Meet Donna Cranston, founder of the Dallas-based nonprofit Defenders of Freedom. Cranston formed the organization a decade ago, to meet the needs of military members deployed in war zones, but has since expanded the mission to include financial assistance to wounded veterans and their families. To date, DOF has provided more than $300,000 in rent, bills, repairs and gift cards to injured warriers in need of assistance.
Cranston has a personal connection to her passion. Her son, Matt, served in the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2004. DOF now partners with veteran-friendly companies to help vets transition from the fighting force to civilian life and the workforce. For her dedication to veterans, Cranston was nominated as Texan of the year in 2011.
We wanted to know more about Cranston and Defenders of Freedom and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Defenders of Freedom.
Donna Cranston: Defenders of Freedom (DOF) is a nonprofit 501c3 organization that helps
wounded and transitioning soldiers and veterans who have served in
Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The majority of
the troops we help have PTSD and traumatic brain injury.
We give emergency financial assistance and help with employment readiness
and career searches.
We have veteran on veteran mentoring programs; clay shooting and golf. We have found the veteran on veteran support is one of the most effective tools in the healing process for many of the Veterans.
efenders of Freedom is also the host organization for the photo display,
Remembering Our Fallen from Texas.
DT: What are your duties at Defenders of Freedom?
DC: I founded Defenders of Freedom in 2004. I oversee all operations at DOF
and work closely with many of the veterans we serve.
DT: How did you become involved with DOF, and why are you so passionate about the work being done at the organization?
DC: I started DOF after going to the DFW Airport and greeting the troops. My son was deployed at the time and it meant so much to me to be able to
shake the hands of so many brave young men and women who had chosen to
serve our country. I would talk with them and over time adopted about
35 who weren't receiving care packages. I gave out their names to other
greeters and realized that most people do support our troops, they just
don't know how to do it. So I started DOF as an avenue to connect the
community to the troops.
DT: Why do you work in the nonprofit sector?
DC: I saw a need and started it, mainly sending care packages to deployed
troops. We knew we would help wounded troops as well but at the time
didn't know any. As the war prolonged and the needs of more and more
Veterans were going unmet by the government, agencies started reaching out to nonprofits for help. I received a call from an Advocate for Wounded
Warriors (AW2) at Fort Campbell, Kent. to aid a wounded soldier. I did so
without hesitation and over time we have shifted the focus of our
organization to what we do today.
Our men and women sacrifice so much on our behalf so for me it is out of a
heart of gratitude that I give back to these brave Americans.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
We have been fortunate to have the support of some major corporations,
banks and many generous donors. We also maintain an very low overhead,
which allows us to give about 85 percent of what we bring in back to veterans.
We hired our first employee in our ninth year out of necessity. I have
never taken a salary.
DT: How can the people of DFW and beyond help you meet your needs for 2014 and what are your biggest needs?
DC: Since we give emergency financial assistance we never have
enough funds. We are one of only a couple of organization that will pay
bills for veterans in crisis and the needs continue to rise. It has been
projected by the end of 2014 North Texas will absorb about 26,000 veterans
being transitioned out of the military. Many of them are not prepared for
the civilian world for careers. We need support for their transition. Gift cards for food and gas remain in constant need for them as well.
DT: What is the most memorable moment in your experiences at Defenders of Freedom?
DC: Seeing a veteran we have helped who was on the verge of homelessness and/or suicide when we first helped him giving back to another Veteran
who is not as far along in his journey. I tell all the struggling
veterans I help that I know it is hard for them to let me help them, but
it is out of the gratitude of so many that we do. I also tell them that
they won't be in the this place forever. That in their 1000 steps of
healing that if I can help them move five steps forward and get them a bit
stronger, I will call on them to help a new veteran I get who is just
beginning his journey. They always want to help and give back. This is
the best way for them to do it. In doing so, they form new friendships
with other veterans and they all move down that road to recovery
DT: What is the first thing you do when you walk into work each day?
DC: I check emails, texts message and voicemails to see if there is a new need to fill. We will always be available for that person.
If you'd like to nominate a local resident for a BubbleLife community profile, contact Dawn Tongish at email@example.com or find her on Twitter at @DawnTongish.