Behind the Scenes: ONA’s Girl Scout Patch Program

Have your worlds ever collided? It’s strange to think about, but make a list in your head of all of the projects or organizations you’re involved with- working, volunteering, board governance- whatever it may be. Have any of those ever overlapped for you? My worlds collided about three years ago and I couldn’t have imagined we’d be where we are today.

I started my post-college career at Girl Scouts of Western New York five years ago. I love it. It is fulfilling, rewarding, and so much fun. In the summer of 2018 as I thought about how we could level-up our ONA game, I thought also about how I could mix my two worlds together. Girl Scouts help make the world a better place- it’s in the Girl Scout Law. They are courageous, they seek challenges, and they give back. So how could I take those amazing qualities Girl Scouts instills in girls and fuse it with our mission at Operation Not Alone? How can we continue to level-up? As individuals and as a team? And then it hit me. I had been volunteering with ONA since I met Susan. I wanted to help her expand and grow the organization that so many of us have grown to love. Thus, the expansion of ONA into New York State, the addition and streamlining of services, and the creation of the ONA earn-a-patch program offered to Girl Scouts worldwide.

The patch program, Mission: Honor, is open and available to all Girl Scouts in grades K-12. The program is structured around the familiar actions of discovering a topic, connecting it to the real world, and taking action to make the world a better place. So in our program Girl Scouts discover the branches of the military and where military bases in the US and abroad are located, they connect with a veteran or military service member to learn about their experiences, and they take action to help make the world a better place for military members, veterans, and their families. The program is free for Girl Scouts across the globe. One of the most rewarding emails I received came from a parent of a girl whose family is currently stationed in Italy- she found our patch program online and completed it on- base with her Girl Scout. How cool is that?! So we get to say that this is a worldwide program, which blows my mind to this day.

Over the past three years, the program has seen annual updates. We are constantly assessing what works best, what girls are looking for, and receiving feedback about the program to improve it. This year, we’re excited to re-launch the program with the same feel it has had since inception, along with a facelift from last year including more inclusive graphics and language, and an adult guide. This year, here’s what you can expect:

  • An environmentally-friendly approach (no printing necessary- explicitly marked on the workbook)
  • Additional up-to-date information about the military
  • A more seamless submission process
  • More ideas for the take action portion of the program

When can you expect the new program to launch? Great question! The new program, along with the adult guide, has been uploaded to our website,, and is available now! 

To date, we have mailed out 860 patches to Girl Scouts across the globe. Talk about a full-circle moment! My move to Buffalo led me to a career in Girl Scouts. My friendship with Susan opened the door for me to volunteer with Operation Not Alone. And the two worlds collided to line up the stars so I could bring Girl Scouts to ONA and ONA to Girl Scouts. It gives me so much joy when my worlds weave together. I’m proud to serve both of these amazing organizations- both of which are so dear to my heart. My hope is to continue serving and giving my all to the two places that feel like home. Two places so far from each other, but so connected in my heart. 

MeKenzie Lund

Vice President and Director of New York Operations

Mission Moments: How Non-Profit Teams Stay Inspired 

Mission Moments: the small stories that kick-off every ONA board meeting. Every team member shares a moment that occurred throughout the time we’ve been apart that has touched our hearts and reminded us of the mission of ONA. These moments are powerful reminders of “our why”. The “why” we volunteer our free time.The “why” we donate extra out of our pockets. The “why” we dedicate our effort to serving those who have served us. 

Working for a non-profit organization takes a special type of person. These people are the ones that care about others wholeheartedly and believe in something bigger than themselves. The people who will take less pay in order to fill their hearts and souls. The people who live to serve others. These are the people who run Operation Not Alone. We aren’t a large organization, in fact, we are a ‘tiny but mighty’ team of six passionate, inspired, and talented individuals who not only run the 5 services the organization offers, but handle social media, fundraising, PR, website management, and so much more. 

That is why the mission moments are important because we are people who need to know the “why” behind what we’re doing. We need to believe in the mission and know that we are making a difference no matter how small it may seem. It’s what keeps us going on the most mundane tasks, the hardest challenges, or just the general frustrations from the roadblocks we find in front of us as individuals or as an organization.

