In 2019, three military spouses - Maria Reed, Jessica Manfre and Samantha Gomolka - were asked to run a GivingTuesday campaign. While the majority of initiatives and campaigns for the big day focused on giving back to nonprofits, the three spouses introduced a new currency for the movement: Kindness. Introducing GivingTuesdayMilitary.
GivingTuesday was initiated in 2012 by Henry Timms at the 92nd Street Y in New York, co-founded with the United Nations Foundation with support from Black Sheep. The founders were underwhelmed and disenchanted with the holiday season's somewhat materialistic vibe. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday dominated the world following a day of thanks. A movement for radical generosity was born. Billions have been donated to nonprofits across the world since GivingTuesday began.
Maria, Jessica, and Samantha met in Washington, D.C., for the first time in May 2019, where they were all honored with the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year awards for their work within the military community. Shortly after meeting, they forged a close bond, with a shared passion for service. They wanted to create something special that would unite all the branches of service collectively to serve with purpose and kindness. Through this, the #GivingTuesdayMilitary movement was born.
For its inaugural launch in 2019 -- the campaign reached 2.5 million people. The social impact of the day was absolutely incredible. When it was over, the spouses knew they weren't done yet. Their nonprofit, Inspire Up, was launched in 2020 to keep kindness going -- which powers the GivingTuesdayMilitary campaign. Manfre explained why their movement was more focused on acts versus money: "It was important that the most junior family could be part of this and that our military felt a sense of purpose in whatever we built... it was more than simply writing a check. We'd encourage community service through acts of kindness and it didn't have to cost a thing. This is our fifth year, and it's grown into an unbelievable coalition."
The three spouses activated their military networks to become ambassadors of the movement all over the globe. They encouraged each person who signed up to lead a project to find the need in their community and find ways to fill it. By 2020, the ladies (along with original founder Stacy Bilodeau) established an official nonprofit, the Inspire Up Foundation, to power the campaign. That same year, Armed Forces Financial Network came on board to be the title sponsor of the hallmark program.
"While we encourage and recognize kindness doesn't have to cost a thing, AFFN was our biggest cheerleader from the beginning. 2020 was a hard year and their contribution led to us being able to lift our ambassadors up in ways that changed the whole movement," Manfre shared.
The team began giving grants to support community projects requiring a little extra support as a direct result.
"Their support has allowed us to streamline what we can give our ambassadors in terms of not just financial support but shirts, supplies and other items to help for their big day. We're so grateful for the team and especially John Broda, who's been instrumental in everything we've done to serve since we started," she added.
This year, ambassadors are building chemo kits, laying medals at Arlington, serving cops and firefighters and building blessing bags for the homeless. You'll also find them giving blood, writing encouraging messages in schools, and making cards for veterans in hospice. There's an endless supply of good and you can be part of it.
While the trio has established other programs and grant initiatives, GivingTuesdayMilitary remains the foundation for everything Inspire Up does. As the big day arrives on November 28, 2023, their message to the military community as a whole is simple:
"We have the power to be the good in this world. Today, find a way to be kind. Maybe it starts in your own home or neighborhood; that's powerful. No act or idea is too small. If it extends to your community, think of ways to pay it forward or give back," Manfre implored. "Kindness is something that can change everything. Samantha said it best when we started and it's something that sticks with me to this day: 'Build the world our children already believe exists.'"