MIGHTY 25: Kathy Roth-Douquet paved the way with Blue Star Families
Kathy Roth-Douquet is the co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Families, a nonprofit organization now serving millions of military families. It was an explosion of growth she’d never imagined.
“I didn’t come from a military family and didn’t know anyone serving. I had all sorts of apprehensions or myths I believed. The first time I was on a military base was to protest nuclear weapons and was arrested for it,” she laughed. “I was 19 and a college student; it was a time.”
Years later, she was an attorney working for the Clinton White House when she met her husband, a Marine One pilot.
“I had a big career; I was doing well in life. It was the late 90s and was the decade of peace and prosperity. I thought we’d be living my life together and suddenly I was thrust into a community I knew nothing about,” Roth-Douquet explained.
She’d follow her work for the Administration to the Department of Defense. By 2006, she released her first book, AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America’s Upper Classes from Military Service and How it Hurts Our Country.
While attached to her husband’s unit, she was prohibited by law from practicing. But there were no rules against bringing in an outside organization to do it. In 2009 she and other military spouses founded Blue Star Families. Roth-Douquet planned on it being a small nonprofit to advocate and support military families.
“I really just had two goals. One was to do some research and get some data out there. With only 1% serving, the vast majority of people who are in positions of leadership in America don't actually know people in the military so they can't know what we need. The problem with anecdotes is that anyone can have any handful of anecdotes and it doesn't get you anywhere but the data is persuasive,” she shared. “Then it shifted over to the experience of the families because we can't keep doing this work if it's too hard. After I started the organization, we found really, within three or four years, over a million people were trying to use our programs and resources. I think we just uncovered a gigantic need.”
Her tireless work on behalf of military families was recognized with a Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service and the Department of Defense Award for Outstanding Achievement.
“We’re demand-driven and spend our time listening to the families. That’s going to allow us to continue to meet that need and grow,” Roth-Douquet said. “For example, we’re diving into our National Guard and Reserve families, building resources for their unique needs.”
And grow, it has. Blue Star Families was just awarded a $10 million dollar grant to expand their community chapter programs. Navigating all of the hard-fought advocacy work, building donor relationships and fighting for policy changes wasn’t always easy.
“My husband definitely got push-back when he was in on the work I was doing and there’s definitely been naysayers but you’re never going to please everyone,” she admitted.
When it comes to the values of Blue Star Families and the reason why she believes it’s become a well-known organization, it was based on a value system.
“I think that trust is super important to us. We have a saying that trust is the strongest currency and so we try to use that trust with the Department of Defense, with the White House or with our corporate partners. We use that trust to help everybody work better,” Roth-Douquet said. “We like to say that our corporate culture is happy warriors. And it's happy warriors, because we're in a fight to change things together.”
Blue Star Families was also one of the first nonprofit organizations to include the Coast Guard in conversations around resources and support.
“The Coast Guard is part of our national defense in such a big way people just don't understand it yet,” she explained. “Being able to tell that story and how we really are one force and a total force, and we'd like to say, it's a total family force, because the family is part of the force too.”
In between building life-saving military family programs and influencing policy, you can find her doing her daily pilates or making jam in the kitchen, alongside her now-retired Marine. Her advice to others aspiring to make a difference was direct.
“Live bravely. When you're making decisions about what you want to do, don't let fear be the thing that decides for you,” Roth-Douquet implored. “Think about what you want, your future and the choices. Let them be brave.”
You can learn more about this BRAVE and MIGHTY veteran spouse and Blue Star Families by clicking here.