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7 Questions with Mark Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund

Today we welcome Mark Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, to answer 7 Questions! Mark E. Robbins, CAE, has been executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund since 2008. Prior to that he held positions with several trade associations with a focus on membership, communications, development and chapter relations. These organizations included the Career College Association, Community Associations Institute, National Association of Manufacturers, American Subcontractors Association and the American Society for Information Science. Earlier in his career he worked as an admissions officer for Marymount University (Va.) and Marian University (Ind.). Mark earned his B.A. in political science from Penn State University and has received the designation of Certified Association Executive (CAE) from the American Society of Association Executives.

1.What motivated you to begin working with this organization? What need does it fulfill and how is your organization working towards meeting it?

I came to the Yellow Ribbon Fund after a former boss of mine, who was volunteering with the group at the time, told me they were looking for an executive director. After meeting with the chairman and several board members, I was offered the job. My favorite jobs were always ones that had a cause, someplace where my work made a difference. At the Yellow Ribbon Fund, we make a huge difference for many injured service members and their families. We provide practical assistance that the government cannot. There is a special pride in helping these brave men and women and their families.

2.What was your most interesting recent development, update, project, event, or partnership?

This spring we’ve dramatically expanded our support for the family caregivers of injured service members, who are often overlooked. We were one of the first to recognize their sacrifices — mostly moms and young wives who drop everything to help their injured loved one recover. To help them do that, we’ve been providing them with free therapeutic massages and caregiver outings for mutual support. We just launched our first Caregiver Resource Fair at Walter Reed, our first Caregiver Retreat, and collaborated with University of Maryland University College and The Blewitt Foundation to offer one-of-a-kind caregiver scholarships.

The Pillars of Strength scholarships are full-ride scholarships to UMUC that make it possible for caregivers to prepare for their changed circumstances. After helping their service member recover, they often have a years-long gap in their resumes, and may also have to become the primary breadwinner.

For the Caregiver Retreat, we took 10 caregivers on a three-day/two night respite retreat in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Many of them had never spent a day away from their injured son or husband since the injury happened. We gave them the opportunity to nap, read, do crafts together, go out for a relaxing walking tour and gourmet meals, or just eat in bed if that?s what they wanted. Mostly, they got to spend time with others who understand what it means to care for their loved one every day.

3.What other projects are you up to?

Through our Ambassador Program, we’re growing a nationwide network of volunteers so we can continue to provide hands-on support to injured service members and their families after they go home. They’re scattered in communities across the country, and while some do just fine, others need help reintegrating. To keep them from falling through the cracks, as a nation we have to weave a safety net of support, and we’re at the forefront of making that happen. Our volunteer ambassadors, more than 100 of them now, are doing everything from providing rides to the VA to helping with job hunts and home renovations to just being a listening ear.

4.Who inspires you? Do you have a hero?

Our donors inspire me. It is always rewarding to see a donation come in. Sometimes it is from our own hard work; other times the donation seems to comes in from out of nowhere, like the anonymous donor who recently sent us $250,000. Or the envelope I just opened today with a $5,000 check and a note that said, “Keep up the good work!” It’s a humbling reminder that each time we hold an event, or post on our Web site or Facebook page, or speak to a group, people are listening. Large or small, all of our donors are heroic to me.

5.What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces, and how are you working towards combating this issue?

Our greatest challenge will be educating people that the needs won?t end when the war does. Troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, which means there will be fewer injured service members — thankfully! But while our current mission focuses on the injured while they?re being treated at Walter Reed and Ft. Belvoir, the young men and women who have lost limbs and suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will be challenged by these issues for years to come. Going forward, our mission will shift more and more toward outreach, staying in touch with the injured after they return to their hometowns through our Ambassador Program. Our staff and volunteers are already making a difference to returning veterans all across the country.

6. What advice do you have for other people in your position?

My best advice is to stay honest, open and transparent when talking about your nonprofit. Credibility is everything and you never want to do anything to compromise it.

7.What’s next for your organization, both in the short term and long term?

We will continue to focus on the injured as they come to the hospital, take care of their family members, and let them know we won’t forget about the sacrifice they made.