LOS ANGELES, CA (September 8, 2020) – Operation Gratitude announced the expansion of its BRIDGE Council this week, as America commemorates the 19th anniversary of 9/11 and the start of our nation’s longest war. A grassroots movement focused on volunteerism and community building, the Council has worked collaboratively to bridge the civilian-service divide through gratitude and engagement in dozens of cities nationwide.
Two years ago, Operation Gratitude formed the BRIDGE Council, an action-oriented coalition of Fortune 100 companies, nonprofit leaders, and civic partners, to bring together communities like Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Baltimore with the stated goal of building bridges and meaningful connections between our military, our police and fire departments, and the communities they serve. In light of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake, the time is now to ensure an environment of empathy and unity and to defuse tensions. To do so, the Council invited community organizers, military leaders, metropolitan police chiefs, and local government officials to help identify actionable next steps to bridge divides and increase our engagement with communities of color.
“Since perhaps World War II, our country hasn’t faced a moment in its history when proactive citizen engagement was more essential. Operation Gratitude has long sought to heal divides by connecting the protectors with the protected in a ‘safe space’ where they could not only freely engage with mutual respect, but also find common purpose,” said retired Marine Sherman Gillums, the Chief Advocacy Officer for AMVETS. “Now that the stakes have risen much higher, so too must our involvement as citizens who support both our police and members of the community. This is why I joined the BRIDGE Council.”
As COVID-19 and racial injustice devastate and divide communities, Operation Gratitude and the BRIDGE Council have renewed their commitment to make meaningful connections between those who serve and the citizens they protect. In 2021 , the Council has committed to:
Increase the diverse representation and perspectives of the national BRIDGE Council to ensure the inclusion of experiences that speak to the challenges of racial injustice, discrimination, and policing.
Create between 4 to 6 sub-Councils at the local level. Potential cities include: Los Angeles, Washington D.C, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newark, Seattle, Nashville, Atlanta, and Chicago;
Provide support to any city that expresses an interest in planning and executing a community-wide service project that helps to bridge divides and unite communities.
“The civilian-military and larger civilian-service divide will not be resolved in a conference room or from a podium in Washington D.C.,” said the CEO of Operation Gratitude, retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Schmiegel. “It will be bridged at the local level with actions that are focused on creating opportunities that build understanding and empathy on both sides of the divide. I have seen it firsthand in more than 30 communities that we brought together over the past two years. In each city, local volunteers left with a better understanding of service, and the First Responders carried on with renewed strength and felt closer to the citizens they protect. In many cases, civilians were inspired to interact more with those who serve; and the military installations, police departments, and fire stations took real steps to forge stronger bonds, inviting the volunteers back for family days, back to school projects and other community building events.”
These efforts come at a critical time in our nation’s history, as American civilians are less personally connected to service than ever before. Nineteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, hundreds of thousands of service members continue to deploy each year, and a majority of military families feel increasingly isolated from their communities and disconnected from their civilian counterparts. According to a recent Blue Star Families survey, 40% of military family respondents do not feel a sense of belonging to their local civilian community.
Year after year, the annual Bureau of Justice Statistics on Contacts Between Police and the Public shows a similar “civilian-service divide” between the general populace and police officers. In the October 2018 survey, the number of Americans age 16 or older who had contact with the police declined from 26% to 21% in four years, a drop of more than 9 million people.
“I truly believe that a lack of positive interactions, understanding, and empathy are contributing factors to the divides that exist between our communities and police officers,” said Inspector Altovise Love Craighead of the Philadelphia Police Department. “We must do better for our communities and for our children. People on both sides are getting killed and this constant divide is getting wider and wider. We must build bridges and it starts with empathy and consideration for what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.”
Members of Operation Gratitude’s BRIDGE Council include:
- Jim Beamesderfer – Vice President, Inclusive Solutions, Veterans Initiative, Prudential Financial
- Pat Burke – Executive Director, DC Police Foundation
- John Campbell – Senior Buyer, Target
- Dave Casey – Chief Diversity Officer, CVS Health
- Ry Colman – Manager, Customer and Community Engagement, Veterans United Home Loans
- Sherman Gillums – Chief Strategy Officer, AMVETS
- Meghann Glavin – Director of Global Social Impact, Starbucks
- Jennifer Huggins – Director of Military and Veterans Partnerships, Wizards of the Coast
- Dan Kleinman – Senior Vice President of Marketing, Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits
- Rob Lackman – former Chief Operating Officer, Gorilla Glue
- Sean Lavin – Vice President of Mission, Liquid IV
- Tim LeBel – President of Sales, Mars Wrigley
- Altovise Love-Craighead -Inspector, Philadelphia Police Department
- Kevin Schmiegel – CEO, Operation Gratitude
- Shirley Anne Smith – Executive Director, Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation
- Bryan Tucker – Vice President of Communications, CSX
In the lead up to 9/11 this week, Operation Gratitude will bring together the communities of Washington D.C. and Los Angeles to assemble 20,000 Care Packages with the help of the BRIDGE Council, as well as financial, product and volunteer support from the Council’s newest member, Starbucks. The care packages filled with hundreds of thousands of individual items, handmade paracord bracelets, and handwritten letters will be delivered to 12,000 deployed Service Members globally and 8,000 First Responders in Washington DC, New York City, and Shanksville, PA — the cities that were attacked by terrorists 19 years ago.
The BRIDGE Council is composed of passionate leaders and advocates from the public, private and nonprofit sectors who are working together to bridge the civilian-service divide with a grassroots movement focused on volunteerism, gratitude, and meaningful engagements at the community level. The Council was formed on September 11, 2018 with a mission to build and strengthen communities by bringing civilians together with those who serve and their families.
Operation Gratitude’s mission is to forge strong bonds between Americans and servicemen and women and their families through volunteer service projects, acts of gratitude, and meaningful engagements in communities nationwide. More than 17 years ago, in March of 2003, Operation Gratitude sent its first four Care Packages to deployed Service Members in Iraq. Since its inception, the organization has given millions of Americans the opportunity to express appreciation through hands-on volunteerism and lifted the spirits of more than 1.8 million Deployed Troops, and another 1.1 million recruit graduates, veterans, military families, first responders, and healthcare heroes. Corporate partners and grateful citizens from across the country donate more than 15 million “Wish List” and handmade items each year to fill the Care Packages. Through donation drives, letter-writing campaigns, craft projects, hands-on service projects, and other activities, volunteers are the heart and soul of the organization.
Images were taken at Operation Gratitude deliveries to First Responders in Virginia and in Cincinnati with CSX.