Allow yourself to soak in the joy. — Along with my husband and I, our kids are part of it too. Seeing their involvement and seeing how that translates to them is something that’s so, so special to me. These veterans typically have a lot of physical disabilities but I don’t really think my kids look at their disabilities as a stigma.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Beam DeBold.
Jessica Beam DeBold is a Senior Financial Planner at Buckingham Advisors (www.MyBuckingham.com), where she is improving the financial knowledge and unique aspects of financial planning for landowners throughout the farming community around Wilmington, Ohio. With Jessica’s farming background and the 4th generation family farm she and her husband run, she understands the language and needs of farmers. She is also Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Operation Cherrybend (www.OperationCherrybend.org), an organization whose mission is to bring awareness and healing to combat wounded veterans, and to reduce the number of veteran suicides, which in the United States averages 22 per day. Every year, Operation Cherrybend holds a five-day event featuring adventure and music that pulls together the community and combat-wounded veterans to form a network that helps those that are struggling and expands their network of support through fellowship.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My parents were business owners when I was growing up. They owned a stone quarry, and they always kept my brothers and me very informed about what was happening. I remember my dad telling us how he would sit with his employees and explain to them about participating in their 401(k) and about how that encouraged them to get free money from their employer that would grow over time.
I remember sitting with a calculator and my dad giving me examples, even with me being little. He explained how he would break it down for his employees saying, “Well, if you contribute money and accumulate this much and it grows over time at this rate, this is what you would accrue by the time you are this old.” I was fascinated by that growth trajectory and how a small contribution could make such a big difference in the future. And I was just hooked at that point.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you joined your company or organization?
It’s hard to limit it to any one interesting story or incident. While working here at Buckingham Advisors I’ve formed so many deep relationships with my clients that I didn’t experience at other firms. I think it shows the depth and the breadth of our involvement with our clients and how close we become.
I do have one family that stands out to me. I’m working with a widower who lost his wife to cancer and he’s personally battled health issues. He’s had some other difficult family situations, too. Working together we’ve really become a team. I feel so involved in their day-to-day lives and the decisions and things that go on that we’ve really become friends through this process. That relationship sticks out to me because it’s not the typical financial advisor / client relationship. But again, I think that’s why Buckingham Advisors has been so successful, because we’ve been able to develop personal relationships like that with our clients.
Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
At my previous firm I felt like I needed to know the answers to everything and that if I were to say I didn’t know the answer, the client would think I was incompetent or look down on me. I realize now that was my naïveté while getting started in this industry.
I learned that it’s okay to say I don’t know the answer to something, to tell the client we’ve got to research it, or that I have a team member who specializes in that so I’d like to bring them in. So I guess my biggest mistake was thinking I had to know everything to be considered good at what I was doing.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
I was raised with the importance of giving back to the community and that’s something that I’ve tried to instill in my children as well.
Looking at my involvement with Operation Cherrybend, an organization that works to bring awareness and healing to combat-wounded veterans, my husband and I initially got involved back in 2015 when they contacted us for a donation to pay for a veterans’ dinner. We went to the dinner and met a lot of the veterans. We started hearing their stories and the things that they’re trying to overcome. We have been involved since then.
Operation Cherrybend started out as a grassroots kind of movement. A group of songwriters came up from Nashville with some veterans and they were looking for a way to get them out in the country and have them do some outdoor physical activities, more along the lines of what they did while they were serving. There is a camaraderie that comes with that brotherhood. That first event was about songwriting and being outside and finding ways to express themselves to bridge that gap and the feeling that they are alone. A lot of them have a feeling of separation.
That’s how it started and that’s the dinner we came to pay for that first time. It was not really a formal event. From there they said, hey, this could be a real thing, this has legs to it. The veterans that they brought to that first event really responded. So they hosted a concert for that initial year, kick-starting a campaign to get some money to start doing a bigger retreat. Then they came back in 2016 and had a full-on retreat with 20 to 25 veterans.
We have fundraisers annually leading up to our retreat week. For our 2021 event, we had a sporting clays tournament and have a golf outing planned later this summer. During the retreat week, it’s all hands on deck for whatever tasks need to be done. I’m running around in 20 directions, helping the veterans, participating in activities, taking out the trash, whatever is needed. A couple of years ago I even went skydiving with a team of our veterans.
Our little rural community in Wilmington, Ohio, has really embraced this retreat. I don’t want to jinx ourselves and say that fundraising has never been a problem, but it really hasn’t. It’s just about getting the word out there. Thankfully, the support for Operation Cherrybend continues to grow. That’s how we’re in this position with our event in September of 2021. We have exciting announcements that we’re going to make about some additional opportunities and ways to get more veterans involved in what we’ve been able to do. We’re proud to be at a point where we can start growing Operation Cherrybend even more. I can honestly say it’s become a family.
