SOSi Expands Community Outreach Initiatives to Meet COVID-19 Pandemic Needs

SOS International LLC has supported organizations dedicated to improving their local communities for more than 30 years. Now, during the unprecedented times of COVID-19, the defense technology and services provider is stepping up once again to support its community partners struggling to continue providing valuable services amid increasing state restrictions and decreasing budgets.

SOSi supports organizations, through financial backing or employee engagement, under two main pillars: the military community and the underserved. Its long list of community partners includes the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Ayuda, Cornerstones, Fight for Children and Chance for Life, among others. Most recently, the company added PenFed Foundation as a nonprofit partner.

Supporting partners and those in need, especially during these challenging times, is now more critical than ever. Many nonprofits are pivoting to help those directly impacted by this pandemic.

“These are trying times I’m sure for everybody, and our nonprofit partners are not exempt from that,” SOSi President and CEO Julian Setian told WashingtonExec.

These organizations have a particularly challenging mission because none of the special assistance needed during the COVID-19 pandemic was forecasted at the start of the year, and fundraising has been geared toward mission objectives.

“Then suddenly, they were thrown this curveball,” Setian said. “We’ve had almost all of our community partners reach out and just ask for direct assistance in support of COVID-19 impact.”

Stepping up with Cornerstones

Cornerstones, a Reston, Virginia-based nonprofit, provides a case management approach and support for those in need of food, shelter, job skills training, financial literacy programs, housing counseling, affordable housing, quality childcare and other human services in the community.

According to Cornerstones CEO Kerrie Wilson, more than 16,000 families and individuals, including upward of 5,000 children, annually benefit from Cornerstones’ resources and programs.

SOSi participates in Cornerstones’ Thanksgiving drive in 2017. Photo: Cornerstones

Throughout the year, SOSi employees rally in support of Cornerstones’ Back to School, Thanksgiving, and Holiday Gifts for Kids drives. They also volunteer their time through serving meals at the Cornerstones Homeless Shelter, in Cornerstones employment and coaching clinics and afterschool enrichment programs for youth.

“They mean business when it comes to their philanthropy, as evidenced by generous financial and volunteer support, and joining us to advocate for affordable housing and other regional investments that are critical to economic stability and vibrancy of the community,” Wilson told WashingtonExec.

Cornerstones has been providing essential health and human services for low- to moderate-income families and individuals in the community for 50 years. During emergencies, the organization knows how emotionally, physically and financially devastating a communitywide crisis like COVID-19 can be on its most vulnerable neighbors.

Cornerstones’ front-line case managers and outreach workers play an essential role in supporting those impacted by the ongoing crisis. In addition to providing emergency support and services to help families stay in their homes through its Foreclosure Prevention program, the organization is offering temporary shelter for the homeless while assisting them in securing longer-term affordable housing. The organization has even moved older shelter residents or those with health risks to hotels to minimize COVID-19 exposure and keep residents and staff healthy.

With the help of its corporate partners like SOSi, Cornerstones has adapted its operations to scale its capacity to sustain those in need today and work with them to begin the process of rebuilding stability, health, and future in the community.

“SOSi team members have been volunteering and working with us for years,” Wilson said. “When COVID-19 hit, and we faced shifting the way we do business overnight, SOSi took their mission to heart and equipped us with the tools for our case managers to stay connected to clients in the community.”

SOSi’s back-to-school donation. Photo: Cornerstones

In March, SOSi provided Cornerstones with new laptops for their employees who must work remotely because of the pandemic social distancing regulations, and don’t have access to laptop computers.
Wilson said this made a critical difference in Cornerstones’ ability to serve its most vulnerable neighbors remotely.

“Thanks to SOSi’s rapid response, our Embry Rucker Community Shelter case managers now have efficient new laptops with videoconferencing capability,” she said. “These new systems will help them stay connected to shelter families and individuals and provide life-changing resources to help them build their stability, empowerment, and hope for a healthy, bright future in our community.”

Supporting Veteran and Military Community Through PenFed Foundation

The PenFed Foundation, SOSi’s most recent community partner, is the nonprofit arm of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. The foundation was created after Sept. 11, 2001, to support service members and veterans by providing them with the skills and resources to reach financial stability and opportunity.

SOSi is the exclusive partner of PenFed Foundation’s Veteran Entrepreneurial Investment Program Master’s Program, which helps veteran entrepreneurs access capital and provides them with education, mentorship and networking to enhance their fundraising strategy and skill set, and to connect with investors.

“We’re excited about the partnership with PenFed Foundation, number one, because this organization has been in the community for a long time serving the needs of our veteran population,” Setian said. “The initiative that we’re supporting happens to be the one area in the veteran philanthropy space that we’ve chosen to focus our efforts, and that’s on veteran entrepreneurship.”

