#31 – Jeremy Stalnecker: A non-profit solving a massive problem. Had an absolute joy recording this edition of The Veterans Business Podcast LIVE. Jeremy shared his story of entering the military, his experience in Iraq, and the issues he himself dealt with when home, which eventually turned into him helping lead The Mighty Oaks Foundation. The Mighty Oaks Foundation is an absolutely amazing organization that changes lives, particularly those dealing with trauma and PTSD. Enjoy this episode!
Aaron Spatz 00:05
I’m Aaron Spatz. And this is the Veterans Business Podcast. A podcast centered around the stories of US military veterans, and their adventures in the business world following their time in service. Its stories of challenges and obstacles. And then inside look at how veterans find their life’s work, their purpose, and their post military lives. Hey, everybody, welcome to the very first edition. And like Jeremy and I were talking earlier, it could be the last you just never know. But
Jeremy Stalnecker 00:37
it wrote it right now.
Aaron Spatz 00:39
That’s right. But this is the very first edition of veteran’s visit podcast live. So this is we’re actually in the middle of season two right now, this would be episode 14. And so we wanted to go ahead and just take a shot at it and see, see how much fun we could have broadcasting live. So if you’re watching this live right now, so excited to have you. And to it’s just it’s a very unique treat very unique opportunity that we get to do this live. And so thanks so much for joining. If, as as we’re getting ready to get started, if you wouldn’t mind, please share this out on your social media feed. So I’m streaming right now on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. So if you’re seeing this on any of those platforms, take a quick second, I promise you’re not gonna miss anything. But just take a quick second, paste it out, share it out, comment, tag people, that way, we can have more friends join us, I think it’d be I think it’d be a blast. So if you’re not going to catch us on the live, that’s all good to just grateful for your listenership for your viewership. And just a quick reminder, if you’re watching this, I remember that you can always watch or you can listen to the show, wherever you go. And if you’re listening to the show, right now, keep in mind that you can watch it so. So just so incredibly grateful and excited that you’re joining us. So let me go ahead and roll to our quick intro here. So one, if you have any, if you have any feedback or any comments to the show, I love interacting with every one of you. So if you have any comments, questions, feel free to email me at podcast at Bold media.us. And we can pick up the conversation there. But I’m super excited to to introduce to you our guest this week. Jeremy stone Ecker. Jeremy is the executive director and co founder of the mighty oaks foundation. My explanations are they’re a faith based nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans recover from PTSD and trauma. So it’s such such a vital, vital role that they play. Jeremy served four years in in our Marine Corps, before punching out and entering pastoral ministry before ultimately co founding mighty oaks. Jeremy man, I just want to thank you so much for for being on the show.
Jeremy Stalnecker 02:39
Yeah, for sure. Thank you. Yeah, we had the opportunity to talk on our show earlier this year. And those cool we’ve connected and Yeah, appreciate it. Thank you.
Aaron Spatz 02:47
Yeah, ya know that it was a lot of fun. I actually got several comments about the foundation I had had a lot of people messaged me about like, oh, man, you How are you connected mighty oaks foundation like a just you gentlemen, I found each other and nothing but I say that to say like nothing but glowing remarks for for the foundation. And so, love the work you’re doing. I can’t wait. We’ll we’ll obviously jump into that here in just a few minutes about what it is you do. But would love to turn the floor over to you, though, would love to hear a little bit about your story where you Where’d you grow up? What? What motivated you to join the military and give us a little bit of sense of what you did?
Jeremy Stalnecker 03:23
Sure. I was raised here in Southern California. This is where the mighty oaks Foundation’s headquarters is now, which I always tell people I spent my whole life trying to get away from here. And I ended up back here. So God is funny that way. But I was raised actually, you know, again, ironically, I was raised about 15 minutes from where our offices. So here’s Southern California. My dad was a pastor, he started a church. And I watched that process take place I was a young person watching my dad start a church worship work jobs at night or jobs during the day pastor at church, my mom was working and love my parents thankful for my parents, but knew very early on, I did not want to be involved in pastoral ministry. Watching that. So I went to my dad. I remember this conversation is probably like a, you know, one of those pivotal moments in my life. I was 14 years old, I was driving somewhere with my dad, and I’ve been worried about having this conversation forever. I said, Hey, Dad, can I ask you a question? Sure. No problem. Okay. Here’s the question. Would you be upset if I did not go into the ministry? Because when you’re raised in a pastor’s home, for those that haven’t been, that’s kind of the family business. So everyone assumed every, every old person that walks up to you and you’re like, 10 years old is like someday you’re gonna be a great pastor, just like your dad. And so I asked my dad, would it be okay with you if I did not become a pastor if I didn’t go into ministry? And he said, what Pastor dad should say he said, whatever God wants you to do, that’s what I want you to do. I think that would be great. As long as God wants you to do that. I’m glad to hear that because I think God wants me to enlist in the Marine Corps, that God does not want you to listen to Marine Corps. There’s no way God wants that for you. And he was he was supportive, of course, but there were some things he asked me to do before that happened. One of those was go to college. Okay. And we had a family friend who said, If you’re going to go to college anyhow, and you plan on ending up in the Marine Corps, why don’t you go through a commissioning program and that’s what I did. So I went to Officer Candidate School in 1996, went into a commissioning program that pulled me into the reserves called the platoon leaders class in the Marine Corps. So strange, strange kind of a way to go through a commissioning program first. So for three years I was in that