The New “Normal” at HillVets

By Jena Doyle

At the beginning of this month, I celebrated one year as the HillVets Director of Programs and Congressional Engagement. It’s hard to believe that that much time has actually gone by because it feels like just yesterday that I was moving back to DC!

Since I’ve been in this role, I like to think that I’ve done many things: I’ve met lots of people, have had many conversations to expand the HillVets network, have worked tremendously hard to assist our HillVets House Fellows in lading fellowships and full time positions, have assisted in the development and implementation of two HillVets LEAD cohorts, have planned events, one being a gala that never happened, and have grown our social media presence across all platforms. Not to brag or anything! But one thing that was not in the job description or something I ever would have imagined experiencing, was working through a global pandemic.

Adjusting to the current state of the world has been a challenge, but I believe that as an organization, HillVets has risen up. Though we miss our monthly community socials, we’ve added socially distanced and virtual trivia nights in its place. Instead of educational networking events, we’ve engaged with our community through webinars on interesting and relevant topics. One thing that specifically changed due to the pandemic, was HillVets LEAD and HillVets CAPCON. Our LEAD program, a unique program that focuses on leadership strategies, ethics, advocacy, and personal development, was conducted completely online. Our weekly in person meetings at HillVets House changed to Monday night Zoom sessions and our program reach was able to expand outside the DC area to include veterans and military spouses across the country. Though different than previous cohorts, this group of LEAD protégés were able to engage with highly sought-after leaders in the space and participate in meaningful and thoughtful discussions on the veteran community and policies that impact it. The program than finishes with an event that we call HillVets CAPCON.

HillVets CAPCON is a nonpartisan leadership forum created by our LEAD protégés, and presents timely, dynamic, and ripe for discussion issues faced within our veteran and military communities. Previously, CAPCON had taken place at Gallup Headquarters in downtown Washington, DC, and the Kennedy Caucus Room on Capitol Hill. Due to strict and necessary COVID-19 restrictions in place throughout the city and much to everyone’s disappointment, we were unable to secure a safe venue for this year’s CAPCON. So instead, we decided to host a virtual conference completely broadcasted on Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, while hosting a socially distanced viewing party at HillVets House.  At first, I thought, “How hard can a virtual event be?” And let me tell you, it’s harder than you’d expect!

When planning an event, there are a lot of details to work out. Such as social media promotion and hype, agenda, speakers, set up, and food. When planning a virtual event, some of these components are extremely intensified because the manner in which you are presenting the content has completely changed. For example, social media and digital communication for a virtual event is even more important because you are broadcasting the event online, and people need to be informed on how to access the event and participate. Though it was a learning process and opportunity for HillVets to reach a new and wider audience, CAPCON was a success—with just a few minor hiccups “backstage”. But hey, the beauty of a virtual event is a viewer probably couldn’t have even seen them!

As I reflect on my first year at HillVets, I think about all the things I thought this job would be and all the incredible things it has become. I am grateful to be a part of a community that adapts to the challenges and unexpecteds of the world around us. I am grateful for the opportunities to grow and learn alongside our program participants and supporters, and most of all, I am grateful for the chance to impact our veteran community one event, one fellow, or one conversation at a time.

By |2020-10-22T14:39:35-04:00October 22nd, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Summer Update: We’re Still Here!

Often, I find myself looking back at our March community social at Valor Brewpub. We were less than three weeks away from the HillVets 100 of 2019 Tribute Gala. Our socials are always high-energy, but the buzz was extra palpable. We had just onboarded a crew of new HillVets House Fellows who were all eagerly networking and lining up coffees and conversations. I’m always exhausted at the end of our socials (all of that talking takes it out of me!), but I remember feeling energized. It was inspiring to see our incredible network of supporters show up and make the kinds of connections that enable meaningful, positive change.

Of course, we all know what happened next. A week after the social, we had postponed the gala, vacated our office, and hunkered down for what we thought would be a (relatively) short shelter-in-place period. Now, four and a half months later, our gala has moved from postponed to canceled, and we are still severely limited in the kinds of activities in which we can engage. If you follow us on social media, you know that we’ve produced a variety of webinars, and we’ve rolled out Cohort 4 of HillVets LEAD in a virtual environment. But what’s next? I thought I’d provide a brief update on our operations, and then give you some feedback on how you can help HillVets continue to weather this storm.

