Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Wendy Lethin
Back in early 2003, Karen Guenther asked several military spouses to gather around her kitchen table trying to figure out how to help Marines who had been injured during the invasion of Iraq.
Now, in early 2019, I look back at what the Semper Fi Fund has accomplished, and I am amazed. The Fund has grown to provide $192 million in assistance to 23,000 service members from all branches of the military. We’ve been awarded the highest ratings from watchdog groups: an A+ from CharityWatch (one of only two veteran nonprofits to receive this rating last year) and eight consecutive “4-Star” ratings from Charity Navigator, an achievement attained by only 3% of rated charities.
All of us at the Fund are deeply grateful that standing alongside us in our mission – to provide urgently needed resources and lifetime support for combat-wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families – is one of the most successful businessmen of the digital age.
Bob Parsons, who founded GoDaddy in 1997, served in Vietnam as a rifleman in the Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines. He was wounded in action and earned the Combat Action Ribbon, the Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and the Purple Heart.
In 2012, Bob and his wife, Renee, formed The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation. Shortly after forming the foundation they were golfing with friends and heard about the Semper Fi Fund from a fellow Vietnam Veteran. Given Bob’s military service, he and Renee naturally sought out a military charity to support. Right after the golf game, Bob surprised us with a call to say he was going to give us a $1 million donation.
I believe it’s a good lesson for everyone in this world of charity: When you meet someone and share your mission, you never know what it will lead to. In our case, it led to that $1 million being just the beginning.
Over the years that followed, our organizations worked together closely to develop the Double Down for Veterans campaign. It’s a year-end challenge in which the Foundation matches donations made to the Fund through December 31 dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount. In 2018, the seventh consecutive year of the challenge, that amount was $10 million – which raised the Foundation’s cumulative support to the Fund to $51.2 million.
“Our partnership with the Semper Fi Fund is very important to me personally,” Bob has said. “The programs enabled by this funding will not only provide military families with the help they need during their loved ones’ healing process; they also help ensure injured veterans a successful transition back into civilian life.”
The type of assistance facilitated by donation to the Fund covers three major areas of need:
- Service member and family support programs that assist the family unit from injury through recovery. Programs include bedside financial support, housing and transportation assistance, the provision of specialized and adaptive equipment, caregiver support, a kid’s camp and canine and horsemanship programs.
- Transition programs that integrate service members back into their communities with education and career assistance, apprenticeship programs, peer support, unit reunions and retreats.
- Integrative wellness programs that improve body, mind and spirit through a variety of health therapies including NeuroFitness, specialized equipment, counseling, video resources and sports programs.
Our network of staff, volunteers and resources spans the globe, and we process an average of 100 grant requests daily. It’s important to note, too, that we do so with a bare minimum of red tape: once a grant is approved, funds are typically distributed in 24-72 hours.
All of us at the Fund, and particularly all of those we assist, are forever grateful for the extraordinary support of The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation. Not only has this very successful partnership inspired patriots across the country to double their impact to our mission, it’s enabled us to expand that mission significantly.
When the Fund began in 2004, for example, we focused on serving Marines who were injured in their post-9/11 service. In 2012, we expanded our assistance to cover post-9/11 service members from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.
In July 2018, we announced a new pilot program. The LCpl Bob Parsons Welcome Home Fund for Vietnam Veterans cares for catastrophically injured veterans from all U.S. service branches who suffered their injuries as the result of combat operations in Vietnam. It’s designed to provide transportation, housing and medical care grants to veterans living with blindness, paralysis, amputation, burns over 50 percent of their body, severe traumatic brain injury and life-threatening illness due to Agent Orange exposure.
I’m humbled by the words of Renee Parsons who recently said, “While there are many worthwhile organizations that need support, we know that a contribution to the Semper Fi Fund is one of the best investments we can make toward helping our service members and their families.”
All of us at the Fund believe deeply that those who have given so much to all Americans deserve nothing but the best in return. That’s why we’ve pledged to make sure that those we assist have the resources they need not just during their recovery and transition back to their communities, but for a lifetime, if necessary.
It’s not just what we do, it’s who we are: “Semper Fi” means “Always Faithful,” and for 15 inspiring years (and many more to come), that’s what we’ve been to those we assist: faithful to their unique and specific needs in ways that improve their lives for the long term.
Changing lives for the better and for the long term. After all is said and done, that’s what philanthropy is about.
Wendy Lethin has been involved with the Semper Fi Fund since its inception in 2004, as a member of the operational team and as a member and Secretary of the Board of Directors. Wendy has worked in all areas of Fund operations and is currently the Vice President of Community Outreach. Cookie Magazine, in their first annual “Smart Cookie” Awards, recognized Wendy for mothers who make a difference in the world. Wendy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. She is the wife of a veteran and the mother of three sons, two who are also veterans.