program. I was commissioned when I graduated from college, and then went into the Marine Corps I served with First Battalion, fifth Marines, based out of Camp Pendleton, also here in Southern California. Couldn’t get away. In fact, my first choice was not here. But this is where I ended up. And long story short, I ended up deploying with one five in January 2003, to Kuwait. And one five would be the kind of the point element for the First Marine Division in the invasion of Iraq. The end, middle of March, march 19 of that year, breached the berm secure the southern objective made our way to Baghdad, the Battle of Baghdad was our battalion as well. And then retrograded back. And my time was coming to an end, I had already made a decision, again, of all things to transition out of the Marine Corps and into ministry. So, you know, God, again, has a sense of humor that way. So that’s what I did. I came home, January 1 Second, got back to Southern California from Iraq, and transitioned out July 1, I was working at at the church. So that was my transition. And you know, there’s a lot to that I could talk about that for a long time. But I was hired, I thought, really, I was to oversee projects to do some project management stuff for the church, not a traditional ministry role, where I’d be counseling and speaking and preaching and doing those things. Yeah. But quickly, that became what I was doing. I started counseling, I started teaching, I started preaching. And I had never learned how to do any of these things. So learning on the job. And then for about a year really struggled with a lot of things probably, but centrally my identity. I had been a Marine officer, I lead Marines in combat. Our battalion was the, the point for the division, my platoon at 84 Marines, I had to, we had a couple of platoons that have been pushed together, I was responsible for all of them, while navigating the battalion to Baghdad, which, you know, is not a real big deal. But in my life at that moment, it was a pretty big deal. And now I’m working at a church trying to get volunteers to do stuff that they didn’t want to do, right. So I really struggled for that first year, kind of lost myself, I was extremely angry, went through a process of needing help and getting help. And turned a lot of that around and in the process, walked away from the Marine Corps, I did not want to interact or connect to Marines, I was thankful for my time and service, I was thankful for what I had done. But I just had a really hard time hanging on to that and moving forward at the same time. And so I walked away from from that in a kind of an emotional sense, I guess. Yeah. Putting that behind me and moving forward. And it wasn’t for another almost 10 years before I reconnected with a handful of Marines I had served with understood the need that existed. And I could talk more about that if you’d like for me to Yeah, and kind of got involved with what was becoming the mighty oaks Foundation, and started doing the work that we do today. So a long journey. And I feel like every day I’m learning something new. But it’s a weird, it’s a weird thing. And you know, you speak to business owners, entrepreneurs and people who are involved kind of on the ground, the ground of doing a lot of things that are involved in. And I think when you’re when you’re doing that your story is always evolving. And I feel like my story has always been evolving. I’ve looked at the pieces of my life, growing up in a pastor’s home, going to a pretty conservative college, I have a criminal justice degree that I’ve never done anything with. commission as a Marine officer working at a church, and all of these kind of broken pieces. There’s a piece here, a piece there, another piece over there, and how does all this come together? And over time, it has all really come together. And you know, I think your audience in particular understands how that works. And so yeah, it’s been interesting and continues. So
Aaron Spatz 09:34
no, I mean, it’s a it’s a journey, and it’s a story that I like I would argue just it never ends. I like to say to people, like hey, this is a this is a success story in progress. It’s we’re still we’re still right. We’re still writing the book, we’re still we’re still turning the pages and every chapter is is new and unique. And I mean like I like I shared with you earlier. It’s like, you know, the, the journey that I’m on right it’s like it’s it’s it’s the entrepreneurial Ship journey. It is the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, there’s a lot of lessons learned. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of struggle. But there’s there’s a lot there, though. And I think veterans specifically, if they can tap into that side of them that they that they had had instilled to them as they were getting training, can can really leverage that as a strength. I mean, it’s just two sides of the same coin, though it can be a strength or can be a weakness, as you know, discuss with my wife, you know, being stubborn, hey, is always a bad thing. Right? She might say otherwise. Yeah,
Jeremy Stalnecker 10:35
yeah, it’s funny how what works really well, in business or, you know, on one side of your life can be such a hindrance in relationships. And I mean, honestly, as I came home from Iraq, that was one of my major struggles was, I really know how to do this. And I feel like I’m pretty good at it. And others have recognized that I have some skill set in this area, but it’s crushing my relationships, it’s crushing my even for momentum. And so figuring out how to balance those things is really important.
Aaron Spatz 11:03
Well, you know, I’d love to get your perspective on this, because I share with a lot of folks that the transition process of the military and again, this is just one man’s story and experience, but I feel like I’ve seen this with a lot of other people, as well as like, it is a very emotional journey. It’s a very emotional process. And it takes several years, I would argue, four or five, six years or more of just that, that transition of like, especially those first one or two years, I like I totally can relate to you. With with kind of the the, like, for me, it was a bit of like an emotional death spiral that I felt like I was on. And I felt like I didn’t have a purpose, I felt like it just it wasn’t the same. It didn’t it didn’t connect, it didn’t connect the same way that being with my guides, and being being a service member was but I’d love to just dig a little bit more into that. So like, share with me the process then of how you got healing, and how did you? How did you wade through those waters and like, get out through the other side of that?
