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Robin Kelleher

Founder, President and CEO, Hope for the Warriors

“Recognize that making an impact doesn’t have to be front-page news. Simply being a good and kind person will make a positive impact.”

While serving our country through the military is tremendously rewarding, military service can have a profound impact on the individual and the family. Service members experience more depression, anxiety, stress, health issues and strains on family relationships than nonmilitary families. Serving all 50 states, Hope for the Warriors provides mental wellness services, resiliency training, a suite of well-being programs and, most of all, hope to more than 35,000 members of the U.S. military community. Hope is one of only a few veteran-focused organizations founded and led by a woman, and two-thirds of our staff are either veterans or spouses of service members. 

The problem I’m trying to solve

In 2003 my Marine husband deployed to Iraq for the first of many times. As a military wife, I was responsible for connecting with our unit’s families and ensuring they were well and thriving. It was a full-time job managing my family and house, plus the constant fear of injury or death of our loved ones. I witnessed firsthand the impact that repeat deployments had on my family, neighbors and friends, as well as on those who returned physically and psychologically wounded. In 2004 our best friend was severely wounded and sent back to the U.S. to begin a long journey of recovery. Frequent separations, injuries and fear put a lot of pressure on military families, and access to resources and help was limited at that time. 

The moment that sparked my passion

In 2006 I led a team of wives in organizing what became the First Annual Run for the Warriors at a Marine Corps base in North Carolina, in support of wounded Marines and to raise awareness of the toll that combat takes on service members and their families. We had over 2,000 participants. During the opening ceremony it started pouring rain — so hard you couldn’t see right in front of you. And no one flinched, complained or left. Watching those Marines surround their wounded comrades was so powerful that I knew I had to do something to address the unmet needs of injured military families. 

What I wish other people knew

There’s much more going on in the military than most people are aware of. I often hear, “Why do we need to support military families when we’re not at war?” The physical, mental and moral injuries that service members endure are lifelong, even with all the advances in medical care. In some cases these injuries don’t fully manifest themselves until years after service.  Most of the people we work with have not one but a host of injuries: traumatic amputations, concussions, internal injuries from multiple blasts, not to mention trauma-related stress. 

Advice to others who want to make a difference

Recognize that making an impact doesn’t have to be front-page news. I know two high school boys in Florida who power-wash windows in their free time, entirely for donations. They’ve raised almost $10,000 for Hope for the Warriors. They started small, did something they knew how to do, and now they’ve encouraged their friends to join them. It’s had a positive financial result for us, inspired other kids and impressed people whose windows they’ve washed. Simply being a good and kind person will make a positive impact. 

Why my approach is unique

When we first started, we focused on the catastrophically wounded, like a lot of other organizations. We recognized quickly that resources were abundant in hospitals but not in communities. We needed to follow the wounded home. We do whatever it takes to help those we serve and, even more important, to stay connected with them and keep them connected with others.

We also partner with the University of Southern California to offer internships in the school’s social work program, and then we hire the graduates to work in their communities around the country. We recognize that all service members and military families have their own goals and needs and that ideal resources do not always exist in their communities. We restore self, family and hope through our national services, virtual capabilities and partners.