Since the beginning stages of brainstorming this foundation, I envisioned what the ultimate goal was. The name "RT Foundation" didn't come about until months of planning; in fact, I had no idea what I was going to name my creation. Through unfortunate circumstances, I decided to incorporate my father and brother's initials into the name. I made a list of words....STRONG words...that started with "R" and "T" and from there decided "Resilience through Tragedy" was nothing short of perfect. That was the easy part. Figuring out the legalities, mission and events was going to be challenging. How will I engage my audience when I pitch this idea? How will I get people involved and want to help? How will I teach people what Gold Star means? That's where I planted my goal and began to water it. I knew I wanted something set apart from other 501(c)3 organizations and I knew I wanted to be able to personally honor every military member we have lost and also fully support everyone who is still active or retired.
A Night of Comedy came from left field and to be honest, I was skeptical it would be successful. Months of planning, many nights researching comedians and persistently following up to see if their schedule was free and if they would consider volunteering their time, finding contacts and a venue, negotiating contracts and selling tickets. That skeptical feeling fully subsided when I saw how many comedians jumped at the idea of supporting this cause. Fast forward 4 years and A Night of Comedy is now the most popular event organized through RT Foundation! What is the point I am trying to make? If you believe in something you're passionate about and you work hard enough to bring it to life, it can happen.
Saturday night I boarded a plane to Washington, D.C. and when I landed, my fellow Gold Star sister Jane picked me up from the airport and we went directly to the Ambassador of Afghanistan's house. I was wearing jeans, Converse, a beanie and a Baghdad Country Club hoodie. Not one ounce of my being thought I'd be taken seriously. By the end of the night, I had discussed my foundation, told Tim and my dad's story, left brochures and exchanged business cards. I was even asked if I'd be traveling to Afghanistan any time soon.
Yesterday morning, I dressed myself in a much more professional outfit, collected my brochures and ran the lines I had practiced the past few days through my head. I drove to the Pentagon and after going through security, I was escorted upstairs to Undersecretary of Defense Anthony Kurta's office. A young gentleman in uniform sat behind me with a note pad. Mr. Kurta shook my hand and said to me "Resilience through Tragedy, correct?" And I nodded in shock that he actually took the time to read my website before I arrived. I felt a wave of calmness come over me and I began my presentation. He began scribbling notes on a brochure then moving to a notepad; occasionally looking up at me over his reading glasses and saying things such as "I will get you those contacts and resources" and "I don't have the answer to that but I will absolutely look into it for you", when I began questioning Gold Star policies. Why are Gold Star families roped off on the tarmac during the dignified transfer? Why are Gold Star families (in most cases) not eligible for USAA? What are motivational speaker programs the families can get involved in to tell their story and alleviate the grieving process? He acknowledged every single question I asked him and by the time I left, he had passed me his personal business card to contact him anytime and I, in return, handed him a folded American Flag which flew at my brother's funeral over the road during the procession. He asked the city and state where the flag flew, wrote it down, and said "we will find a place in the Pentagon to display this"
My conclusion is this. If I had let that skepticism win years ago, I would have never experienced what I did this past weekend. I took something I've worked so hard for and brought it straight to the top because I'm not afraid to lose. This foundation is my heart and soul but I've certainly lost way worse. However, I am not about to add another casualty to that list.
Because of this and all of you who continue to support RT Foundation, we will never have one fallen service member go a day without their name being said. Their sacrifices will never fade and their legacies will never die. I promise to keep paying it forward and I promise to never fail everyone who has walked next to me through this journey. The next chapter is only a page away.....