Yellow Ribbon Network’s Story as told by its Inspiration Leaders John Pickens and Chris Fitzpatrick

Can you please share your story of starting VeteransPlus in 2008 and the Yellow Ribbon Network in 2011?

VeteransPlus was founded in 2008. In January 2010 and after 40 years of working for the Dept of Veteran Affairs, John Pickens joined VeteransPlus and its quest to provide financial coaching and counseling to a nation’s heroes and their families. Through working with the Department of Defense across the nation, VeteransPlus quickly gained recognition for its work with military and Veteran families by authoring its proprietary three-part series “Ready, Aim-Fire”, to address financial education for each phase of the military experience independently. The curriculum covers: leaving civilian life to deployment; family support while gone and the successful transition home with a stable financial future. Additionally, VeteransPlus began working with more than 60 nonprofits across the United States and offering their programs a deeper dive into the financial lives of those they served. Each nonprofit would send clients to VeteransPlus to add value to their mission so that financial education would become a pillar of successful programs. In 2010, the leadership of VeteransPlus realized the importance of sharing sensitive client data through the use of technology needed to be addressed. This was the birth of the Yellow Ribbon Network (YRN). On Veterans Day 2011, the YRN (V1) was formally launched to provide a proprietary platform to communicate and share best practices on behalf of our nations heroes and create the first-ever “system of record” of the delivery of services where applicants would not have to search the internet for the assistance they deserved.

How has the “Sea of Goodwill” white paper influenced your time as Executive Director of VeteransPlus and Yellow Ribbon Network?

After reading the Sea of Goodwill by Col David Sutherland, formerly of the Joint Chiefs office, VeteransPlus felt inspired to lead the charge and change the landscape of the Veteran resources and service delivery that has been broken for so long. The creation of the YRN challenged the status quo and leveraged emerging technology to better address the application for service for non-profit programs. More importantly, the YRN would create a new way for reporting the successes and failures of programs, offering insight to continually make the system better for those in need. The YRN was the first resource to offer a “one application system” and use an algorithm to match the best non-profits to meet that need. No longer would an applicant relentlessly search the internet, apply and sit in the dark unassisted. Admiral Mike Mullen asked, “There’s a lot of change going on…how we touch people throughout our country that are out there in what I call this sea of goodwill, who want to help our people and their families…we have got to figure out a way to do that.” And we feel that the Yellow Ribbon Network answers that call.

Can you speak about the Organizations who have supported VP and YRN throughout the years?

The first foundation to provide funding for the YRN was The Ryder Charitable Foundation in 2010. Perhaps the most influential support organization has been Secure-24 who has been providing both security and hosting capabilities since the YRN inception, as they have a deep-rooted respect for those who have worn our nation’s uniform. Shortly after version 2 of the YRN was planned in 2014, both MetLife and Prudential came aboard to provide critical funding for redesign and expansion on the already successful YRN platform. Their partnership has been all important to the future of the YRN. At the same time, the YRN engaged TechAffinity to begin construction of the complete redesign and retool to add new and exciting functionality to the YRN. TechAffinity has been a backbone to the project, in providing critical thinking and development where ideas and thought leadership can only go so far. Simply put, each of these partners believed in what the YRN set out to do, promote and ultimately become, in support of the men and women who have born our nations battles.

For people looking to make non-monetary donations, there is a partner platform called Yellow Ribbon Vehicles where individuals can donate their used vehicles (which do not need to be operational) including cars, trucks, boats, jet skis, farm or construction equipment and all donations are tax deductible. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the program?

Funds generated through vehicle donations are nondiscretionary and can be used by VeteransPlus to directly support needs that cannot be met through grant funding. As a non-profit, VeteransPlus is always grateful for unrestricted funds to assist with administration and ideas that are outside of traditional grant guidelines. We are thankful for any and all donations through this program.

As an Inspirational Leader, are there book and/or article recommendations you would like to share that have inspired you throughout your career and can perhaps inspire others?

Of course, the Sea of Goodwill was very inspirational for Chris and me. We had the opportunity to meet Col. David Sutherland, the author and he has remained a friend and mentor to us for nearly 10 years. I was introduced to the work of Steven Covey and his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People” in 1989 and I try to improve on each of those habits to this day.

 

Thank you John and Chris for relaying your story. For much more information on these important non-profit organizations, please support Yellow Ribbon Network, Veterans Plus, I Support Veterans (crowdfunding site for Vets and their families in need) and Yellow Ribbon Vehicles here:

www.yellowribbonnetwork.org

www.veteransplus.org

www.isupportveterans.org

www.yellowribbonvehicles.org