Working Hard for the Money...and Our Soldiers

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Poised in front of her laptop, Heather Goldsmith anxiously tweaks the final words of her proposal, a request for $180,000. With extra hopeful thoughts and a little bit of nerves, she emails the final draft to her boss. Three weeks later, the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation sends their reply: “Based on your grant proposal, we’re awarding your organization $200,000.” Just another day of work for Goldsmith, who happens to be a junior majoring in English at Saint Joseph's University.

As part of a semester-long internship with Operation First Response (OFR), Goldsmith has spent the past few months writing grant proposals in an effort to secure funds for the non-profit organization, which supports the nation’s wounded soldiers and their families with personal and financial needs.

Peggy Baker of Culpeper, Va., founded OFR in 2004 after her son Josh had witnessed the September 11 attack on the Pentagon and subsequently enlisted in army. After joining an army mother support group, Baker realized something had to be done for injured soldiers and their families.

During wartime, parents, spouses, extended family and friends often spend countless hours at the bedside of their wounded loved ones, and because of the severity of many of the soldiers’ injuries, the recovery period can last months or even years, inadvertently leaving unpaid living expenses

“I didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on back then or how many sacrifices our armed forces make,” said Baker, “but now I can never go back to being a person who doesn’t realize and appreciate those sacrifices.”

Although aid varies case by case based on individual need, many OFR donations go toward a soldier’s payment of rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries, clothing, and/or air/ground transportation. The organization also donates frequent flyer miles to family members who would otherwise be unable to visit their loved ones recuperating in military hospitals overseas, and it assembles and mails backpack care packages for soldiers as well. In 2008, Operation First Response financially helped 977 families.

According to SJU alumnus Jim Still ’76 (B.S.), OFR’s director of strategic planning in Media, Pa., “Instead of waiting two and a half years for VA benefits to come through, injured soldiers can call Peggy one morning and receive a check by that same afternoon with no red tape.”

Goldsmith was no stranger to the non-profit world or to grant writing when she started her internship with OFR in December 2008. She first interned with Susan G. Komen for the Cure last year, where she made important connections and built a solid knowledge base. Then she heard about the OFR internship through an English course at SJU, “and the grant-writing component immediately caught my eye,” she said.

“Also, my roommate’s boyfriend is in Iraq right now, which makes me realize how much we take for granted, and how worthwhile it is to help soldiers in their time of need,” Goldsmith expanded.

Since the organization is based in Virginia, Goldsmith spends 12 hours each week working from home, communicating with Baker and Still over the phone and through e-mail.

When Still called her in March to announce she had won the $200,000 grant for OFR – the single-largest donation in the organization’s history – Goldsmith almost couldn’t believe it.

“Heather’s been extremely successful, and it’s not over yet,” said Baker. “She has been incredible in her dedication to the organization.”

“The whole charity field could be so positively impacted if more students learned how to make a difference, like Heather, as part of their education,” Still said.

As for her future, Goldsmith still hopes to volunteer for OFR once her internship is over, and beyond that, she’s got her sights set on graduate school and an eventual career in the non-profit world, hopefully as a professional grant writer.

For more information about OFR, visit

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