Interview: Five Minutes with Susan Ludwig, President, Coast Guard Foundation
COVID has presented numerous challenges, particularly to the members of the U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard Foundation has stood strong throughout to assist, as Susan Ludwig discussed with Maritime Reporter TV.
Susan, when COVID effectively shut down the world in 2020, everyone had to make adjustments. How did the Coast Guard Foundation respond?
We did what everybody else did; we planned for the worst on a weekly basis. We took look at not being able to host our in-person events for the year, and anticipated a lower amount of donor giving. So we took about 35% of our normal funding out, and we cut expenses short-term by the same amount.
How did the Coast Guard Foundation adjust its programs to better serve Coast Guard members and their families during COVID?
We leaned into the relationship we have with our Coast Guard leaders, because we knew their mission components were shifting and changing, and we wanted to be where they needed us. The first thing they told us was we need COVID support. Imagine a large crew on a national security cutter whose deployments went from eight months to about 16 months. So we outfitted those large ships with morale items to boost their wellness. We also helped with the isolation spaces that the Coast Guard was setting up for their members that needed to quarantine. And in addition to those members needing to quarantine, remember in the military service, you've got families that are needing to transfer every three years. So if you have to go from area A to area B, you also needed to quarantine for a couple weeks. So we outfitted those spaces with morale gear, video games, books and cooking utensils. We adjusted all that we could within the confines of our support.
For the last 20 months, COVID put a break on many things, but it wasn't able to put the brakes on natural disasters, and there have been a number of natural disasters in that time. How did the Coast Guard Foundation respond?
You are absolutely right, Greg, Mother nature did not take a knee! During wildfires and hurricanes, these folks are running into the fray to rescue people and homes, while their own homes are being damaged or destroyed; they live in the communities in which they serve. So we've gotten this down to where we can get funds out to the individual families in harm’s way in less than three days.
Obviously, as we've discussed, you have a number of programs aimed to help Coast Guard families. What did those programs look like during COVID?
We have three major areas, in which we support Coast Guard members and their families, and the buckets are loosely defined as education, emergency and tragedy assistance, and morale. During COVID, we can move in and out of those in significant ways. So, we moved deadlines. We made sure to work with Coast Guard leadership on that COVID piece to hold up the morale for those that needed to be isolated. The other really great piece that we will continue beyond COVID is we started working with the Coast Guard chaplains to better define how we could help with our funds. We have been setting up pilots that have been successful for peer-to-peer training. So instead of just the chaplains having to lift that work, now they've got others in the various Coast Guard areas that are also trained in suicide prevention (and other helpful services). Although it's in its pilot stage now, we have strong indicators that we will continue. So in addition to the physical morale and keeping them mission ready with all the exercise equipment and outdoor pieces, we're very proud that we're also doing a lot more on the mental wellness side.
We talk about the Coast Guard Foundation helping the Coast Guard, but then again, the Coast Guard Foundation likely needs some assistance itself. Can you discuss who has helped the Coast Guard Foundation enable its work?
We have 26,000 donors, made up of corporate supporters and individual supporters. Our 80-member national board is as active as any board I've ever been part of, and they do a lot of this lifting. And I would also say that our relationship with Coast Guard members and Coast Guard leaders has never been stronger. We need those lines of communication to make sure that our current programs are delivering where they need it.
For anyone reading (or watching), how can the maritime industry help the Coast Guard Foundation fulfill its mission?
We have many of your maritime supporters and would welcome any others that want to get closer to this mission. It’s about matching that passion of the people they work with every day to the needs of the Coast Guard members. We are about to set up our 2022 events schedule, and I'm happy to say we'll have eight of the ‘Salute the Coast Guard’ dinners as well as two golf tournaments. They're evenings of community where maritime members are together in one room with Coast Guard leadership, and we salute Cast Guard heroes from the stage.
We have many maritime partners who want to help in specific areas of support. One of them that comes to mind is education. Within the education bucket of dependent scholarships and enlisted grants and spouse grants, we also have a program called workforce development that sprung organically from a conversation that one of our directors had in Miami three and a half years ago, where Coast Guard members were telling him that they needed additional credentialing. So, the Coast Guard will obviously credential them in captain's and aviation licenses, but they wanted to go beyond that, to be more mission ready in their current job, and then to be more marketable once they retire. So we set up classes, and we have classes of captain's licenses and a whole lot of other solutions that we fund.