Since I already mentioned our fellows, let’s start there! Right before the pandemic shut everything down, we were able to get a few of our new folks placed in Congressional offices, and they’ve been all kinds of busy! Unfortunately, we have a handful of fellows who didn’t find their perfect fit before hiring ground to a halt – while some of them have had to rethink their fellowship timing, some are still available! If you work on the Hill and need some help, look no further than our highly qualified HillVets House Fellows – we’d love to send you their resumes and help set up a virtual meet-and-greet.

Next up is HillVets LEAD – and by the way, if you haven’t checked out the bios of our incredible Protégés, you can do so here. Our Protégés and Ambassadors have been adjusting to the virtual environment and having some really thought-provoking discussions about leadership, policy development and implementation, and communications in the veteran and military arena. The group has finalized the theme for CAPCON (the day-long conference that is the capstone of the program): “Leading Paradigm Shifts in Military and Veteran Communities.” The group is still ironing out panels and speakers, but you can bet that the event will be relevant, timely, and full of interesting insight. Mark your calendars for September 29th, and stay tuned for more…

HillVets House has been pretty quiet lately, but we’re hoping to change that a bit in the coming weeks! The staff and fellows have worked hard to spruce up the yard, so we can be ready for some socially distanced, outdoor fun. Our trivia night on August 6th will be a hybrid event – you can come to the House and participate in person, or you can tune in and play from the comfort of your home. Also, if you are getting tired of your home office and want a change of scenery, why don’t you come work at HillVets House? Our coworking space has everything you need, and we’d love to see your faces – we’ll be operating a sign-up system, to ensure that we can maintain proper spacing, so look out for an announcement on that shortly.

We could not weather this storm without our incredible partners – THANK YOU to all of the individuals and organizations that make HillVets such a special and supportive community. If you or your company want to be a part of the family, we’d love to have you over for a tour and a chat!

We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and we can’t wait to see everyone again soon. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything we can do to help!

With gratitude,

Betty Rhoades

By |2020-07-27T09:32:18-04:00July 27th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Getting Through COVID-19 Isolation

By: Conner Swett, HillVets Fellow

On the first day of my fellowship in early February, my supervisor assigned me to “track this coronavirus that is happening in China. I don’t know much about it, but I believe it can get big.” Oh, how she was right.

We are living in exciting times. COVID-19 has taken hold and forced us to be isolated from our friends and, for some of us, our families. The news tells us that it is getting worse, the White House is sending mixed messages, and misinformation is filling up social media. It has been a little more than a month, March 12th, when I last went into work for my HillVets Fellowship. The subject of my daily updates has become the thing that put my fellowship on hold, and it sucks.

It was bearable the first week with my friend Netflix, but by Week 2, I needed to create a new routine to get me through this crisis. Leaning on my Marine Corps values and the Stoic teachings, I decided to focus on five things to help me get through this time indoors. For anyone that listened to HillVets Founder Justin Brown’s April 8th webinar or read the works of Ryan Holiday, some of these will be familiar.

Morning Routine

I have been a longtime fan of these. My morning is an essential part of my day because it’s for me, not for the world. I don’t want to look at my phone, nor do I want to turn on the TV right away. I believe it’s essential to have an hour where you can make breakfast and relax before starting work. I would feel stressed if I went from my bed straight to my computer for work. Additionally, before I start work, I review my list of things I need to do and make edits. Now my day has begun.

Set Goals

Goals are essential for me to feel productive. We don’t know how long this will last, but it doesn’t mean this time has to be wasted. By making some long-term improvement goals that I want to accomplish, I am then able to make weekly checkpoints that will help me reach those goals. Call it pride, narcissism, or just motivation, but when this is over, I hope to be more impressive over someone who is solely streaming.

Turn Off Social Media

I use Facebook Messenger to stay in contact with friends and family members during these trying times, but I find little comfort with scrolling through my feed. For Instagram and Twitter, I try to avoid opening the apps. We can do without a meme or snippy tweet that we probably won’t remember when this is over. Replace short-term feelings of joy, with goals that will bring long-term happiness.


Reading has become very important to me during these last few weeks. While Netflix occupied my time the first week, I now turn on some background music and pick up something to read instead. I used to hear people say that they didn’t have time to read, but now what is their excuse? I suggest finding a book and a magazine or journal to read, this way you have a balance between long and short reads.

