Gen. George S. Patton once said, “Live for something rather than die for nothing.” That’s been the end game of U.S. military men and women for more than 200 years. In the process, many die, others suffer crippling injuries and some are left struggling mightily in old age.
Tie those latter two items together, and it perfectly explains why 2020 Christian Brothers College High School graduate Tripp Tobey, born into a military family, started Serving Servicemen in May 2018.
CBC requires its juniors to give 50 hours of service in a one-week span. The school offered service trips within both the U.S. and internationally.
“You could get those hours working on a reservation or a farm,” Tobey said. “But they’re expensive at $900 a trip, and probably only covers 50 of the 200 kids in these classes. Kids can’t afford it, and there’s not a lot of local options. So, I thought, what if we can help veterans – people who really need it – and can give students service opportunities to help them learn, grow as leaders and get valuable life skills? That’s exactly what we’ve done.” (Editor’s note: cost of service trips updated from the print edition at the request of the interviewee.)
Serving Servicemen began humbly, with Tobey hanging fliers, visiting American Legion posts, giving speeches, attending meetings and mailing information packets. He also decided to stand outside the door of a local news station and wait for someone to leave for lunch.
“When they left, I went inside the building, gave someone an envelope, and eventually Fox 2 gave me a break,” Tobey said. “They let me on, and from there, it’s really taken off and snowballed. (John) Pertzborn and his news crew were great.”
What began as a viable option for the school’s service requirement, has morphed into far more. Fast forward to Aug. 6, 2020, and the 501(c)(3) papers have been signed to transform Serving Servicemen into a nonprofit organization. The expected date of acceptance is mid-autumn.
“It’s a way to get funding more easily,” Tobey said. “People ask me how they can give a donation. I tell them they can write me a personal check because I have a cash box in my room. (He laughs.) I can use funds a lot more easily this new way. Things are a lot more streamlined and official. It distinguishes us as a concrete thing versus a high school club.”
The organization has a $15,000 fundraising goal for 2020-2021.
“We love supporting local companies; local businesses, and love working with other companies. For example, if you own a deli, and you have a day where you can donate a percentage of your proceeds to us, we’ll pack your belly and we’ll pack the house,” Tobey said. “We’ll have guys outside all day long, making sure you get plenty of divests and kickback.”
“I would just like to ask anybody who can, if they would please donate.” Barton said. “We do need money to grow, and we’re just trying to help as many people as we can.”
There when they’re needed
The ServingServicemen.org website is chock full of blog posts and captioned photos showing CBC students participating in a wide variety of activities – raking leaves, mowing lawns, cleaning and packing houses and basements, patching roofs, caulking, cleaning windows, staining decks, painting houses, working at AMVETS and American Legion posts, and even serving as pallbearers at veterans’ funerals.
Tobey said most ideas come through Facebook. He also gets messages from Realtors saying, ‘I’m selling a house for a veteran, he needs this and that done. Can you help out?’ Marie Hatch has provided several opportunities, including connecting the organization with Gold Star Mothers.
“We also did a Big Richard’s Hot Dogs (St. Charles) event, raising $400 in one day,” Tobey said. “My buddies and I went there one night. There was a flier that read ‘Charity Day: 15% of proceeds go to local charities,’ so we signed up.
“It’s all just shooting from the hip, creating opportunities and taking opportunities.”
One event that greatly stands out for Tobey involved a Special Forces vet who lost his leg at the knee while training Nicaraguan rebels as an airborne ranger.
“Ricky wasn’t able to mow his lawn for four years,” Tobey recalled. “He couldn’t get around and had a lot of knee pain. He had bone cancer and amputation. With his mother passing away and with no family left, Ricky was in a really rough spot. So, we had 20 guys come in, and this place was an absolute jungle. We couldn’t get a lawnmower on it. I had six guys walking around with trimmers, just chopping grass down enough so we could barely fit a lawnmower on it. We took about 25 full recycle bins. The guys got all the brush inside and were stomping on it. We hauled all that stuff off and cleaned up his yard.
“He saw this group of 20 guys spending all day in 95 degrees, sweating and doing his work for him. He saw all these people really cared about him. That’s one of the biggest things we do. It’s not the work we do as much as the presence we bring behind our work. As we were packing up and leaving, he was teary-eyed, and you could see we made a very distinct impact on his life.”
That is just one example of dozens of wonderful deeds performed by Serving Servicemen that Tobey estimates has encompassed some 5,000 to 7,000 total hours of service.
Developing strong men for tomorrow
Currently in his first semester studying computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Toby shares a room with fellow first-year friend and Serving Servicemen associate Andrew Barton, a mechanical engineering major.
“We’ll be able to run things easier in terms of the administrative side by working from the same house,” Barton said.
The nonprofit’s website was recently updated to include a new copyrighted logo with two hands shaking, plus an American flag. There are three stars beneath it representing the organization’s three listed goals: Help Veterans, Educate Students and Provide a Service Opportunity.
According to Tobey, those three goals are perfectly stated regarding the basic need of recruiting both present-day and future volunteers into the fold.
“You don’t need to motivate somebody if what you’re doing is meaningful,” Tobey said. He added that, devoid of teachers and other adult authority figures, students truly learn to thrive while doing something personally meaningful.
“When you give students responsibility, they flourish,” Tobey said. “We give them more responsibility than they’ve ever had before. That really develops them into leaders, strong men for tomorrow, men of character and integrity. What matters most is not what you do, but the legacy of how you leave that place.”
As for the organization’s future, Tobey said his goal is making it a national nonprofit.
“It’s going to be huge one day!” he exclaimed.