Jeremy Stalnecker 12:06
Yeah, so looking back, I have, you know, a better perspective than I had on the other side of it, when you are just waiting through it and trying to figure it out. I really, it’s fascinating to me to see when you’re out and about a 75 and 80 year old guy who’s wearing, you know, World War Two, and we’re losing many of our World War Two veterans hat or Vietnam, veterans hat or whatever. And I look at these, you know, these folks, and some of them, you know, and you know, they built a business, they had a family, they raised kids, they did, you know, really important things over the course of their life. But that four year period of time where they were serving in the military, is the thing that they most closely identify with. And that’s, it’s, it’s hard to understand on maybe a psychological level. But if you’ve been through that, you get it, there are so many strong connections to your identity into just being engaged in something that you believe is meaningful that so much of the rest of your life does not emulate. Yeah, and I think transitioning out of the military, you’re struggling with that on the front end. And hopefully, by the time you get you know, a little bit older, you can be thankful for your service, you can reflect on that and be proud of it, but not be so connected to it. I think one of the major struggles for people transitioning out of the military is identity. And that was absolutely the case for me. We could talk about post traumatic stress and combat trauma and all the other issues that many veterans are dealing with. And they’re very real. That’s what our organization deals with. But But I would say bigger than any of those is the identity piece. So you identify with the job you identify with the rank or the rank structure, you identify with the the uniform in the Marine Corps. Our history is so tied to who we believe we are as Marines that, you know, the other services don’t necessarily view their service, you know, as in the branch of service the same way Marines do. But certainly there’s a strong connection to what you’ve done in the military. You know what you’re supposed to do, you’ve been trained to do that job. It’s very clear. And then you transition out and you feel like you’ve been thrown in a dark hole. You don’t know where to go, you don’t know what to do. You don’t have your NCO or staff NCO or you know, whoever it is in your life, giving you the next Tasker. So you have to figure that out and you lose yourself in that process. When I transitioned out of the Marine Corps, into ministry. I absolutely lost myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s what I was struggling with. I sit in staff meetings at the church, and it was a smaller church at the time and it was growing. That’s why I was hired. I sit in staff meetings at the church and like, get upset about something that was said and start yelling at the other staff member. Like this is not how it works here. There’s not an infantry battalion. I just I didn’t know how to how to deal with problems and issues and struggles any other way. Right? I get a lot of pushback people would get hurt. I go home and take it out on my wife and kids. And it was just this this constant like, who am I? Why don’t I go back there because back there, I was appreciated for this. And really what it took for me a lot of things a gracious wife, a strong family, extended family, or relationship with God, faith was very important to me through that. A pastor who was also my employer, my boss, who called me into his office one day and said, This is just not working. I love you, I love your family. But something has to change. Now, this was 2003, we weren’t talking about combat trauma and post traumatic stress, right? He just knew it wasn’t working. He said, You need to go away. And when you come back, you need to tell me if you’re going to work for me, if this is going to continue on, or if you’re going to do something else, I’ll help you with the next thing if there’s something else. But we can’t keep doing this. Now, that was a Friday afternoon, Saturday, we dropped my wife and I drop our kids off with my parents. And we just started driving up the coast of California. And that was a moment where I was confronted by someone that I cared about and respected. And I really had to understand the problem wasn’t everybody else, the problem was me. Yeah. And I needed to take responsibility for my behavior, my actions, my growth, and even my healing. And that was the beginning for me. So that was about a year after I had left the Marine Corps. My wife and we talked about this, this often, my wife would say, and she does say it took about 10 years before our relationship as a couple really healed and became what it should be. I struggled with, you know, a lot of things over a long period of time. But that was the moment in time that was that was kind of the catalyst, the turning point for me. And understanding who I was not as a Marine, that was a job that I did, that was something that was important, something significant, but that’s not who I am or who I was, I was something else. And I think a lot of this and you know, I could talk about this all day. But I think a lot of this is just how it works out. Even leadership in the military. We’re taught that leadership is a personality type. It’s a style, it’s an ability, those are important for leadership. But leadership is not that people who transition well from one part of their life to another part of their life to another part, they do get at work, they do get it home, they understand that leadership principally is using what you have to invest in the people around you. And if you can do that in the Marine Corps, then you can do that, that’s great. There are some tactics, techniques and procedures you need to use to do that there. But principally, the leadership is the same your leader there, because you’re investing in the people around you with what you have, right? I can do that at home, I can do that at my church, I can do that in my community. And when we get a hold of that, at least for me, it changes my perspective on everything. I am not a Marine. That’s what I did. And I’m thankful for it. But now I can move forward.
Aaron Spatz 18:00
No, I love that. I love the one I just want to thank you, like thank you for sharing all that. Because I think that resonates with so many of us. I mean, it’s it’s it’s the journey, it’s the path that a lot of people have found themselves on. It’s a it’s a struggle that people have to grapple with. And what and what’s sad about it is, is too many people grapple with this in silence, they grapple with it, but yeah, and, you know, and obviously, you know, I share the, you know, sure the bond as as with, with our faith. And so, I mean, that’s from like, from a from a tactical standpoint, that is that is like the best possible outcome to get somebody to go down this this this death, this death spiral is to make you feel isolated and alone. Like there’s no help. And the reality is there is help. The reality is you’re not the only one who’s been through this or, or will or will ever go through it. Right. Oh, I just I think it’s powerful. And I think just you sharing your story and there’s been you know, there’s been others I’ve shared their stories. I think it’s so important cuz it gives it gives people hope, but would love to then kind of hear the genesis of money oaks. How did that come? How did that come about? And take us through that story a little bit.
