Helping Heroes Fly helps service members connect with their families!
Helping Heroes Fly, a 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization was founded in February of 2016 by Pam Matt and Terri Keeney to provide airfares to our active duty enlisted military men and women who are frequently unable to purchase their own flights for such things as funerals, the birth of a child, family events, emergencies or just some well deserved R & R.
A 2 year old non-profit with lessons to teach us all
You will often see interviews with long established non-profits as part of the Friday Feature Interview Series, but sometimes it is helpful to speak with founders in the their first five years. There is a vibrancy, and enthusiasm apparent in those early years that is just plain inspiring!
We’re talking with Pam Matt and Terri Keeney.
Pam is the mother of a USMC veteran, and the grandmother of seven! She worked in the airline industry for 18 years, as a system customer service manager. Terri is a self described “housewife and community volunteer” with a passion for supporting the troops.
You can find out more about their 501(c)(3) organization, Helping Heroes Fly, at their website.
- Tell us about you? What attracted you to the non profit sector, and/or to this non profit?
Terri: In Nov of 2015 I just casually asked a friend if her army son was going to come home for Thanksgiving. She said “no, he can’t afford it”. That is when I learned that those who sacrifice to defend our country are paid at near poverty level wages for the first few years of service. After my emotions ran from sad to mad I was determined to do something to help, if I could do something to help lift that burden and support our troops in a way they really NEEDED, I was going to. I looked into starting a nonprofit; the red tape and paperwork seemed daunting to me so for a month I stewed and talked and dreamed. My daughter was cutting Pam’s daughter’s hair and happened to mention my dream. Pam’s daughter suggested I contact Pam who, she was certain, “would be all over that”. I did and that was the beginning of our lives, and the lives of 200 military families and counting (since Feb of 2016), changed forever. The rest, as they say, is history. And it’s been glorious!
I do not have a military background, I just have a heart and appreciation for the service they provide our country. Putting “support our troops” into action by providing airfare has become my passion.
Pam: This entire organization would not exist today if it wasn’t for Terri’s initial dream about helping military men and women and not wanting them to have to miss out on the opportunity to be home with families, particularly during holidays. Her friend’s military son was not going to be able to be home with his family at Thanksgiving because of the lack of funds, so this notion inspired Terri to try and do something about this. She reached out to me for help after my daughter told her daughter that I would probably be interested in helping her. I had a son in the Marines and knew all too well the sacrifices that our troops have to make and the challenges that they face, particularly in their early careers as they are paid at near poverty levels. My love and passion for the military drove me to absolutely want to do this with Terri ~ so began our adventure!
In addition, I am married, have three children, seven grandchildren and I am a retired Frontier Airlines System Customer Service Manager. Because of my prior experience in the airline industry, this seemed a natural fit for me ~ to be able to research, book and purchase flights for our precious military men and women was just an extension of what I’m used to doing! My greatest desire is just to give back to those who are so willing to give ALL for our country. If we can help in some small way, this is where I want to be, working/running a nonprofit organization.
- What’s your mission and how do you fund the work of your organization?
Terri: We provide airfare to enlisted military members to get home when they need to but can’t afford it. Those who defend our country should be able to see their baby be born, attend a funeral or spend a holiday with family regardless of finances.
Pam: We raise funds, primarily through private donations, in order to be able to provide airfare for enlisted active duty military men and women so that they are able to be home with families for such things as holidays; the birth of a child; funerals; families emergencies or even much needed R & R. We work with all branches of the military and operate on a first come, first served basis. We do not discriminate on the basis of branch of service, race, sex, rank, religion and consider no request more important than another.
Here is a video that explains the work of Helping our Heroes:
- Have you had a mentor or influential person in your life who encouraged you?
Pam: I’d have to say my father, who was extraordinarily patriotic and a lover of America, not to mention a hard-working man of extreme integrity was my biggest influence. Likewise, my son, Tyler, USMC; my daughter, Alicia, a firefighter; and my other daughter, Megan, also a former airline employee and a very dedicated, loving mother to three are also very influential to me. They give continually and also sacrifice so much in their daily lives. They definitely inspire me!
Terri: Volunteering all over our community in many different roles and aspects was the biggest influence for me in “how to”…Pam is probably the biggest encourager. I do not have a military background, but learning how they struggle in this area and knowing they are so appreciative of our help makes my drive grow with each ticket purchase.
- If someone out there is developing a non profit org what one piece of advice would you give them?
Terri: Don’t give up! Don’t do it alone. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is totally 100% worth it.
Pam: Terri and I have learned that humility goes out the door when you start a nonprofit. For people such as she and me, who have never “asked” for anything but rather prefer to give, this has been humbling!
We have learned that we:
1.) have to learn to speak in public even though it’s uncomfortable, if we want to let people know that we’re here and we want to help.
2.) We have had to ask media outlets to share our story to raise awareness and hopefully inspire people to give. Neither of us want to ever ASK for money, but rather let the stories of those we’ve had the honor of helping do the talking for us.