Find something fun to do!

Despite all this stuff, it’s essential to take a break and have some fun. If you have a backyard, then play in it, or do a workout. If you play video games, then take some time to play that after work. Or arrange a virtual hangout with your friends to catch up. This time stuck indoors shouldn’t just be work and goals.

How are YOU getting through isolation? Share your tips in the comments!

By |2020-04-20T11:45:21-04:00April 20th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Reflections on Community

By Jena Doyle

I was raised in a small town just south of Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up with two loving parents, a twin sister, and an older brother. When I was younger, I thought I’d grow up to be famous. I had not based that on any talent or skill that I performed extremely well, I just thought that it would be fun.

Though I’m not famous yet, I did study International Relations and Spanish at American University, and just last year I was teaching English to University students in Quito, Ecuador. If you had asked me if I would then transition to a position working for a veteran focused non-profit, I would have shrugged my shoulders, and said, “Eh, who knows?”

Well, I guess I knew a little bit, because here I am, the Director of Programs and Congressional Engagement for HillVets.

Coming from a Catholic family, I grew up going to church every Sunday. One of the first memories that comes to my mind when I think about that church, is the older couple who, during every service, sat behind my family and me. My Nana always made conversation with them, they lived up the street from her. What I distinctly remember about the man, is he always had on his Korean War Veteran VFW hat. Of course, he took it off while in church, but it always sat proudly next to him. He even on occasion, wore his green VFW jacket to match, with pins and decals covering the sleeves. At first, I thought it meant he belonged to a club of some sorts. I had seen other older men throughout my town with the same hat or jacket and simply thought that if they wore the same clothes; they must be a similar type of person. So, one day, I asked my Dad what this club really meant. He explained to me that those men were veterans, meaning that they fought in wars to protect our country because they were called to serve.

Veterans. Huh, I thought.

Later in conversation, my dad mentioned that my own Grandfather, who had died before I was born, was a veteran.

There it was, that word again!

I came to learn that he too had served in Korea, as a cooks mate with the Army. His two older brothers also served in World War II. In 1945, when the United States liberated Germany, my Great Uncle George’s Army Battalion was one of the first to the camps, where they were responsible for burying the bodies of the dead. He came home a lost, distraught, and silent man. Those of that generation of veterans returned to a community of individuals who had experienced the same things, a group of people that they could rely on for support.

My Grandfather came home from Korea and struggled to adjust. He eventually found community in his generation of veterans, just as his brothers did and the man in my church.

After my Dad shared these stories with me, the word veteran made a bit more sense to me. Though I didn’t actually know the intricacies of what it meant to truly be a veteran, what it meant to sacrifice for your country, I understood that they were connected through community.

When I first came to HillVets, I was worried that I would feel like an outsider because I myself was not a veteran and would not be able to relate to the experiences of those around me. But what I found in HillVets and the greater veteran space, was a community that had room for individuals of all different backgrounds, and all different stories and experiences, that were able to come together simply on the basis of wanting to support one another.

I quickly came to realize that the things that I had worried about knowing, didn’t matter as much, and that though being a veteran is a huge part of an individual’s identity, it’s not the only way you can connect with them. I learned to listen and understand and empathize with the stories and experiences that were shared with me, and a desire to fight for the achievement of their own goals grew within me.

The community that HillVets has built is the heartbeat of our organization. It is a “veteran club” that is inclusive to veterans and service-members who want to make an impact through policy. But it’s also a community of supporters and allies, who want to fight for those veterans and their voice in policy.

I think about the man from my church more frequently, my grandfather, too. They found support through their own club of veterans, their own community who shared similar experiences. In the years since their war experiences, the idea of a veteran community has grown tremendously. There are so many to be a part of! Though I wonder how different their veteran experience would have been like if they had had a community like the HillVets one, a community to raise them up, to support their aspirations, and to advocate for their voice.

By |2020-04-06T16:29:25-04:00April 6th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

HillVets Trivia Night – join us on Thursday 4/9 at 7 pm!

Greetings! We are excited about HillVets’ first virtual trivia night – we hope you are, too! Here are some instructions and details to help everything run smoothly.