Jeremy Stalnecker 19:13
Yeah. So I, you know, start working in the church, I struggled. I had to pivot I had to turn. And a big part of that for me was I’m going to stop saying they don’t know who I was. They don’t know what I did back there. They don’t know how important all this stupid stuff we say. And so I just you know, I put my head down. I move forward. I was working at a church in Oceanside. That was you know, I was on staff there and so a lot of the folks who were there Marines and marine family so I was around that but I I really separated myself or distance myself from from a lot of a lot of that. I have this picture hanging up over my desk and I have for four years almost 20 years of my platoon in Iraq. The Marines gave that to me when I when I left the Marine Corps and it’s Is my Marines. It’s a it’s an awesome picture. And I’ve always looked at that, and very proud of that. I brought those kids home. You know, we went into Baghdad. On April 15 2003, our battalion had over 100 casualties, most wounded in action, some killed, most wounded in action. We were ambushed going into the city. But I brought all my Marines. Oh, and I had 84 Marines at the time I brought all this brings home, I was very proud of that. And so in my mind is I kind of put my uniform in the closet and move forward. I did my job. I took care of the people I was supposed to take care of. And I was done. 10 years later, one of my Marines reached out to me almost 10 years later, 2012, one of my Marines reached out to me through Facebook through, you know, social media, which is weird, we can stay connected forever through social media. And he said, Hey, sir, I’m at this guy. He’s starting this organization. I don’t know much about it. It’s for veterans. It’s faith based. I’m not a Christian, but I know you are. So maybe you’d like to come. He said, find a few guys that you served with and bring them. So that was kind of like the whole conversation. Chad Robicheaux, our founder, he and his family had just started the mighty oaks foundation. They’re trying to get it, you know, kind of figured out and understand the best way to serve veterans. And the problem with veterans often is they’re super cynical. And so he had an idea he was having a really hard time getting veterans to connect to it. So that’s how he reached out to, to the marine that I started with my friend Jeremy Han. He just say, I need some people. Can you bring them. And that’s how I ended up there. So this is 2012. I met Chad, he was just starting mighty oaks. I was actually pastoring a church at the time. So I had left the church where I was serving on staff. I was pastoring, a church in the San Francisco area. And he said, Hey, I’m trying to get this thing going. But I don’t have the ministry experience. We’re a faith based organization. But I don’t know how to contextualize all of that. Can you help me with this? And I said, Sure, we’re just again, getting started just trying to, I mean, basically beg people to come, right. But that week, I also saw I learned about mighty oaks and what, you know, kind of vision was there, and the direction that Chad, he asked me to come and help. But I spent some time with about 10 Marines that I had served with. One night, we were sitting around a fire just to the group of us from, from our platoon. And I started hearing these stories. You know, I talked these guys in years. And I heard stories of Marines that I had served with Marines ever in my platoon, having taken their lives. Marines that came back and had, you know, just tremendous problems personally, some that did very well. But it was, you know, the whole spectrum. One of the Marines that was there, and we’ve, you know, had some tremendous conversations since then. But he said, I hated you for almost 10 years. But he said to me, that’s great. That’s what you want to hear. He said, when you were leading our platoon, you’re leading our Marines. You said, You’d always take care of us. And you did, and you brought us home, and then you left. And we went back to Fallujah. So we rotated back. The Marines I served with that we’re still in seven months later, they were in the first battle of Fallujah. And he said, I felt like you left us that you abandon us. Now, we know intellectually, that’s not true. I would not have gone back with me if I stayed in the Marine Corps, but he was expressing, that’s how I felt. And again, that wasn’t the end of the conversation. He went on to say, I understand now. And you know, we worked through that. But that was a moment in time where I realized that picture I have hanging over my desk I look at I’m so proud of so many of those kids that I felt like I brought home, I walked away from on the other side, and that my responsibility to them did not end when I put the uniform back in the closet and walked away that I still had a responsibility to them. So when Chad asked me to help him, I was all in I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. And I don’t think he knew either. We’re just trying to figure it out. And went from trying to do a few programs a year to, you know, this year, well, not this year, because of COVID. But next year, we have 30 weeks of programming on our calendar, we’ll have about 1000 students come through we’ve had almost 4000 students come through our program, and we spoken to about 150,000 Through active duty on active duty units and various conferences and so forth. So that transition for me again, was really just understanding that service doesn’t end when your DD 214 You know, says it ended, it continues. And that’s a big, big part of this for me. And so, you know, getting to know you and getting to know what you do and even kind of the focus of your podcast is so important for me because I believe that veterans have to understand that that’s a part of who they are, but it’s a very unique part of who they are. 20 million Veterans in the United States. If we would take care of each other, and then use what we learned in the military to take care of others, we could change the world. And that’s happening in some places. But for me, that was something it took a long time to understand. And finally I did and and hopefully we’re making a difference. But that’s it. That’s kind of the genesis from one end to the other for me, and now we’re just pressing forward.
Aaron Spatz 25:21
No, I mean, it’s it’s amazing story. I’m, I’m glad you, I’m glad you kind of pivoted the conversation and like, I think he threw a joke in there, because you’re like, starting getting tore up over air man, say, very, very powerful, very powerful story. And, and it’s just, it’s amazing it like, just kind of look from the outside looking in at you and like work, where you came from, where you’ve been through and where you are now. It’s like, Yeah, I mean, this is perfect, right? It’s like, it’s like, it’s the blend of ministry, and it’s the blend of veterans. And so you’re still, you still have the connection to the military, but you’re still living out ministry, and you’re like, getting it all kind of wrapped into one. One thing, right. So yes, we’re sorry. So let’s so then let’s dive into the business just just a little bit. We’d love to love to understand, though, like, so there’s a lot I mean, there’s one there’s like a million nonprofits out, but veterans nonprofits and that and and so what and I’ve spoken on this topic with a few other folks that have done nonprofits and so like one of the biggest misconceptions that people have is, nonprofits are run like businesses like you, you there’s it’s just it’s just a tax status yet. But then to but there are very unique challenges associated to nonprofits. And so, you know, as as as comfortable as you feel like we’d love to understand from the nonprofit angle, what what are some of the what are some of the challenges, what are some of the things that maybe just folks looking from a casual look from the outside just wouldn’t completely understand. As it relates to nonprofits?