After our veterans leave the event, we host a separate Facebook page where you have to be an alumni to participate. There’s a lot of ribbing and checking on each other, and posting pictures. It just keeps everybody together. Since the start of COVID, we’ve done a Zoom call every Sunday night. Some people jump on for five minutes, and others will still be on there at midnight talking and connecting.
It’s the bond that the veterans and our community have made that has really driven everybody. And that’s what I feel has saved some of these people, introducing them to others who care and something they relate to. A lot of that happens by pushing them out of their boundaries, pushing them to do outdoor activities that they normally wouldn’t do.
It’s putting them with like-minded people that understand. They don’t talk about it a lot, but they get it. That’s what it’s about. It’s not a huge amount of structure. It’s not a lot of come-and-meet-the-donors. It’s just allowing them to be themselves and providing a way for them to get back together, like they used to.
The mission of Operation Cherrybend is to reduce veteran suicides. When we look at the statistics in the United States, between 20 and 22 veterans commit suicide every day. On the private Facebook page, probably once a week one of our veterans will post that they lost a brother or sister to extenuating circumstances; a lot of the reason for the suicides is that these vets don’t feel like there are resources out there. And I think that, wow, as a country, we do a pretty good job dealing with physical health. The mental health side is something that is so hard to overcome. Many of them don’t want to turn to medications. A lot of them don’t want to admit things to their family or open up about that. So anything we can do to eliminate those 22 suicides a day is really what it comes down to.
The time that I spend with Operation Cherrybend has increased annually as the organization has grown, and so has my commitment to it. In 2018, I spearheaded the efforts to become a standalone 501(c)(3), which has really allowed us to expand the program to a full retreat week.
We were operating under another 501(c) for awhile, just as an event. Since then we’ve grown the retreats we hold. It has really become a bigger and bigger thing that I can see continuing to expand going forward.
Buckingham Advisors, the financial services firm where I work as a Senior Financial Planner, has been involved since the beginning of Operation Cherrybend as well. Ever since I started telling the company about it, they have taken that on and supported Operation Cherrybend financially and allowed me to use some of my time to contribute to it.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There is one veteran who absolutely comes to mind and he credits Operation Cherrybend with being the reason he is alive today. He is someone who was in a really, really low place physically with a lot of wounds, but emotionally probably more so.
He fully embraced our program. He came into it thinking this was his last straw, his last attempt to connect. And he walked away as a family member for a lot of us, thanks to our network and the strong ties that he has made.
He’s really taken on a kind of leadership role with our veterans. So he comes back as an alumni now, and he is so eager to help others and listen and share his experience. He shares that he came from a really low spot, where he is now and the happiness that he’s found. He has a lot of physical ailments and we don’t know his prognosis, but I will forever admire the strength and courage that he has brought to us.
We did a tree planting ceremony with him last year to symbolize the roots that he’s put down. And that has really impacted us. My life is better for having him in it and knowing that’s where he came from.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The number one thing we all need to be aware of is the mental illness that veterans experience and the suicides that happen every day. That needs to be brought to the forefront. Most veterans are not committing suicide because they lost a leg or because of something physical that happened to them. It’s the internal scars we don’t see that are the bigger issue. We need to be aware that they are struggling and what they’re dealing with on a daily basis. Sometimes even the most mundane tasks like going to the grocery store can be overwhelming; I had one veteran for whom that was physically overwhelming. Just being in those close quarters in the store and the sounds were triggers for him. We as a nation need to be aware of that.
Second, I think we need a lot more programs like Operation Cherrybend. What we’re doing with the songwriting and the outdoor activities might not be the answer for everybody. But there are certainly other answers out there. If we can continue to create these grassroots kind of things and as more organizations like ours start popping up I know for a fact they will be community-supported. I see that every day. So it’s just finding like-minded people in other places that can create more organizations like this and provide more opportunities for people to participate.
The third thing is that our politicians need to work on enhancing the benefits that we offer through the Veterans Administration. The physical wounds are easy to identify and treat, but mental illness is so hard to identify. Unless someone is willing to put it out there, you might not see the struggle, but you can sense something is wrong and don’t know what the problem is. We’ve seen it be too late, too many times. We need to continue to work on improving the benefits that are available for our military veterans, making the benefits accessible, and bringing that information back to them.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Being a leader means you’re willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. You can’t ask or expect others to do things that you aren’t willing to do yourself. At this point, I probably put five to 10 hours a week into Operation Cherrybend. And it ebbs and flows as the year goes on. But I couldn’t imagine asking a business for money or someone to donate their time for something that I wasn’t willing to do myself. That’s the mission of our entire Board. We’re all ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and get it done. To me, that’s what leadership is.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Number one: Find something you are passionate about.