First – build your team! You can play by yourself, or you can team up with others. To keep things fair, please keep teams to 8 people or fewer. You can team up with people who live with you, or you can have a “virtual” team – for the latter, you’ll want to set up a separate Zoom or a text/WhatsApp chain so you can discuss answers with your teammates. Only ONE person from each team will submit answer sheets. Make sure to come up with a fun and creative team name – there will be a prize for the best! Let’s try to keep it family-friendly, though, since lots of folks have kids at home.

Once you have your team and team name determined, log into the trivia Zoom at 7 pm on Thursday night. The host – yours truly! – will read each round’s questions, and then you’ll have 1-2 songs to turn in your answer sheet (don’t forget to put your team name on the answer sheet). Listen closely – the songs might be musical clues to help you with one or more of that round’s questions!

There will be five total rounds of questions, with round 3 being a visual/picture round. Each round will have a separate answer sheet, which will be posted in the Zoom chat just before the round begins. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game is the winner! There will be prizes for first and second place, as well as for the best team name.

Questions? Feel free to reach out! Have a great week, and we’ll “see” you on Thursday…

By |2020-04-06T09:04:33-04:00April 6th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

A Wild Three Months

When I came on board as Executive Director of HillVets in December of 2019, I knew I was taking on a challenge. Not because the organization was struggling – quite the opposite, in fact – but because it is involved with so many impactful people and programs, and it is so deeply and personally meaningful to countless members of the veteran and military community. I share that intense connection to HillVets – my husband, Jason, was in the first class of HillVets Fellows, way back in the day. I can share more about our experiences with the fellowship in a future post. Spoiler alert: HillVets truly changed our lives for the better.

The personal tie to HillVets’ mission makes it very easy to talk about what we do and why it’s so important. But, on the flip side, it also creates extra pressure to perform, to deliver, to succeed. I embraced the challenge and jumped right in. First on my to-do list: get nominations for the HillVets 100 of 2019, put together a selection committee to determine the final honorees, announce all one hundred rock stars on social media, and then put together a tribute gala truly fitting of the incredible, inspiring people and achievements that we would be celebrating. No big deal, right?

In the first three months of my new role, I was so fortunate to get to work with our amazing sponsors AND the ever-impressive group of honorees who were planning to attend the gala. Even though hosting an event of that size is quite an undertaking, especially since we are a small team, our partners made it so much more fun. We truly believed that this year’s event would be the best HillVets 100 gala yet. And then…well, I think you know what happened next…

Coronavirus. A mere two weeks from when the gala was supposed to take place, we learned that the epidemic was spreading aggressively and that one of the best ways to halt it was “social distancing,” a.k.a. not gathering in large groups. As devastating as it was, we decided that it would be irresponsible to host our event on its scheduled date. Thankfully, we were able to secure a new date for the event, making it a postponement rather than a cancellation – which certainly helped cushion the blow.

Now, two weeks after making our decision, things continue to shift in the COVID-19 narrative. We hope that we will be able to host our gala on May 29, 2020, and that it WILL be the best HillVets 100 gala yet. But the truth is, we just don’t know what will unfold between now and then. And just like two weeks ago, the health and safety of our wonderful HillVets community is our primary concern. Any future decisions we make, about the gala or any other events, will be made with that at front of mind.

For now, though, it’s time to focus elsewhere. At present, we are working every day to help our newest bunch of HillVets House Fellows navigate the placement process in a “socially distanced” and rapidly changing world. We are brainstorming how to roll out our next LEAD cohort if we are unable to bring people together physically. And, of course, we are thinking of ways to highlight the incredible accomplishments of our HillVets 100 of 2019, in the event that we aren’t able to gather for a celebration in late May. Thankfully, it’s the year 2020, and we have fantastic technology – so you can expect HillVets to continue providing opportunities for connection and community, even if they occur over phone or video.

I never expected my first three months on the job to include responding to a global pandemic, but here we are. I am simply grateful beyond words to all of the HillVets alumni, partners, and supporters who have reached out to ask how they can help. THAT is what this organization is all about. THAT is what makes HillVets so special. And THAT is what I pledge to nurture and enhance as long as I am fortunate enough to occupy this role.

Thank you to everyone who helped me get up to speed! Please continue to watch this space for new content, as we hope to use it to highlight the fantastic people and activities that make us all proud to be part of the HillVets community.

With gratitude,

Betty Rhoades

By |2020-03-25T10:39:04-04:00March 24th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments
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