Jeremy Stalnecker 26:52
Yeah. So, again, this is a there’s a lot that can be said here. So okay, I’ll start at the beginning, then 45 45,000 is the number of veterans nonprofits in the United States. And that’s, that’s a real number. Okay. Now, that doesn’t mean that every one of those nonprofits is solely dedicated to veterans, but 45,000 nonprofits, the United States would have somewhere in their mission statement, or in their, you know, their tax documents that they serve veterans. So this is not a space that is necessarily in need of just more nonprofits. So the question, I think that, you know, particularly the veteran space, those who are starting nonprofits need to ask is why I get asked regularly, you know, probably weekly, by folks who are interested in starting a veteran, nonprofit, you know how to do that. And a lot of that goes into that. And they ask, What do I need to know? And I get the same advice every time, you need to know if there’s another organization doing what it is you want to do. And you have to really settle? Do I want to run an organization? Or do I want an organization to exist? Yeah. Is there some need that I see that needs to be fulfilled, or minister to met? have a hard time with the words, there’s a need that needs to be met? Or do I just want to run a nonprofit that those are two different questions, and I think they drive people in two different directions. Yeah, if, if your goal is to simply meet a need, then I would recommend before you do anything else, find out if there is another organization doing, you know what you’d like to do or meeting that need. And if there is get involved with them, start there. And then see where that goes. starting a nonprofit is is like starting any other business. It’s extremely challenging. It’s extremely difficult. There are days when you wonder why we’ve done this. So Chad, our founder in his family really started mighty oaks about a year before I came on board. And so they they filed the 501 they got things going. And it took about that amount of time to figure out, you know, how are we going to do this, and that’s when I came and that’s where we started putting the program as it is now together. But in that process, he left a business that was, you know, prosperous, he was making money and started into the nonprofit world where money comes from donations. And so if you’re going to do that, just understand there’s a price to be paid. I would also say that you don’t need to leave the employment that you have the thing that’s paying your bills to start a nonprofit. A lot of people think they do. I need to be all in. You don’t need to be all in. You need to be like, you know, 20% in, get started, get it moving. See if anyone’s going to get behind it. You know, we would say there’s a point at which your nonprofit is a hobby. So do it as a hobby for a while and figure out if there’s something there and if there is, then jump in, stop doing it as a hobby and push forward. Because there’s a lot to it. So yes, long, long answer. But it’s it’s very much like starting a business because it is it starting a business. And with the 501 status as a nonprofit, there’s some great things that come along with that. There’s a lot of regulation that comes along with that as well. So you need some people who understand that. So the initial challenges are that it’s just learning how the business runs, how to get it together, reaching out to donors, figuring out what that looks like, and how you’re going to pursue that from, you know, an outreach standpoint. But then, for us, one of the biggest challenges over the last 10 years, has been growing through the stages of development. We went from, you know, Chad, and myself, and some volunteers. Now, we are in four states, we run programs in four states, we have 16, full time staff members, we have about 60, folks who work with us at any point during the year to run our programs. So you know, we’re a fairly large nonprofit, we’ve grown into that. But going from let’s try to get two programs going this year, let’s try to get three programs going this year to having a full time effort, we run sessions almost every week of the year, and have, you know, almost 1000 folks a year come through that there’s obviously a need financially to raise the money to support that, for our program, we just made a decision that we will pay for the program, we also pay for travel if someone needs to get to one of our one of our locations. So so there’s a lot that goes into that. So a lot of challenges, you know, as you can imagine associated with that. And a big part of this, and this is, you know, I don’t know if it’s advice or whatever perspective is, decide what you want. If you want a national nonprofit, that’s going to need to raise several million dollars a year and do the kind of stuff that we do. Just know that and go into it, knowing that which means you have to get the right accounting team together, you have to get the right administrative team together, you have to get the right marketing team together. You have to think that way, think big. If that’s not something you’re interested in, you want to do fewer programs or a smaller thing, but do it well do it efficiently. Do it effectively. There is nothing wrong with that. But then scale your business your your organization. To that end. I think we yeah, we’re just trying to figure it out. But I think we thought small, let’s do some, and then it got traction and took off. And so we’ve been trying to pivot and we have, but it’s come with some growing pains. Sure. So yeah, I don’t answer your question. On blast, but that’s some stuff.
Aaron Spatz 32:47
No, stuff. No stuff was good. That was good. No, that’s that’s a good. That’s a That’s fantastic answer would and it. It’s so true, though, because I think that the question you asked at the beginning, I don’t remember the question. But it was like, Well, do you want to you want to run a nonprofit? Or do you want to see a nonprofit exists? I think I think that was the question.
Jeremy Stalnecker 33:10
Do you want to meet a need? Right?
Aaron Spatz 33:11
Jeremy Stalnecker 33:13
I Yeah. Do you want to meet a need? Is it that you want to run something or you want to meet a need that exists? Exactly right.
Aaron Spatz 33:19
Yeah. And so I’m, that’s a fantastic question. Because if you want to meet a need, then chances are pretty high with 45,000 nonprofits, there’s that needs to be met somewhere somehow and find one that maybe aligns with your values or your just the way that you’d love to see it actually executed in a giant show. So then, so then share with us then you mentioned getting traction. And again, I mean, this this is probably a kind of a weird question. But but it’s, it’s, it’s always fascinating to see the point at which businesses then begin to grow. And so I think it’s like a two part questions like one. How long did that take? Like, what, what year or I don’t know if is, in terms of the business, like, when did it actually start to take off? And then what what was like, what was the mechanism for that? Like, what what happened?
