In 2013, Susan Fochs was running Operation Not Alone (ONA) out of her freshman-year dorm room at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh with money she’d made as a server during the summer at Wild Tomato Pizza.
Today, her operations have expanded significantly.
Now headquartered in Sturgeon Bay, ONA offers personalized care packages for active-duty service members, cheer packages for veterans and a variety of educational programs, public-speaking engagements and corporate-responsibility programs.
Fochs, a Gibraltar High School graduate, originally perceived a need for ONA while competing in the Miss Door County Scholarship Program in 2012. Although she didn’t win the Miss Door County title, she carried her passion for supporting women and men in uniform with her into her freshman year. Encouraged by a sorority sister, she filed for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status at the beginning of her spring semester.
Although it has sometimes been challenging, the process of founding and establishing ONA has been hugely influential for Fochs.
“It has been over seven years since founding ONA, and I truly have no idea who I would be without this organization,” she said. “It’s a huge part of me. I have learned a world’s worth of information in the nonprofit sector: fundraising, grant writing, social media, marketing, public speaking, accounting, tax forms, leadership, managing a team and more.”
According to Fochs, existing social stigma surrounding mental-health issues can make it difficult for military members to reach out when they’re feeling alone or unsupported. ONA recognizes that even the smallest gestures of care can have a large positive effect.
“At the end of the day, a core aspect to our mission is making people feel cared for, seen and appreciated,” Fochs said. “The simple act of people knowing that you’re thinking of them has a very underrated amount of power.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, there is increased potential for military members and veterans to feel isolated. In response, ONA has expanded its services with COVID-19 Relief Kits, which are full of nonperishable food items and hygiene products. ONA is also sending gift cards from local restaurants to those working in VA hospitals and to health-care workers more generally. To request a Relief Kit or a gift card for a health-care hero, visit operationnotalone.net.
In addition to supporting individual military members and veterans, ONA also provides educational programming. Through its Earn-A-Patch Program, Mission: Honor, Girl Scouts from all over the country can complete a free online packet to earn their own ONA patches. The program offers Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn about the military and provides them with a few projects that they can implement in their own communities.
As Memorial Day approaches, Fochs said it’s especially important to support military members and veterans in our communities, and to keep in our thoughts those we have lost in the line of duty.
“The simple act of saying a heartfelt thank-you to a veteran never goes unappreciated,” Fochs said. “Take the time to listen to their stories, empathize with their emotions and offer an outlet when you can. Support and love are often underrated in our world and make all the difference for our neighbors and loved ones.”