Supporting Female Soldiers
Jun 30, 2015 10:38PM
In the fall of 2014, Lacey Chong learned that one of her best friends, a female Marine Corps officer, was deployed to rural West Africa during the height of the Ebola crisis. She and her fellow female soldiers lacked quality bath and body products, and did not have access to resources or products that are usually available on large U.S. bases overseas. Chong asked friends and family to donate items to send, and was overwhelmed by the response and generosity.
“I decided to start Spa Swag for Warriors so that other courageous ladies serving abroad will be able to enjoy a luxurious spa swag bag as well while on deployment,” notes Chong. “We believe it is absolutely essential for their morale and well-being.”
Since becoming a nonprofit in March 2015, Chong and her friends and supporters started small—growing by word-of-mouth and building like a lean startup business. They found many of their lady warrior clients through grassroots campaigns. While combat forces have drawn down in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still troops stationed in hardship postings all over the world. Spa Swag for Warriors has sent packages to U.S. bases in the Middle East, West Africa, East Africa and Southeast Asia. Wherever women are eligible for hardship pay, they are eligible to receive spa swag packages.
Chong enlisted the support of an experienced and diverse board of advisors and works closely with three other women, Hiba Alyawer, Corinne Price and Jaimie Vickery, to serve as board officers. They also decided to offer the “swag” that is consistent with their own values. As such, they try to send all-natural, preferably organic and natural and cruelty-free products, as much as possible.
According to board president Alyawer, this approach differentiates Spa Swag for Warriors from other nonprofit organizations. “We have been taking a more targeted approach and we’ve been incredibly successful in securing amazing, socially-responsible companies who donate bath and body products for us to send to female soldiers overseas. We are proud to name Cate McNabb, Tom’s of Maine and Arbonne, as donors and partners.“
One important element of their work is to educate potential donors about the needs of female soldiers, because there is a presumption female soldiers don’t need anything special like bath or beauty items. While their physical needs are met, deployed ladies appreciate having a little bit of luxury in the field. According to Chong, it makes a huge difference when they can feel feminine, clean and pulled together.
For Alyawer, serving the Spa Swag for Warriors is an opportunity to give back to her adopted country. She is a native Iraqi who lived in Kuwait through the hardship of the Gulf War. “The United States opened its arms and gave us a new home, for which we are forever grateful. I now take any opportunity to help our troops and Spa Swag for Warriors gave me that avenue. I am motivated and energized by all the pictures we receive of happy faces and thank you notes from our deployed female warriors holding our Spa Swag bags as it further validates the importance of our mission.”
For founder, Chong, starting this nonprofit has taught her some important lessons as she has moved the organization from an idea to a fully functioning nonprofit organization. The most important lesson: “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Sometimes as women, we hesitate to be demanding or to be ‘that person’ who sticks their head out. We have learned that you get what you want by asking—whether it is to network, asking for products or donations.”