In his bestselling book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell describes the ‘connector’ personality type as the kind of person who knows everyone, has an extraordinary knack for making friends and is universally well-liked. In my experience, these types of people are often those that focus on helping others and helping to make the world a better place.
As I speak with Bob Ross, he strikes me as exactly this type of person.
“Every time my wife and I are out for dinner, I’m approached by military members and their families who pop by the table just to say hello,” says Bob.
See what I mean?
Bob joined the navy straight out of high school and spent 30 years serving his country. “Thirty years went by in the blink of an eye,” he says.
Now retired (though you wouldn’t know it), Bob is the Development Director at the Jacksonville, Florida USO. He jokingly refers to his role as ‘head babysitter’, because he looks out for and takes great care of the military members and families supported by the USO. His job is to makes sure he lifts their morale, improves their quality of life and keeps all of the programs running smoothly.
The Jacksonville USO offers support and services to over 250,000 local active duty troops and 163,000 veterans in the greater Jacksonville area. Each year, more than $1 million in “in-kind” services are offered to military members and their families through a variety of programs.
Among the programs and services offered, the USO hosts deployment and homecoming celebrations, runs cyber cafes and distributes thousands of calling cards to keep families connected, hosts more than 1,000 monthly visitors arriving and departing from the Jacksonville international airport and gives families a well deserved break by organizing special family events. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
What’s even more remarkable is that the USO is an independent charter, meaning it does not receive federal, state or city funding. It’s 100% self-funded and self-sufficient thanks to the generous donations of local citizens and corporations, as well as the support of roughly 150 passionate volunteers.
“This is a military town. Military makes up almost half of the community pie, so we have an amazing core team of volunteers who approach us and really want to give back to the troops,” Bob says proudly. “Without them, we would have to shut the doors.”
Foresters Financial™ was one of the organizations that approached Bob to see how they could lend a hand, which eventually turned into an ongoing relationship. At the first activity, Foresters volunteers donated materials and crafted no-sew blankets for troops deployed to South Africa, where temperatures are hot during the day but drop significantly at night.
At the next activity, Foresters volunteers filled care packages to the brim with comfort and hygiene items. And all of the care kit supplies were in-kind donations from Foresters, which was a huge help!
Bob knows firsthand the impact that these donations make. “When I received a package from someone at home, it lifted my morale,” says Bob. “It told me that people at home really cared about what we were doing.”
In addition to supporting troops abroad, Bob tells me how military families back on the home front also need support. That’s why another program that Bob is particularly proud of is the “No dough dinner”, which serves a free meal to military families twice a month – right before pay day.
“At this time of the month, they’re generally broke,” Bob explains.
I’m a bit surprised to learn this – I had no idea how hard it could be for military families to make ends meet. In fact, Bob goes on to tell me that many families’ income levels qualify them for food stamps.
Not only do the No dough dinners help these families out financially, it’s also a great way to get them together to socialize and support active duty spouses who play a vital role in military life.
“I was deployed for over nine years, so I know first-hand that spouses play a significant role in one’s military career,” says Bob. “Without my wife, I couldn’t have completed these years. She raised four kids by herself, and three of them were in diapers at once!”
It’s clear that Bob has dedicated his life to serving his country, and is a true force for good in his community. While so many people are thankful for his contributions, he’s the one who feels privileged to serve.
“We’re all volunteers; today’s military is a volunteer force. Kids volunteer to serve their country and they deserve a lot of credit for that,” says Bob. “They’re everything great, decent and honorable about our country so it’s an honor to take care of them.”
Read more feel-good stories from local communities:
414689 CAN/US/UK (01/17)