I personally do not believe in writing appeal letters, asking for donations. I want the mission to speak for itself. She and I do not take salaries, volunteering all of our time and donating many of the operational needs in order to keep our costs at a bare minimum.
In our initial year, 2016 and as well this past year, 2017, our expenses were 3.5% or thereabouts. We strive to keep them low in order to even be able to purchase one more ticket. It’s that important to us. Our dream is to never have to close applications due to a lack of funds.
- Are there too many non profit organizations?
Terri: There is definitely not a lack of organizations competing for donations, that’s for sure! I can tell you there are precious few that do anything similar to what we do.
Pam: I don’t believe there are too many nonprofits. Everyone serves a purpose and has a priority. We are the only organization that provides free airfare to active duty military that operates year ’round. There is at least one other that does this during the holidays but we have found that weddings, funerals, and emergencies occur all year long so the need is there and we are doing our best too meet that need.
- What has been your greatest success?
Terri: Each ticket that reunites a military family is a success. Receiving 2 large grants that we didn’t even apply for (a wife saw us in Woman’s World magazine and showed her husband who heads up a foundation) was a huge success and real validation that our efforts are worthy.
Pam: [our] Greatest success can only be measured by the impact of each individual that we have been fortunate to help, thanks to our donors. Every story is important; every reason to go home is personal and precious. One story that is my “go to story” is that we were contacted by a First Sgt in the Marines last March, asking if we could provide flights for 30 of her Marines to attend the funeral of a fallen brother who was tragically killed outside the base. The entire unit wanted to attend his funeral in IL. We told them that we would purchase flights until our money ran out. She sent us 14 applications and we were able to meet all of those requests. I don’t think anyone can put a value on what that meant to the Marines and what that meant to that young man’s family, to have them there at such a difficult time.
Terri: Fundraising is a big challenge. Finding/qualifying for grants has been challenging. Spreading awareness of this very real need/struggle of our troops has been challenging. Believe it or not, many people still think they “get everything for free”, that the military pays for them to get home for funerals etc.
Pam: The biggest challenge is that as we grow, (200 hundred tickets purchased to date in less than 2 years of operation) we are getting a fairly constant stream of applications and the idea of having to close applications is frustrating. We are in a great position currently, thanks to a very generous donor, but we do need a continual source of funds. We are currently in the planning stages of two fundraisers in our area but are always excited to hear ideas that others around the country have for us! We have had several people and a couple of businesses do fundraising efforts on our behalf and that is fun!
- What are the 2-3 most useful tools/resources in your work?
Pam: We rely heavily on social media and word of mouth. In our relatively small community in Northern Colorado,there’s not a large military presence so our base only extends so far. We have flown troops from all corners of the world, back to the U.S. but although sharing our story is something that the local media has helped with somewhat, we use international platforms for most of our communications. We try to keep our presence in the forefront on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as much as possible without overwhelming it and wearing out our welcome, so to speak.
- How can people support your work?
Terri: [You can] donate, share social media posts/page – Helping Heroes fly on Facebook and Twitter, designate us as charity on Amazon Smile and Ebay, donate Capital One reward points, come to our fundraising events if local, buy from fundraising efforts, host a fundraising effort, hand out our fliers, tell friends/co-workers, volunteer at events, donate in-kind items (postage etc)
Pam: Support comes in so many ways. The obvious would be through financial support. Sharing our information and our mission with their friends and family; with military bases and individuals; or even doing a fundraiser for Helping Heroes Fly.
We have had people arrange employee/employer match programs through their companies; we’ve had people do Avon fundraisers; restaurant fundraisers. We had a young lady in Rhode Island do a Bake Sale fundraiser in her community for her senior project needed for graduation.
The ideas are fun and exciting and we are beyond grateful for any and all help!
Donations can be sent to:
Helping Heroes Fly
P.O. Box 337623
Greeley, CO 80633
National Mission is possible outside major cities
A National mission and impact is possible, even if you’re located outside a major city. Using social media creatively, and working to bring attention to your mission and organization can be incredibly effective tools. Helping our Heroes shows how a clear and narrow mission is one of the keys to successful growth of a young non profit organization.
We appreciate Helping Our Heroes founders, Pam Matt and Terri Keeney, for taking the time to participate in this series. We encourage you to visit their website and if their mission inspires you, choose a couple of the “how can you support us” tips to support their work.
We like to share some takeaways from each interview – you can share these on twitter, or facebook, or just take note for your own journey as a leader:
Takeaway #1: “Don’t give up! Don’t do it alone. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is totally 100% worth it.” – Terri Keeney @helpingheroesfly
Takeaway #2: “[You] have to learn to speak in public even though it’s uncomfortable, if [you] want to let people know that we’re here and we want to help” – Pam Matt @helpingheroesfly
Takeaway #3: “A National mission and impact is possible, even if you’re located outside a major city. Using social media creatively, and working to bring attention to your mission and organization can be incredibly effective tools.” – Anna Blanch Rabe @ambrabe
Who would you like to see us interview? Share in the comments or tell us on Twitter!
Friday Feature: Non Profit Leadership is an ongoing series of interviews where we feature a leader making a difference in their community.