Jeremy Stalnecker 34:11
Yeah. Okay. So it’s two parts, but but they’re connected. Right? Right. Yeah. What, what we do and how we got traction is no different than any other business in the world. What we produce, if you will, if I can put it in those in those terms, what we, what we produce is healing, hope, direction, purpose. That’s what we produce. Others might produce, you know, something else, some other product, but when you produce something that is effective, or gets out. We, again, we’re working to convince people to attend our programs. We had some where a lot of people came and some where they didn’t the first year that I was involved. I think our goal was four sessions for that. We call obsessions. So that’s a week. So people come to a where we are one of our locations for a week, they spend a week with us, we teach them we talk through trauma, combat trauma, life, trauma, moving forward, etc. So we were trying to talk people into that we get them, they’re all veterans at the time. And what many of them experienced with us was that even though they had been through other programs dealing with the same issues, we were approaching those issues from a different perspective, from a faith perspective, whether they were believers or not, whether they ascribe to faith or not, they saw a contrast between what we were talking about and what they were living, they understood that if they would shift their own perspective, and, you know, move forward into what they were created to be and to do, that their life could be different. Well, when change happens in a life, word gets out. And again, it’s not different in any other business. When something affective takes place in your life. word gets out. And so for us, that’s what happened. After really that first year of having those four programs, word got out. And we had to start scaling as an organization to deal with the applications that were coming in. Because, you know, a man or woman would go home, and they would say, I’ve tried everything, this thing works. You’re my friend, I served with you, your family member, you need to go to this thing. You just give it a try. Don’t pay for everything, it’s not going to cost you anything. Go try it out. And it was producing something that works that allowed that word of mouth to, you know, really put in motion for us. On the on the other side of that. I think it was 2014, we started working with the active duty military, specifically the Wounded Warrior battalion at Camp Pendleton. You know, we’re a faith based organization, they wouldn’t, they weren’t telling people they have to come. But when we asked them for it was like, send somebody send a staff NCO send somebody just to watch what we do, and see if it works. And they did so first Arden and a gunny to one of our programs, they came, they saw it again, same thing, they went back and they said, You need to go to this thing. We can’t make you but you need to go. And so we started getting traction through that with the Active Duty community. Now, about half of our students would be veterans, half would be active duty service members. But that was it. And I could I could talk more expansively on that. But really, what it boils down to is produce something that works produce something that matters. It’s a great question, because and I get worked up about this one, because we have people come to us that will say, you know, how do you get some of the media that you get? How do you get some of the funding that you get? How do you get this? How do you get that? How do you do this thing and that other thing, and they’re looking for the formula that’s going to you know, one plus one will equal whatever it is they want. And, you know, I’ll tell them hard work 16 hour days, struggling to make it happen, trying to figure it out, trying to communicate spending five days at a session where you’re basically working 24 hours a day throughout that five days, trying to walk through, you know, the darkness of people’s lives with them and get them to the other side, produce something that works. And then you have something to market. I think a lot of times people are trying to market an idea market, a concept market, something they really believe is going to work. Having not actually produced it. And you know, Chad is very good. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, I don’t you met him. But if you haven’t, you need to, but but Chad is is very good at communicating what is working. So we dug in and started making something that worked. And he did a great job and our team has of communicating what’s working. And so when that happened, then there’s traction. And, you know, for us traction means practically it means more applications and applications mean more people in programs. And for me, that means trying to scale in such a way that we can handle everything that goes along with that. Yeah.
Aaron Spatz 39:07
Wow. Wow, the No, I mean, it’s it’s it’s just I mean, like we talked about earlier, it’s running a nonprofit is is not very different from running a regular business, you just have different guidelines, different advantages and different regulations that you have to comply with. But the same principle applies, though, if you have a product or service that does a great job. Yeah, word gets out. So that’s right. If you’re producing like really awesome coffee mugs, or candles or cell phones, whatever else is on my desk here. And it’s really, really good. word gets out. And so in your case, healing hope, direction and purpose. word gets out and it’s one of those you know, you got to see it, try it, believe it and then it’s like, wow, yeah, you really need to go to this and so that’s, that’s, it’s like it’s such an obvious answer, right? It’s like, well, it’s, it’s because we busted our tails to do something that was that actually worked? You know,
Jeremy Stalnecker 40:03
it is it is an obvious answer to me. Yeah, I think it’s an obvious answer to you. Yeah. You’d be surprised how many people it’s not obvious to though. There there is. There’s something almost. If I need to be candid, yeah, go for it. There’s something almost romantic in the idea of particularly nonprofit work. Totally agree. And it doesn’t take long, realizing that you can’t pay the bills, because people don’t understand what you’re trying to do. So they’re not going to give their money to it. Or things cost more than you thought they would. Or there’s challenges because veterans can be, you know, pretty obnoxious sometimes. And so you’re trying to work through that. And there’s all these issues you didn’t anticipate. It doesn’t take long for the Romans to, to go away. And for it to just become really hard work. So if you haven’t answered the question before he started, why am I doing this? Why is this important to me? It won’t take long before you either stop doing it, or you just do the stuff you really like, and not the rest of it. So it is an obvious answer, I think. Yeah. But it’s one, you would be surprised how many conversations I’ve had with folks. They’ll say, I want to do this. And I’ll say, that’s great. I know someone that’s doing that. Why don’t you go work with them for a little while. Work with them as a volunteer, at least check out what they’re doing, see how they’re doing it, take what they’re doing, and do it somewhere else, if that’s what you need to do. But at least check that out? And they’ll say no, I really want to do this on my own. That’s the romance of the idea that that’s not about the work. And if you’re not, if you’re not interested in doing the work, you’re really going to struggle with, you know, with the ups and downs of this life, which is awesome. And it is awesome. But it is a lot of work. It is
Aaron Spatz 41:49
yeah, for sure. And I think it’s a brilliant question. You know, what, why am I doing this? It’s a it’s one, it’s one of those, you need to sit alone with yourself a while and reflect on that one for for just a few minutes. Okay, so we’ve really, I think I’ve got the two more kind of business oriented questions, but so you’d mentioned it several times. But the, for folks that attend the program, there’s zero cost to them. So the obvious question is, then, how is the how’s the company funded?
