives we have touched. 

We have heard it time and again; 2020 was a tough year! However, the rather dismal state of the world did not diminish our mission. Here’s a small recap on what our 2020 had to offer:

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Care Packages are sent to active military personnel who are serving overseas. They are a small token of our appreciation to the men and women in uniform who have made sacrifices many of us cannot imagine. Though our gratitude reaches beyond these packages, this is Operation Not Alone’s way of showing our gratefulness. In 2020, 67 Care Packages were shipped to service members stationed all over the world!

Cheer Packages are sent to former military personnel- veterans- in our database. They are a small token of our appreciation for the sacrifices our military veterans have made while defending our freedom. Though our gratitude reached beyond these packages, this is Operation Not Alone’s way of showing our gratitude toward those who have served in the military. Cheer packages are sent out annually around Veteran’s Day. 2020’s Cheer Package season was very successful, ONA sent out 375 Packages to all 50 states.

Last year, our VP MeKenzie completely revamped our Girl Scout Patch Program and had a wildly successful relaunch this fall! In just two short months, more than 550 Girl Scouts earned their patches in 27 states and 3 countries (thanks to the Girl Scouts Overseas program)!

In 2020, ONA gained 2 amazing interns. Allison as the spring Communications Intern and Nathan as the summer Marketing and Advertising Intern. Both have decided to stay on after their internship and joined the ONA board of directors this Fall!

During these unprecedented times, ONA wanted to show up for our ONA Family in the best way we could. Which is why our team has created COVID-19 Relief Kits available to anyone in our community. We sent out 125 packages containing some non-perishable food, hygiene products, Door County Coffee & Tea Co., and more in 28 states.

With an unprecedented year brought new challenges and new opportunities to serve. We did this again through bringing a little cheer to healthcare professionals through the form of restaurant gift cards, while supporting local businesses! We delivered gift cards to 35 healthcare workers in 9 states!

2020 allowed us to continue the services that ONA was founded on such as Cheer and Care Packages as well as founding new initiatives in the midst of a global pandemic to help us better serve our communities.We were able to see growth in our organization through our intern program and the relaunch of our girl scout patch program. There is no doubt in our mind that an impact was made in 2020. 

We want to thank each and everyone of our donors, partners, and volunteers for their continued support for our mission. We could not do it without you!

The ONA Team is excited for what a new year will have to offer and we can’t wait to share with you all the exciting things we have planned!

Check out a longer recap of special events & shoutouts that happened last year:


Also, please join us in thanking the sponsors and partners that made 2020 possible:

Allison Foster

Director of Communications

Interview Series: Allison Foster, Director of Communications

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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. 

If you want to hear my thoughts on this with rockstar fundraising coach, Mallory Erickson, check out this interview on The Make An Impact Podcast!

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:

Susan Fochs                                                                                                                                       

Founder & CEO

Interview Series: MeKenzie Lund, Vice President and Director of New York Operations

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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