When I got involved in Operation Cherrybend, I had no idea that was even a passion of mine. I don’t have a lot of military history in my family. That was never something I was personally drawn to. Before talking with the veterans, I never really comprehended the issues that they were facing either.
I had heard of other organizations in the VA that were doing things. But I didn’t realize the struggles that were still there for veterans and the things that we were missing. Once my eyes were open to that reality, it was like opening a Pandora’s box for me — I couldn’t step away from it.
I want to bring as much awareness as possible to those issues and provide any support that I can to the veterans of our country. And I’ve found that it’s contagious. When talking to other people and donors, they pick up on our enthusiasm for the mission too. They pick up on the love that we have for what we do as well. And so they become more invested by seeing that from us, and knowing how deeply we are involved in it. It makes it easier to get volunteers, to get financial support and all of those different things.
2. Number two: It’s okay to say no.
When I first started my career, I was asked to be on several different Boards. But once I started committing time to Operation Cherrybend I realized I needed to take a step back from the other two Boards that I was involved in to really focus on this one. I couldn’t be effective if I was here, there, and everywhere, and it was also not fair to my family. So I started saying no. Operation Cherrybend is where my heart is and that’s where my time goes. And when I’m asked to serve on other Boards I tell them I’m sorry, I can’t, I’m really invested in something else at this point.
3. Number three: Follow through on your commitments.
It takes a really big team to put on our events and to do all the fundraising that’s necessary. You learn really quickly who you can rely on and who you can’t. One thing that we have preached at all of our volunteer meetings is don’t sign up for something that you aren’t going to do. Our Board doesn’t have time to chase you down to make sure you did the tasks that you were supposed to do. We need to be able to count on people to do what they say they’re going to. I think the success of our organization depends on that ability to rely on our team members. The saying “many hands make light work” comes to mind because if we have a lot of people and we all work together, it makes our events run smoothly.
4. Number four: Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
We have a great team in place and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I have found that I am much more effective if I can capitalize on the strengths that someone else has and say, “Hey, I need help with this. If you could help with that, and then I’ll go and do this.” Being able to admit that I need help or admit that there’s something I can’t do is really a lesson that I’ve learned in business as well as Operation Cherrybend.
5. Number five: Allow yourself to soak in the joy.
Along with my husband and I, our kids are part of it too. Seeing their involvement and seeing how that translates to them is something that’s so, so special to me. These veterans typically have a lot of physical disabilities but I don’t really think my kids look at their disabilities as a stigma. They’re just people and my kids are really getting to understand that. For our culture, as a general rule, we need to look at people and not just see their disabilities but also see that these are people who need help, who want to connect and who want to feel normal again. The more we recognize that, the more we can help with the mental issues that go behind it. It’s been so amazing for my family and for me.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement, it would be based on compassion. Just be compassionate. You never know what someone else is struggling with externally or internally. Not all wounds are physical and it’s sometimes easy to ignore.
We need to be asking how someone’s doing and actually be present to listen. We get in the habit of asking someone how they’re doing, and if they answer, “Oh fine, how are you,” we go on about our business and don’t really listen for what might be underneath a cursory answer.
One thing that I’ve learned through the experiences I’ve had via Operation Cherrybend is to sit and listen to how someone is doing. Being a friend is huge. Being a person that someone can talk to is huge. So I think that compassion is probably the biggest thing for me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A quote by Henry Ford has stuck with me for a long time: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
I’ve always believed that I can accomplish anything, but it’s because I know I’m willing to work hard enough for something that I want. That focus or that drive to succeed is one characteristic that I think separates leaders from the rest of the pack. But that’s something that was always instilled in me. I knew that I had to make the decision ahead of time, whether I could accomplish something or I wouldn’t accomplish it. That’s been my driving force.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
If this person doesn’t have to be living, I would pick one of the veterans that commit suicide in our country every day, just asking them what we could have done differently. I would ask, “Where did we drop the ball?” I would find out what pushed them over the edge. I would ask if some act or person could have prevented what happened.
What I found with my work in Operation Cherrybend is that our veterans were pushed to be tough, to compartmentalize their feelings in order to complete a mission. So when they integrate back into society, they really have a hard time undoing that training and really opening back up. It makes it hard for us to recognize the struggles that they’re feeling.
We have veterans that get suggested to us. Someone will call and say, “Hey, my husband should participate in your program.” But when we contact them, they say, “Oh no, give it to someone who needs it more, let someone else have it,” because they’re trained to help someone else.
If I could interview a suicide victim or talk to them I would ask what we could have done differently as an individual, as an organization, as a country, as a whole. That would be my answer because that would be one person that I could either save or take what I learned from them into the future.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!