Travis Manion Foundation: Empowering Veterans and Families of the Fallen

As Philanthropy Roundtable observes Memorial Day this year, we are recognizing the Travis Manion Foundation for its support in “honoring the fallen by challenging the living.”

In 2007, Janet Manion founded the Travis Manion Foundation to honor her son Travis Manion, who was killed in action in Fallujah, Iraq. Earlier that year, Travis was “fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates.” He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star with Valor for his courage in helping the other members of his patrol survive.

To further his legacy, the Travis Manion Foundation inspires people to make an impact by serving others, uniting communities by “training, developing and highlighting the role models that lead them.” Their programs are “designed to empower veterans and families of the fallen,” bringing Gold Star families together with veterans – and dispelling a commonly-held belief that the needs of each group are disparate.

In fact, Travis Manion Foundation leaders say they recognize that both groups often feel disconnected from a previous purpose. For veterans, this feeling stems from exiting the military, while Gold Star families are cut off from military life with the loss of a loved one. The foundation found it meaningful to bring members of these communities together, as they face challenges like grappling with new identities and reconnecting with others.

Service plays a central role connecting these two communities and achieving the foundation’s mission.  The Travis Manion Foundation focuses on empowering veterans and the families of the fallen by utilizing them as resources to make a positive impact in their communities and for the next generation. Their “character-based” programming makes use of leadership presentations, mentorship opportunities and service projects, among others.

“We provide service opportunities for both veterans and families of the fallen,” said Molly Boyle, the foundation’s chief strategic communications officer. “Veterans have a diversity of experience and thought, yet they have a special talent of being able to come together and accomplish a mission. And families of the fallen find comfort in redirecting their grief into serving others as a very healing experience.” 

The foundation’s programs are available nationwide and more than 60% are open to the public regardless of a military connection. They include:

  • Character Does Matter: This is one of the organization’s oldest and largest programs. The foundation trains veterans and families of the fallen to go into their communities and lead character development seminars. These presentations teach children about character through the lessons of our country’s heroes, both those in the military and other historical, patriotic figures. Since its inception, over 400,000 students have been impacted by this program.
  • Expeditions: These are service trips that bring together several families of the fallen to serve a community in need. Each family participant is asked to serve in honor of their fallen hero, providing them the opportunity to give back … and to keep their loved one’s story alive.
  • Spartan Leadership Program: This selective,  high-intensity leadership development program is comprised of veterans and families of the fallen who are looking “to hone and leverage the leadership of our nation’s heroes.” Over seven months, professionals blend character-based education and positive psychology to teach leadership skills to participants, who prepare to take newly-learned skills to address a pressing need in their community.

Program participant and Marine Corps veteran Ben Alexander said the foundation and the community it has built have brought him renewed energy.

“I love to serve. I love to be around people who love to serve selflessly and that’s what you get when you join the mission.  It reinvigorated me,” he said.

As the nation observes Memorial Day, the Travis Manion Foundation is recognizing those who lost their lives in service with its Honor Project, an effort that began in 2021 to remember the sacrifice of our fallen heroes on this sacred holiday. Amid COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, families last year were unable to travel to pay respects to their loved ones – and Arlington National Cemetery was open to very few people. In response to this, the foundation asked the general public to submit names of fallen heroes buried in Arlington and visited 4,000 of those grave sites, laying a commemorative flag made by veteran-owned company Flags of Valor at the foot of each tombstone. 

This year, the foundation is expanding this effort to six additional national cemeteries in Jacksonville, Florida (Jacksonville National Cemetery); San Diego, California (Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery); Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery); Fort Logan, Colorado(Fort Logan National Cemetery); Bucks County, Pennsylvania (Washington Crossing National Cemetery); and West Point, New York (West Point National Cemetery).

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