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Coast Guard Foundation LEADERBOARD 1

A Q&A with Susan Ludwig on the Coast Guard Foundation's latest happenings

by David Schmidt 17 Mar 2021 08:00 PDT March 17, 2021
Throughout the pandemic Coast Guard members have been actively battling the spread of the disease while fulfilling their missions © US Coast Guard

The last year may not have been great for organized sailboat racing, but it has seen a huge spike in new and used boat sales. While this is great for the marine industry and has helped deliver COVID-safe bubbles for countless families on all coasts and many lakes, it also means that there are a lot of newer boaters on the water. And while we all like to think that the next boater is as careful and cautious as we all are, the unvarnished truth is that this isn't always the case.

Should things go pear-shaped on the water, it's the United States Coast Guard's job (amongst many other important tasks) to step in and help. Literally thousands of American and Canadian lives have been saved by the tireless work of the brave men and women who wear the USCG uniform, however this begs an important question. Namely, who helps USCG servicemembers and their families through hardships or when—goodness forbid—the ultimate sacrifice has been made?

Enter the Coast Guard Foundation, which is one of the best non-profits that all sailors should know about.

I checked in with Susan Ludwig, president of the Coast Guard Foundation, via email, to get the latest updates on this important non-profit.

The pandemic has been hard for all Americans. How has it affected the Coast Guard Foundation?

When the pandemic hit, we took two immediate actions. First, I reached out to the Coast Guard to see how we could best help during the pandemic. We eventually focused on three areas.

We outfitted 125 quarantine facilities so exposed members did not infect others and impact Coast Guard readiness. The Coast Guard funded the rooms and we funded essential amenities.

We also rushed morale funds to 25 large Coast Guard ships whose deployments were extended with no shore leave due to COVID. And lastly, we assisted units in remote areas and large bases where Coast Guard members were facing many challenges while still accomplishing their missions.

Our second action was to slash our operating budget. We knew we would have less funding due to the cancellation of nearly all our in-person events, which raise a significant amount for our operations. So, we deferred a lot of needed expenses so we could weather the storm and focus on supporting the Coast Guard.

In that same vein, has the pandemic made it harder for the Coast Guard Foundation to raise funds through your traditional channels?

We usually host eight fundraising dinners nationwide—all but three were cancelled. And two of those three were held virtually.

Much of our fundraising also occurs through in-person meetings with our wonderful partners. These stopped and continue to be rare. But our team worked with donors by phone, email, and video to let them know how valiantly the Coast Guard was performing its vital missions, even during the pandemic.

Although fundraising was down substantially in 2020, we are grateful for the loyal support we received from so many people who recognized the value the Coast Guard provides our Nation.

Given that big gala events/tribute dinners have been off the table due to the coronavirus, has the Coast Guard Foundation found other innovative and more socially distanced opportunities to educate the public about the foundation's mission and to help raise funds in the past year?

We learned a lot about virtual events last year, and we're planning an online gala and several virtual meetings this year. But we also focused on ways to strengthen relationships with partners-our board, major gift donors, and direct mail and digital donors who support us year after year.

We did this with regional video meetings so board members and key donors could learn about Coast Guard issues. And we increased digital communication to our broader community. We saw these as vital ways to share Coast Guard needs and how the Foundation addresses them.

Can you give us an overview of the Red Stripe Fund? What is its mission, and how has it compliment the Coast Guard Foundation's bigger-picture objectives?

The Red Stripe endowment, established by Foundation Director Fred Brodsky, supports several existing program areas including scholarships for Coast Guard kids and projects that support the health and wellness of Coast Guard members. It also provides funding for Coast Guard K-9s and future needs.

But what Red Stripe really is, is leadership in action.

This endowment allows us to grow these vital programs knowing there is a base of funding for them. Increasing endowed funds is a strategic priority. It sustains aid to the Coast Guard despite interruptions to annual fundraising, such as during COVID and the Great Recession. It is truly the future of Coast Guard support, and Fred's leadership will make a world of difference for Coast Guard members and families, now and in perpetuity.

Have you found that the pandemic has shifted the usual ways in which the Coast Guard Foundation helps members of the USCG and their families? If so, can you explain?

In addition to COVID-specific aid, which included 185 projects around the country, we assessed how the pandemic would impact other programs that provide vital assistance to Coast Guard families.

For example, the country shut down as our scholarship period was ending and many students couldn't access their transcripts. Based on our size, we can be nimble and provide really personalized service on a national-scale. So, we worked with students individually to complete their applications and awarded 167 scholarships.

We also focused on fundraising for our workforce development and employment assistance programs.

Even before the pandemic, military spouses had a 24% unemployment rate with another 56% underemployed. You see, their commitment to the nation as a military spouse requires them to move frequently and with each move, they lose seniority or find they need different skills in their new job market. So, the Coast Guard Foundation provides grants for the spouses of junior members to improve their skills, re-train, or obtain new licenses.

I think it's fair to say that most sailors would be pretty surprised to learn that, while the U.S. Government provides funding to other branches of the armed services for gym/fitness equipment, the USCG needs to provide most of this equipment themselves, often through support from the Coast Guard Foundation. Why is this so? Also, can donors earmark gifts to specifically help fund this equipment?

Coast Guard units are small and located in high-cost, coastal communities without access to facilities at large DOD bases. So, while the Coast Guard budget provides a small amount for morale and fitness support, it does not go far.

The Coast Guard Foundation fills this gap with workout and recreation gear to help Coast Guard members remain physically ready for their work and maintain their mental edge while stationed at sea or in remote areas.

Many donors earmark funds for specific Coast Guard units, and it is a wonderful way to show appreciation for the crews who safeguard their local waters.

One of my most fulfilling duties is visiting Coast Guard units, and inevitably the crews show me the treadmill, the weight machine, or the paddle board they purchased with Foundation funds. These humble heroes are so thankful for the support our community provides.

Likewise, can donors specifically earmark gifts for scholarships? If so, how does this work?

We aim to fund $500,000 in scholarships annually for Coast Guard children enrolling in college or technical schools. Thousands of donors contribute to this effort every year, and many generously set up a four-year scholarship for a student.

Our goal is to grow these four-year scholarships and endow more of them to help Coast Guard children in perpetuity. And it is simple for the donor; they make a pledge, we handle the rest, and a child's dream becomes reality.

When you think of all the good that the Coast Guard Foundation does to help the USCG service members and their families, what part/aspect are you most proud of and why?

This is a great question and not easily answered because so much of what we do makes a significant difference for Coast Guard members and families.

It's truly an honor to watch Coast Guard kids succeed in college and see a spouse contribute to their family's financial well-being. And I am quite proud of how our community aids Coast Guard members impacted by tragedies.

Last year we came to the rescue of 153 Coast Guard families who suffered substantial loss from hurricanes and wildfires, assisting their immediate needs as they helped others rebuild.

Also, it is humbling to be there for families when a member dies or is critically injured on duty. Through the generosity of our partners, we provide critical support for families of Coast Guard fallen heroes. It is among the most essential and necessary things we can do.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Recreational boating and sailing have exploded since [last] spring. In turn, Coast Guard rescues were up at least 12% over the prior year. At the same time the Coast Guard is deployed from the Indo-Pacific to the Arabian Gulf advancing security and diplomacy while also helping the maritime community defend itself in cyberspace. They are busier than ever, and we are committed to supporting them into the future.

We could not do this without our partners. I want to applaud and thank your readers who are already part of our community, and invite the rest to join us.

[Editor's Note: To learn more about the Coast Guard Foundation, or to make a donation, navigate your web browser to coastguardfoundation.org]

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