Jeremy Stalnecker 42:21
Yep. We are funded entirely through donations, which is awesome. And those donations are everything from $5 a month, given online $25 A month is very common to some significant donors who have come along and said, we really appreciate what you’re doing. And we want to support that. So it’s, it’s kind of everything. And we’re, we’re kind of I mean, this is the fight, on my end, is funding and people, again, people get real weird about that nonprofit should be, you know, 90% programs versus overhead and a lot of stuff that to me, it’s just not practical. If you want to really reach into you know, the community and do something nationally, you have to raise a lot of money, you have to hire a lot of people to make that happen. And so we do it through fundraising. And again, that’s a that’s a major effort. As we’ve grown, Chad, has primarily focused on that aspect of it relationships, and fundraising, I focus primarily now, at one time, we’re kind of working on all of it. Now I focus primarily on the organization itself. And, you know, managing and growing the organization, because that’s so important. That’s the that’s the fuel in the in the tank that keeps the engine running. But it’s, again, it goes back to and this is a question again, I get asked, How do you get large capacity donors or high capacity donors? How do you do that, communicating that what you’re doing is working, I’ll tell you what large donors like they like to invest their money in something that they can point to. That is working. And, you know, it’s not an idea. There are a lot of veterans organizations to give to, I believe that many veterans organizations are about explaining that there’s a problem there awareness organizations, veterans are killing themselves, families are broken, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what people like to give their money to is solutions. Yeah. So understanding there’s a problem communicating that there is a solution. And in our case, this is for us the solution. There are other aspects of that, but this is what we do. We’re focused on the solution, not raising awareness, and communicating that well, and that’s brought some I mean, you know, a few $1,000 along that really helped us make that happen. And it’s been it’s been incredible to see. There are a lot of folks who bemoan where we are as a nation. And I know we’re struggling in a lot of areas. But there are a lot of very patriotic, very grateful Americans that are willing to get behind supporting the men and women who have served us.
Aaron Spatz 44:56
Yeah, that’s fantastic and fantastic that I mean, that’s That’s obviously the lifeblood of the business has been able to, to track donors and like you said, being able to point to success and people want to invest in a team, right? They want to they, they want to know that their money is going to good use. And when you can point to specific outputs of the success stories, in the case studies, it’s like, well, that’s a no brainer, how much
Jeremy Stalnecker 45:25
what, you know, what’s interesting, I think, probably for entrepreneurs, as much as for nonprofit leaders, is, the money side is is kind of the the least attractive side of this, like managing the finances, figuring out where the money comes from, I would imagine it’s the same on both sides. It’s the idea, it’s getting something to market, it’s making something happen. And if you do that the money will come well, the money will come when you focus on it, but you have to realize that particularly nonprofit side, raising money is not the enemy. If you can’t do it, you can’t do the thing that’s important to you. And and there’s there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Aaron Spatz 46:03
Right. No, and it points to points to the the issue that a ton of companies, especially startups face, right, it’s like, okay, well, I need to be able to point to a case study if I either a I need donors in the nonprofit in this instance, or, or I’m trying to, like win a bid or a deal with somebody. Yes, I need case studies. Well, I don’t have case studies, I can’t. So it’s like, trying to try to do that proof of concept, whether you’re giving it away, I’m talking like on the for profit business you’re doing, you’re doing some small scope, project that that you can use as a case study, or, or in your guys’s case, a very small scaled version of I’m sure, like, the early version of the program was very simple, very small. And but then that began to kind of give you some traction in terms of case studies and an operative things to point to right. So how so then I guess this really the last business oriented question I have for you is then dealing with scale. So that sounds like that’s obviously the you get you get A a certain amount of funding that comes in and then you realize, okay, well, what I’m trying to steward this as best I can, but like, what are what are the business needs? How do I prioritize? So like? How have you gone through that process of scaling now that you’re serving multiple states and doing a ton more programs?
Jeremy Stalnecker 47:26
We’re going through this process, even right now, one of the things we’ve done recently is we hired a an operations officer who has a background in, you know, scaling business and understanding the financial side of that, and projections and so forth. So a lot of I think the process of scaling is getting people around you that understand how to do that. Finance is not my strength. But we’ve been able to bring some folks in who do have that as a strength and they can can help me with that. We’ve gone through almost two stages, the initial stage of scaling for us was, if I can simplify it this much looking at the bank account and saying, Do we have enough money to do that? Right? And if the answer is yes, then we’ll do it. So we went through that process. Again, think thinking we would stay small and seeing things grow and more need and more people. It was just that do we have the money to make this happen? We need to get out there and raise more money, etc. But now we’re going through a formal process of, you know, strategically, what does this look like for us in three years? Five years is a little far this year has been an indication that maybe a years too far, but we look a few years down the road and ask questions like this. For us understanding that there are, you know, 20 million veterans in the United States, we’re serving the Active Duty community, we’re also now serving the first responder community. This represents millions of people and their families. So how many do we want to reach every year? Because we can’t possibly reach everyone. So what does that look like for us? What do partnerships to expand our reach look like for us locations? Do we need to add those? Or do we need to work with partners who have those, you know, all these questions or questions that we’re asking right now? Honestly, if you’d asked me three years ago, will you ever get to the point where you have 1000 students a year coming through your program? I’d say, Well, if we do that’s it for us. I mean, we’ve had it. In fact, I’ve communicated this in writing into our board. And that’s the goal. Let’s get there. While we’re there. And so now I need to look down the road a little bit. And again, we’re going through a formal process of doing this right now. And then what is the the financial need for that if we decide to do you know, we’ll have three courses of action? We’re working on those. Depending on what we decide to do, what path we decided to take, what is that going to cost us? And you know, what kind of a time frame are we looking at? So yeah, these are it’s interesting. I thought that kind of the growth curve would be pretty uniform. It’s not, it’s pretty messy. But on this side, now we’ve gotten to the point where we can actually, you know, step back and go, Okay, we know where we are, we know what we’re capable of doing. We know what assets and resources we have available to us, we know what more in this area will get us or less than that area. And so we can look down the road and actually project out. So it’s been a it’s been a really good process and one we’re working through right now.
Aaron Spatz 50:26
That’s great. And that’s and that’s awesome to hear that you’ve already crushed your, your you’ve already had written man, that’s
Jeremy Stalnecker 50:33
yeah, a lot of crushed. But for me, it was like, that’s so far out there. Right. Gonna take us a while to get there. Yeah. Again, you know, the kneading it I love, it increases, but it certainly exists. And when people find a place for help, and healing and so forth, they come to us and our donors have stepped up. And so it’s been possible to meet that need.