SOSi donated $200,000 to PenFed Foundation to seed the program, and Setian is on the planning committee, providing technical assistance and guidance and, eventually, mentoring individual entrepreneurs.

According to PenFed Foundation, the economic impact of COVID-19 has threatened the financial stability of millions of Americans, including the military community.

In response, the foundation was the first national veteran service organization to launch a COVID-19 Emergency Financial Relief Program on March 17. It’s open to all veterans, active-duty, reserves and National Guard members experiencing a financial setback because of the economic effects of the pandemic. The fund looks explicitly to support those in financial need in areas of rent, mortgage, auto loan/leases or utilities.

The response to the program has been overwhelming. In just four days, more than 6,000 applications came in from veterans and service members in need of immediate help, according to Tamara O’Neil, head of philanthropy at PenFed Foundation.

“These are veterans who need financial support,” Setian stressed.

SOSi partnered with PenFed Foundation with a corporate match, meeting dollar for dollar up to $10,000. In only four days, SOSi’s corporate match was reached, and together more than $20,0000 was raised to support veterans and service members in need.

“We are so grateful to SOSi for stepping up to offer a matching gift of $10,000 that we were able to promote on social media platforms. In less than four days, the match was exceeded,” O’Neil told WashingtonExec.

Continuing to Support the Military Community

Over the years, SOSi has partnered with the United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore to support active-duty military service members and their families. Employees have packed USO care packages, participated in the Firecracker 5k for the Troops race benefiting the USO and donated holiday gifts to the USO’s Project Elf program.

During the pandemic, SOSi donated to the USO’s COVID-19 relief fund, which covers grab ‘n go meals, virtual programming and resiliency care packages for service members and their families.

“Our military service members are feeling the effects of the crisis, and we’ve got a lot of people who are in the high-risk age bracket, and many just don’t have a local support system to lean on,” Setian said. “We’re trying to jump in where we can.”

Serving At-Risk Immigrants with Ayuda

In partnership with Ayuda, SOSi supports the at-risk immigrant community by providing funding for the organization’s Virginia Language Access Program, which provides advocacy, social services and language services to help vulnerable immigrants in the Virginia community.

“This is not the immigrant population at large,” Setian said. “These are people generally who were the victims of serious crimes like human trafficking, domestic violence, et cetera.”

SOSi’s support of Ayuda’s Northern Virginia Interpreter Bank includes 20 different nonprofits. It provides victims in Northern Virginia with access to specially trained professional interpreters, according to Ayuda Language Access Director David Steib.

Together, the nonprofits ensure victims get legal help to escape harm, receive case management and have access to therapy. Interpreters also help limited English-proficient and deaf victims in Northern Virginia access a wide range of services.

SOSi also helps Ayuda by providing hands-on support with events and supply drives. For example, SOSi participates with Ayuda’s Metro Day, when volunteers show limited English-proficient residents how to navigate the Metro train system.

But the current pandemic has provided some additional challenges for the community Ayuda serves. Steib said a high percentage of Ayuda clients are reporting a total or partial loss of income during the outbreak and are facing food insecurity and financial strain in paying rent and utilities.

In response, Ayuda has created a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to help its clients with pressing food, housing and medical needs.

SOSi donated $2,500 to that emergency fund and has offered to help with deliveries of essential donated food and supplies to Ayuda clients who cannot easily leave their homes during the outbreak.

Steib also said rates of domestic violence are increasing in Virginia (and around the world) during the pandemic, and it remains essential everyone has access to help, regardless of the language they use to communicate.

For that reason, SOSi’s support of Ayuda’s Northern Virginia Interpreter Bank for victim services nonprofits is vital right now.

“Thanks to SOSi’s support for Ayuda’s Northern Virginia Interpreter Bank, limited English-proficient and deaf victims of crime can get the vital help that they need from a range of local nonprofits without worrying about language barriers,” Steib said.

SOSi’s Motto: Challenge Accepted

SOSi is feeling the impact of COVID-19, too. The company had to move more than 200 corporate headquarters employees to remote work and has one major program in particular where remote work is not possible.

Still, Setian said he makes a point to create bandwidth organizationally to support the community. It is just the right thing to do, he said.

“We committed to being a good corporate citizen here in the Northern Virginia, Fairfax County and D.C. region as a whole, a long time ago,” he said.

That’s why giving back to the community is a vital piece of SOSi’s culture.

The specific causes SOSi supports — military and veteran community and the underserved community — is part of the company’s efforts to continue creating a healthy, happy atmosphere in the communities where SOSi employees live and work.

Along with making a difference in the community, supporting community organizations reinforces a sense of mission and is suitable for employee morale.

“Anything that you can rally your employees around, and it’s for a good cause, it just makes sense,” Setian said. “I think people want to work for companies that think of their impact as being much larger than just simply generating money. As we grow, we know that there’s an expectation that companies like ours are going to play that role, and we want to be out front and be the leader of the pack.”

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