You never know when or how you will be inspired or where that inspiration will take you. About two years ago, a chance dinner with Ernie Almonte, the past chair of the AICPA’s board of directors, inspired me to get involved in helping members of the American military with their financial lives. My life has not been the same since then.
Ernie had been invited to speak at an event put on by the Minnesota Society of CPAs. As chairperson of the society, I took Ernie to dinner. Our conversation turned to his volunteer work with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, helping assure deployed soldiers of a job upon their return. He told me about the sacrifices soldiers and their families make when they are sent overseas. Ernie’s passion for working with soldiers was infectious. I said I wanted to help out in some small way. Ernie said he would make it happen.
About a week later, a captain from the military’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program called me. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon started in Minnesota, but is now in all states. It offers training, education, and volunteer support services to members of the military and their families, both before and after deployment. When the captain asked how I could assist, I explained, “I help people achieve their financial goals. Do you think your soldiers could use my help?” The program did not have any workshops on financial literacy; my help was welcomed.
My firm is small—only four full-time staffers—so we can act quickly. After getting off the phone with the Yellow Ribbon officer, I told my colleague Vicki Krause about the conversation. Because Vicki’s first husband had been in the military, she understood the need and asked if she could help. The Yellow Ribbon phone call came in May 2008; in June we went to a Yellow Ribbon event and asked soldiers what they would want in a workshop. In August, we gave our first presentation, and we’ve kept giving them ever since.
Vicki and I adapt our presentations to meet the needs of the participants. We assess the current economic environment and information we need to present in our workshops. We take a quick census of the attendees to find out how many are single, married, enlisted and officers.
We teach them how to recalculate their pay (tax-free while overseas) and what to do with the extra money they may have. We talk to them about preparing their spouse to take over finances; we teach budgeting. We want them to be able to concentrate on their job overseas, not on money worries at home. We talk to groups before they deploy; we talk to them after they come back. This spring we’re planning to go full circle with a unit, welcoming back 1,000-plus soldiers who left in December 2008.
Giving a workshop is one thing; providing support afterward is another. Minnesota has no military base, where a lot of support services are given to families. Because of this, I’ve reached out to colleagues all over the state, who provide pro bono services to soldiers and their families, ranging from doing tax returns to working with creditors and everything in between. My profession has not let the soldiers down.
In the short time we’ve been doing this, the rewards have been gratifying as we’ve touched the lives of more than 2,000 soldiers and their families. In September 2009 the military awarded my firm the Outstanding Civilian Service Award medal, a rare honor, and we’ve spoken at the Governor’s Summits on the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program. In January 2010, the governor proclaimed my firm a Yellow Ribbon company.
This experience has given the AICPA wonderful exposure, and there is so much more we can do! I want to share our programs with other Beyond the Yellow Ribbon states. I would also like to see our profession become a more integral part of the military’s support network.
Getting involved with Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has been the best thing I’ve ever done. And to think: It all started because of dinner with Ernie.
told to Linda Segall (
a freelance writer based in Jacksonville, Fla.