Starbucks just gave these 3 military non-profits $25,000
(Photo: US Army, Spc. Liane Schmersahl)

Christmas has come early for three non-profits serving the military community. On Thursday, the Starbucks Foundation released the 25 winners of their Upstanders Challenge. Among the lucky 25 were three organizations that work with the military community: Esposas Militares Hispanas USA (EMHUSA), 4 Paws For Ability, Inc., and Team Red, White & Blue (Team RWB).

The competition was stiff. This fall, applicants submitted almost 1,000 videos on which were voted on and ranked through crowd-sourcing. According to Starbucks, each video’s “buzz” was tracked with an algorithm “based on views, likes and shares on the website and in social media.” Using that algorithm, the organizations were narrowed to a list of 40. From that list, judges selected 25 organizations, bestowing each with a $25,000 grant. Judging criteria included video creativity, community impact, and the organization’s story.

Each organization, while serving military families at large, focuses on a different issue and facet of the community. EMHUSA works to help Spanish-language military families dealing with language barriers. 4 Paws For Ability, Inc. trains and places service dogs for children and veterans who are disabled through the loss of limbs or hearing. Team RWB provides community and engagement for veterans and their families through athletic and health-focused activities.

Janet Sanchez, founder of EMHUSA, was ecstatic upon learning her organization’s status. When we spoke to her at the beginning of the challenge, she emphasized how recent events compelled the organization to participate: ““We became part of the challenge to help our military families in Puerto Rico that have lost some or everything,” Sanchez said at the time.

Now, her hopes will become a reality. “Christmas is around the corner and knowing that we have money to help military families in Puerto Rico makes our hearts and spirits happy, very happy,” Sanchez said.

EMHUSA plans to use the Starbucks award to provide grants and financial assistance to those who are cleaning up and rebuilding after devastating hurricanes delivered a one-two punch to the small island. “We have [National Guard] families that have lost everything in PR . . . and we are going to help as many as we can,” Sanchez said.

4 Paws For Ability, Inc. will use their grant to make drastically needed capital investments. According to Kelly Camm, Development Director for the non-profit, the $25,000 will help to “re-do our puppy house socialization area, which is in dire need of repair.”

The service dogs are extremely specialized and trained for specific conditions. The non-profit can provide children with autism assistance dogs, diabetic alert dogs, fetal alcohol syndrome or drug exposure assistance dogs, seizure assistance dogs, mobility dogs, hearing ear dogs, and multipurpose assistance dogs.

Currently, the organization has provided dogs for 20 veterans with “eight more scheduled to get their dogs in 2018.”  These canines specialize in mobility or hearing assistance for veterans who have experienced the loss of a limb, balance issues, spinal injury, deafness, or other handicap due to combat injuries. Once a dog has been trained for a veteran’s specific needs, the veteran and dog spend 12 days together with 4 Paws For Ability, Inc., after which the dog is officially certified for service. The non-profit has partnered with Air Compassion for Veterans to provide free flights for veterans who are wounded or in need of financial assistance.

Team RWB, a nationally recognized non-profit, is perhaps the most well-known of the three military-affiliated organizations to win. They “enrich the lives of America’s Veterans by connecting them to people in their community through physical and social activity,” including their community-based groups, fellowship and leadership programs. Team RWB is–perhaps– most known for their Old Glory Relay where groups carry the American flag across the country, one mile and one runner at a time. MilitaryOneClick reached out to Team RWB for comment, but as of press time, did not receive a response.

By J.G. Noll