In 2016, a program called “GEMS- Girls Empowered and Motivated to Serve” was born. I saw a need for positive female role models in our communities to influence, encourage, and inspire the youngest generation of leaders. As a contestant in the Miss America Organization, I aimed to create a community of strong, powerful girls who wish to make a difference. As I go on the road to host GEMS workshops and share a love for service with others, I decided to feature MORE amazing women who also dedicate their time and talents toward making their communities a better place.
In continuation of this blog series, get ready to meet an incredible young woman I call a friend and sister, Susan Fochs.
Susan grew up in Door County, Wisconsin and just received her Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services Leadership from UW-Oshkosh in May. She is also currently serving as Miss Door County 2017 (and let’s be real, I don’t know a single person who WASN’T jumping out of their seats when she was crowned).
Susan has always gone above and beyond when it comes to community involvement. She has been a volunteer, guest speaker, and alumni with the Wisconsin Leadership Seminar; a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin – Fox Valley; a volunteer with Girls on the Run; an intern and volunteer with the Oshkosh Area Community Food Pantry; an intern with the American Red Cross; the Special Events and Public Relations Intern with Make-A-Wish Wisconsin; and various other organizations such as the United Way, Door CANcer, the YMCA, Community Blood Center…the list goes on!
However, one of her greatest accomplishments has been her position as the Founder, President, and CEO of Operation Not Alone. Although this is a pretty important role, Susan thinks “Head Blanket-Making Director” or “Care Package Extraordinaire” describes her position more accurately.
Operation Not Alone – Never Alone. Never Forget.
“At Operation Not Alone, we strive to give our service men and women the utmost support and encouragement by sending very unique and heartwarming care packages to our nation’s bravest,” Susan said. “All of our packages are put together with tremendous care and love. Every service member will receive a handmade fleece blanket specific to his or her branch of service in the military, much needed supplies to use during deployment, and a slew of cards and letters from all types of community members.”
Operation Not Alone (ONA for short) also has a Cheer Package program, which is sent every year around Veterans Day to brave veterans.
“Our goal is to make sure that no one feels alone during the deployment and beyond, and that each and every service member comes home to warm and open arms. No one will be forgotten and our nation’s bravest will feel our continuous gratitude,” Susan said.
From the Beginning…
Susan has always been a service driven person, before she even knew a term like that existed.
“I remember doing things in elementary school with my friends, like hosting fundraisers or supply drives for the tsunami victims, planting trees, cleaning up highways, etc. because that’s what I genuinely wanted to do.”
Her biggest catalyst to furthering that service was when she became involved in the Wisconsin Leadership Seminars as a sophomore in high school.
“It was the first time I was truly surrounded by motivating, driven and inspiring individuals who were all trying to find their and make their place in the world. From there, I figured out how to reach out to more organizations to start volunteering!”
Then, as a senior in high school, her life would change forever as she embarked on her first Miss America Organization experience.
Susan and the Miss America Organization
“I took the community service platform very seriously and thought about what I wanted to do in my community and wake up every single morning to advocate for. Something surrounding supporting our troops was the simplest decision to make when I walked home that day and looked at my dad,” Susan said. Susan’s father is a United States Marine Corps veteran.
After she knew she wanted to have a platform surrounding military support, her ambition grew immensely.
“When I got to college and spoke with my sorority sisters about my passions for competing in the Miss America Organization and supporting our troops, they encouraged me to make the largest the difference I could – founding a non-profit organization,” Susan said.
In the last four and a half years of Operation Not Alone, Susan is so proud of the impact that the team of volunteers (aka – the ONA Family) has been able to make.
“We’ve got over 500 service members and veterans in our database of Care and Cheer Packages and we’ve been able to visit countless children and classrooms to raise awareness to ensure that no service member is ‘ever alone and never forgotten,'” Susan said. “The ONA Family is certainly unmatched and there are larger projects on the horizon!”
Susan reminds everyone to remember the people who were with you during your failures, not just your celebrations.
“Anything is possible if you surround yourself with the right people. Find your village, the people who help to push you to become the best possible version of yourself and wholeheartedly have your back,” Susan said.
In the words of our sensational Miss America 2017, Savvy Shields, “Find a ‘why’ that is not about yourself. Whatever your goals or dreams are, whatever your ‘why’ is, I am a firm believer that our second, or even our third reason ‘why’ should all be the same. If you know ‘why,’ you can endure any ‘how.'”
“Don’t ever take anything or anyone for granted and say ‘thank you’ as often as you can. Oh, and Google is basically my best friend. All hail the power of Google being at our fingertips,” Susan said.
*insert hands-up praise emoji*
How to Get Involved
For more information regarding Operation Not Alone, visit http://www.operationnotalone.net or feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep your eyes peeled on their Facebook page for event updates. ONA’s largest volunteer event will take place during the first week of November.
“PLEASE send us the names, branches and addresses of active duty service members and veterans to add to our database!”
Susan is quite honestly one of the greatest examples when it comes to GEMS. She is truly a Girl Empowered and Motivated to Serve! Thank you for all you do, Susan! You inspire so many to chase their dreams and make their communities a better place.