Personally, a good mission moment whether my own or someone else’s can keep me going for weeks or longer. That’s how powerful they can be. That’s why it is an essential part every time we meet, so we remember our “why” and don’t get caught up in the logistics, the challenges, or the frustrations. 

Operation Not Alone was basically founded on a mission moment that our Founder, Susan Fochs, experienced after sending out the first care package to an Army soldier stationed in Afghanistan. It was the pivotal moment that launched Operation Not Alone off the ground. And every mission moment after that has kept the wheels turning since 2013.

Stay tuned as the ONA team shares their favorite and most inspiring mission moments with all of you!

Allison Foster

Director of Communication and Care Packages

Train Like a Warrior: Veterans and Pleural Mesothelioma

As we continually to critically look 

Veterans who served in certain military occupations between 1930 and 1980 have a high risk of developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, and account for 30% of mesothelioma cases diagnosed annually. 

From the 1930s to the 1970s, the US military used thousands of asbestos-containing products to strengthen, insulate and fireproof military bases, ships, aircraft, and land vehicles. Many veterans who were active during this time, could encounter asbestos in base housing and almost everywhere they worked. Persistently breathing in asbestos fibers can cause them to build up in the lining of the lungs, and eventually lead to pleural mesothelioma

Pleural mesothelioma, which forms in the lining of the lungs, is the most common form of the disease, accounting for more than 75% of cases. This form affects veterans at a disproportionate rate compared to the general public. Veterans exposed to asbestos during military service who develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases qualify for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. 

Because of the latency period of the disease, about 20-40 years, many veterans do not get diagnosed until much later in life. However, there is help and support for veterans and their families. The Pleural Mesothelioma Center offers information and assistance for those who find themselves battling this terrible disease. Through their online information hub, patient advocates, and medical outreach program, they are able to help educate patients and families, and connect them with the appropriate care and treatment.   

Check out some of these other sources for more information and reach out if you think this could be affecting your health and well-being:


Interview Series: Jess Zemlicka, Public Relations and Media Manager

We want you to be able to get to know our newest member of the ONA team, Jess Zemlicka! She is serving ONA as our new Public Relations and Media Manager. We wanted you to get to know her a little better so we asked her all the tough questions 😉 and you can read her responses below.

How did you learn about ONA and why you decided to get involved?

Having volunteered for ONA in the past, and knowing Susan and MeKenzie for just over five years, I was familiar with the organization’s mission and service. I had always thought about joining the ONA team in a larger capacity. I mentioned this, and my interest in expanding my public relations and marketing skills, to Susan and we agreed to hit the ground running! I’m very excited to be working with the team and helping serve our veterans and active duty service members!

What role are you filling with ONA?

I am ONA’s PR & Media Manager. I’ll be connecting our mission and services to local news outlets, getting the word out so we can serve even more veterans and active duty service members. Once we’re able to host and take part in events, I’ll be there volunteering with my husband and son and our wonderful team! 

We just love your relationship with MeKenzie! Tell us how you two are connected and how you’ve become so close.

MeKenzie and I are connected in a lot of ways! She is my sister-in-law, son’s godmother, maid of honor, wedding officiant and one of my best friends! Not only are we all that, we’re less than 12 hours apart in age! Our friendship started when I began dating her brother, Brennan, almost six years ago. We have grown closer every year since even though we’ve never lived in the same town together. She really has become my sister! 

What are your hobbies?

My husband and I really love to go antiquing, thrifting and doing DIY projects together. I also love to cook and do hand embroidery/cross stitching. Most recently, I started a Poshmark closet (@focusedthreads) where I sell second hand clothings, shoes and accessories!

What is your favorite book, podcast, and/or TV show and why?

I really love listening to true crime podcasts! I don’t have a favorite, but my recommendations are My Favorite Murder, And That’s Why We Drink and Crime Junkie. Plus, all are run by amazingly smart and strong women! I’ve been a fan of true crime since I was younger and watched Lifetime movies and Unsolved Mysteries. 