Aaron Spatz 50:54
Now, that’s fantastic. And I, you’ve probably already answered this question. And as but I’d love to love to understand from from you, though, like what that what’s been one of the biggest challenges that that you either personally or through, or through mighty oaks. But what’s, what’s one of the bigger challenges that you guys have had to face that? Maybe you didn’t? You didn’t anticipate? And then how were you able to cope with that challenge?
Jeremy Stalnecker 51:18
As an organization? Sure. Yeah. I think the scaling part, you know, it was just something I didn’t anticipate I don’t, I didn’t understand it, I read a lot, I’ve read a lot of books, on on this and on growth and on all these things. The challenge, though, is everyone has a gift set. And in order to scale, an organization or a business from, you know, very small to something much larger. And all that goes into that your singular gift set is probably not going to be enough, you are good at one thing or another. Thankfully, you know Chad and I have very different giftings. And so we’ve been able to work together on that. But there are some some blind spots that we share. And, and so going through the process of scaling, you don’t necessarily have enough money to hire the people, you need to get to the next step. So you have to constantly be evaluating and constantly making decisions and constantly going through the frustration of just the mess of moving forward. And that’s why, you know, I said earlier, you kind of have to decide what you want. I mean, if there’s a demand than meet the demand, sure. But if you don’t care about growing into a national organization that’s doing whatever, then don’t, it’s okay, do what you’re good at, do what you’re gifted at doing, and be okay with that. And if you change somewhere along the way, you say we’ve got something here that others could use, then grow to that. But it’s a it’s a messy process. And I think probably that’s something I didn’t anticipate, and how did we get through it, you just keep your head down and keep moving forward. And, and just trust that you’re doing what God wants you to do. And, and, you know, when you’re starting, you don’t have anything to lose. So just keep pushing and see where you end up. But then hiring the right people has been, you know, probably the biggest thing we’ve done, right? We have an incredible team of gifted people who make it happen. And that’s really how we’ve overcome a lot of the obstacles we’ve had to deal with.
Aaron Spatz 53:21
Wow, that’s that’s, that’s terrific. Share with us then. So if somebody is interested in learning more about the program, one, how do they how do they get in touch with you? How do they sign up? What does that look like?
Jeremy Stalnecker 53:32
Yeah, mighty oaks, programs.org. That’s our organization’s website, mighty oaks programs. org, you can learn about the program, and fill out an application there. And then our team will get back with you. Again, it doesn’t cost anything to attend doesn’t cost anything to get there, we’ll cover travel. And we have programs going on all the time, just about so we’ll figure out a time that works for you. Also, on our website, if you just want to get involved with my jokes financially, or pray for you know what we’re doing. That’d be great, too. You can find that out on what on the website, or connect with us on social media, we put out a lot of content on social media a lot, maybe too much, but a lot. Facebook, Instagram, are the two primary places you can find us as an organization. And and I’m on both of those, as well as, as Chad our founder. So yeah, keep in touch with what we’re doing. Watch what we’re doing and let us know if we can do anything to help you.
Aaron Spatz 54:27
Yeah, no, that’s, that’s terrific. And I would I mean, you basically eliminate a ton of the excuses why someone would say I can’t go I mean, the only thing I guess they got to figure out is how to get off of work for about a week. That’s really the only obstacle and then it’s all taken care of for every
Jeremy Stalnecker 54:45
one of your your listeners who are involved in business who will say something like this to themselves. You need to have skin in the game. People need to invest in order to get good healing, etc. I know they’re saying it because I’ve been told that probably 10,000 times We have wrestled and wrestled and wrestled with this particularly paying for travel, that’s one of the largest items on our budget is paying for flights. But the folks that we’re dealing with many of them, it’s the hardest thing in the world for them, even to fill out an application to get on a plane to travel somewhere, whatever, if there’s an excuse, they’re going to use it. And we’ve had to decide organizationally, and then our board, you know, signed off on, on this as a strategy, we’re going to remove every obstacle to get you to a place where you can get that healing, we deal with, with trauma, we deal with people that are absolutely broken, they have nowhere else to go. And that does not fit. That’s not everyone that attends our program. But that’s a lot of folks. And so the next stage in their life, they need to have some skin in the game, and they need to move forward and invest. But for us, we just want to get them to the place where they can find that direction and get a clear head and move forward.
Aaron Spatz 55:53
Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s, that’s terrific. And huge fan of what you guys are doing. And I’m just grateful to you, Jeremy. Thanks. Thanks for popping on Sherman side of things. And great, great to hear your story. Great to hear the story of money oaks. And yeah, just just just as sincere pleasure, thank you.
Jeremy Stalnecker 56:13
Yeah, thank you, Aaron. Appreciate it anytime. And I love what you’re doing as well. I appreciate that. You’re working with the business side of the veteran community. We could change the world. I mean, we could veterans could change the world if we just stand up and do some really important stuff. And so I appreciate what you’re doing as well.
Aaron Spatz 56:30
Yes, sir. Man, what an amazing episode. I can’t believe what I’m doing this live. But to me, it was just so much fun, so much fun chatting with Jeremy I loved the story of the nonprofit I loved especially hearing his his own unique story of his struggle, his experiences and the things that led him to join mighty oaks and so I think that was fantastic. You know, obviously working with Chad as as as one of the co founders there of mighty oaks but terrific program. Obviously what they’re doing is making a tremendous difference. So I would encourage you, if if this is like tugging at your heartstrings and you feel like man, I need to go this is something that I think would help me and change my life and freaking do it like you need you need to go do it and figure out what you’re gonna do with employment for that week. But stick figure it out. I think it’s a there’s enough case studies enough people you can talk to to show that it does work, it is worthwhile, and they’re removing just about every other obstacle or excuse why you can go so anyway, I’m just I’m just thrilled. I am incredibly grateful and thankful for you for watching this for listening to this. And I can’t wait to talk to you and see you again soon. See ya.