Veterans as Community Leaders

Team Rubicon is mobilizing former service members as crisis responders

We need to respond to the novel coronavirus with the cool-headed rigor of a military operation. That was the advice offered by the head of Team Rubicon to 50 donors who joined a recent Philanthropy Roundtable  webinar.

“Getting through COVID-19 is going to require a disciplined approach,” explained Jake Wood, co-founder of the disaster response group. Wood believes that veteran-led, mostly veteran-peopled charities like his are uniquely poised to help Americans in this time of crisis. Team Rubicon’s particular specialty is deploying veterans and other volunteers to serve in disaster situations. In response to today’s coronavirus emergency, the group has launched its #NeighborsHelpingNeighbors initiative. 

Earlier this month, the donor-funded nonprofit opened a 250-bed field hospital in Santa Clara County to serve victims of COVID-19 in California. So far, Team Rubicon has accepted eight patients, and the team hopes to see more soon. 

At the Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in North Carolina, Team Rubicon helped set up a drop-in COVID-19 testing center, where those exhibiting symptoms can drive by and receive testing outside of the hospital to avoid the spread of germs. And from California to Florida, Team Rubicon's volunteers, called Greyshirts, are partnering with food banks to distribute food throughout their communities. 

Team Rubicon volunteers are also serving in small ways in scores of other communities, for instance by helping individuals who cannot leave their homes to buy groceries, by dropping off medicine and other supplies, and by providing transportation. “We’ve been able to move very quickly to get volunteers out into the field — fast,” says Wood. Advanced technological resources like a real-time map on Team Rubicon’s website (developed with pro bono assistance from Microsoft) show where volunteers across the U.S. are active. 

Team Rubicon’s map displays the service offered as well as its cost. In Washington state, for instance, just $4 for a bit of gas and 90 minutes of a volunteer’s time on a weekend got a family’s lawn cut. In Texas, a simple check-in with an isolated person took just 10 minutes—and cost the nonprofit nothing. 

While some of these services require little more than a desire to help (and reminders on best practices like staying six feet apart from neighbors), other tasks demand more specific skills that Team Rubicon helps organize. It’s not a requirement that volunteers be veterans, but Wood says about 70 percent of them are (with many of the rest being first-responders), and as a result they have above-average skills in areas ranging from first aid to engineering to leadership under pressure. 

Since its founding in 2010, Team Rubicon has responded to more than 500 natural disasters and other difficult situations, from calamities abroad like the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal to wildfires and tornadoes in the U.S. Team Rubicon’s mostly veteran volunteers “have brought order,” Wood notes, “in some of the most chaotic situations on the planet.” Now they are doing likewise in communities stressed by an invisible virus.

To learn more about The Philanthropy Roundtable’s veterans programs, click here