As far as TV goes, I really love British and historical fiction shows. My favorites are Downton Abbey, Outlander, Great British Baking Show, and, my guilty pleasure, The Only Way is Essex. 

What inspires and motivates you?

My happiness and enjoyment for what I do on a daily basis is what inspires and motivates me. If I’m not happy about or enjoying what I’m doing or experiencing, then why do it? My happiness is spending time with my son and husband, being able to enjoy my hobbies, and knowing that every day I do something that helps someone else. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? / What is your dream job?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I have been wondering this myself for the last couple years. When I was younger, I wanted to be a lawyer. In college, I wanted to work for a professional sports team doing community relations. I’m currently exploring digital media and graphic design by taking free online courses and watching YouTube videos to explore both areas and what the work entails.

Allison Foster

Director of Communications and Care Packages

Jess Zemlicka

Public Relations and Media Manager

ONA Intern Feature: Matilda Cretens

How did you learn about ONA and why you decided to get involved?

I originally learned about ONA from a friend that went to college with Susan. I was looking to volunteer my time and gain some writing experience with a non-profit. I have a bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film and a minor in Public Relations from UW-Oshkosh, so this seemed like a great opportunity. 

What role are you filling with ONA?

I am the intern grant writer for Operation Not Alone. I hope to be able to use my writing skills to write compelling grant applications to win funds for ONA’s various projects. I also work on other video or writing projects. 

What is your “real” job? Why did you decide to start working at the VA?

I have started a new position at the Milwaukee Veteran’s hospital at the end of April. I am a Medical Support Assistant and help veterans schedule appointments, get them assistance while they stay in the hospital and a variety of other administrative tasks. I began working at the VA as a Food and Nutrition Services worker. I would deliver the patients their meals. I enjoy working at the VA because I like being able to provide care for veterans. They deserve the best possible care, and it is fulfilling to do my best to serve them!

What are your hobbies?

RIP concerts because of COVID, but before the pandemic I saw about 10 shows a year. I like to watch movies and go on walks/hikes. If I could swim everyday, I would. I’m working on my cooking skills — (I recently made some really tasty chicken teriyaki). I also help judge high school forensics. I used to do it in high school and it is fun for me to see others perform and provide feedback. 

What is your favorite book, podcast, and/or TV show and why?

Favorite book: I’ve read Harry Potter my fair share of times, but I really like to read a variety of different books. My three favorite genres are historical fiction, self-help, and young adult fiction. The best book that I recently read was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s a love story with greek mythology involved. 

Podcast: I’m not a huge listener of podcasts because I’d rather be listening to music! I am a huge Taylor Swift fan and have a stan Twitter account to keep up with her. I also like a lot of oldies music because that’s what I was raised on. I could talk about music all day and if I had my own podcast, it would be about music. 

Movie: Legally Blonde! I will never get sick of this movie. I love it’s blend of comedy with female empowerment. Plus, the “bend and snap” is LEGENDARY.

TV Show: Currently, it is Degrassi. I’m binge watching it on Tubi (love free streaming services!) The show takes place in the early 2000s at a Canadian middle/high school. The show is very progressive for its time, and it’s nostalgic for me because I watched a lot of episodes when I was younger. The ensemble cast offers many relatable characters and I’m a sucker for young adult drama. 

What inspires and motivates you?

I am motivated by the fact that each day is a new chance. If one day you make a mistake, you have the power to choose to do better the next day. I think my ability to not let the past hold me back has helped me to experience and achieve goals in my life. 

I am inspired by strong leaders, like Susan, who have a vision and work to execute their dreams. I think that determination is one of the most important factors to being successful. Women like Susan don’t let anything stand in their way. 

What do you want to be when you grow up? / What is your dream job?

I’m still figuring it out. There are so many opportunities in the world, and I wish that I could take advantage of them all. I hope to find a job where I can use my writing skills and creativity to make an impact for the organization that I work with. I think it would be really cool to work with NPR as an interview host/coordinator. 

Allison Foster

Director of Communications and Care Packages

Matilda Cretens

ONA Intern