Military Families: A Network of Support
with Jon Rosa of ThanksUSA
Military families face unique challenges before, during and following deployment.
Jon Rosa, President and CEO of ThanksUSA, shares opportunities that exist to alleviate these hardships, and position military families to achieve their professional and educational aspirations.
October 30, 2020
Anderson: Every year, we honor the sacrifice of American service members and veterans. But standing right beside America's heroes are spouses and children, providing unwavering support as their loved ones defend our freedom. Hello and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Tetiana Anderson. Military family members are faced with some pretty unique challenges in ways that are all too often overlooked. And joining me to discuss all of this is Jon Rosa. He is the president and CEO of ThanksUSA. And, Jon, thank you for joining us.
Rosa: Thanks. Appreciate the opportunity to be here.
Anderson: So, spouses, children -- they serve right alongside the service member. But that comes with some unique challenges when it comes to education, employment. When we're talking about children of service members, what are some of the barriers to achieving higher education? What does that even look like?
Rosa: I think there's a couple of big issues. Number one, it's just the financial challenge. You know, our military service members make great sacrifices, but the financial compensation isn't always there. So I think really the financial piece is important. And then, secondly, is just the transient nature of our military service members constantly moving. Makes it difficult whether they're in high school or in college. You know, really, when you have a family, that's in Iwakuni, Japan, or Darmstadt, Germany, and trying to attend a college in the United States, it's very challenging. So we work hard to help address both of those issues.
Anderson: And it's not just the children. It's the spouses. And when we hear about spouses of military service members, we often hear a word called underemployment. What does that mean? What are they facing?
Rosa: So, I think in many cases, you know, the underemployment issue with military families is very challenging. And, you know, again, it goes back to the transient nature. When you're constantly moving every two years or three years, it's very difficult to be able to, you know, really, really work on your career and to be able to, you know, focus on a job that you really want to do. I think that really doubles for our folks that are overseas, because there are even greater challenges in securing educational opportunity and employment opportunities overseas. And so I think that's where we see some of our greatest challenges.
Anderson: So the whole point of ThanksUSA is really to change some of these circumstances. So what are you guys doing when it comes to helping people out with education, with employment? You've got some pretty interesting programs going on.
Rosa: Yeah. So we have two major programs that really help address this issue. Number one is our scholarship program. So we provide academic scholarships to the spouses, daughters, and sons of our active-duty service members and post-9/11 veterans and really help them out with the financial burden that exists for our military families. The second, we have a program called Pathways for Patriots. And the Pathways program is designed to be able to help both service members, spouses, and, also, our younger dependents get into into the workforce. Whether that's the first job or a job after 15 years being out of the workforce, that program is designed to be able to help out, not just to be able to train our families to be able to be more competitive, but, also, to work in the workforce and make sure that they understand the unique benefits that military spouses, military families bring to the table. The nature of a military spouse is very special. If you're looking as an employer for someone who is a jack of all trades, who can get the job done without complaining, I assure you a military spouse is the person you're looking for.
Anderson: So, Jon, ThanksUSA really deals at a high level with some pretty important solutions to some pretty deep challenges, but the fact is, is this organization was started at a very grassroots level. It was started by two sisters who were just 8 and 10 at the time. Give us their brief story, and explain how it led to ThanksUSA.
Rosa: Absolutely. Rachel and Kelsi are just a couple of amazing young women who at an early age, they saw their neighbor coming back from a war and wanted to help out. They wanted to provide a way to be able to say thank you, but wanted to be very genuine and sincere about it, so they did a lot of research in the community. They talked with their neighbors and others to be able to find out what would be a really impactful way to be able to show their appreciation and gratitude and at the end of the day, you know, really, the biggest concern and care that that soldier had was how were his children gonna be taken care of. And I think that was something that really rang true to them, so the creation of our scholarship program really came out of that conversation and is really the backbone of why we do what we do. Now for over 15 years, we have provided over 5,000 scholarships to the tune of more than $15 million.
Anderson: It's amazing. And, you know, this is something that you also have a deep personal connection to. You are the spouse of a military service member. Within that context, how important is it for you that the rest of the nation really understand the struggles that you and others like you go through and understand the important ways that the public can help?
Rosa: Yeah. You know, as a veteran, you know, when I was young and single and in the service, I didn't think a lot about this. But now as a spouse, and it's something, you know, with a family, it's something that I guess a lot of people don't see. You know, we see our service members coming back from war, from deployments, and I think we celebrate that. But the reality is, is that that's not the end of the challenges our service members face -- the constant deployments, the constant traveling, moving every couple of years, trying to create some stability within your life is very challenging. I would say probably one of the greatest challenges is just the separation. You know, you can't always be together. My wife is 2,000 miles away right now, and we see each other as frequently as she can, but that's not always the case. So I would say that, you know, it's something that we want to make sure everybody understands is that, you know, military families are just like any others. I think at the end of the day, as an organization, we want to make sure we can, you know, provide an equal playing field and really give everyone in our military an opportunity to be successful through education.
Anderson: And if people want to find out more about what ThanksUSA does, give us your website.
Rosa: You can visit us at thanksusa.org and learn more about our programs and ways to support.
Anderson: Jon Rosa, thank you so much for being here.
Rosa: Thanks a lot. We appreciate your time.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.