On March 1, the Irish American Business Chamber and Network will be hosting the 2019 Ambassador’s Awards Luncheon at Philadelphia’s Union League. Among the honorees is the Travis Manion Foundation, recipient of the Uachtarán Award.
Accepting on behalf of the Travis Manion Foundation will be Col. Tom Manion, USMC, Ret., chairman emeritus, and Ryan Manion, president.
The Travis Manion Foundation is a character-driven leadership organization named after Marine 1st Lt. Travis Manion, fatally wounded while searching a suspected insurgent house in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.
We spoke with Ryan Manion. Here’s what she had to say.
Irish Philly: What does the award from the business chamber mean to you and your foundation? I mean, the foundation’s had some accolades. It’s time.
Ryan Manion: I think this is a really a cool offer or award to receive because most of the recognition that we get is not the military network, but through the military community. So we have a lot of great recognition through different branches of the military and different organizations that support military foundations.
To receive an award for that is a great recognition—to be appreciated for the work that we’re doing just kind of outside of this space. On a personal level, I know my dad and I were both kind of thrilled being from an Irish background and the heritage there. And so, you know, it just kind of brings everything full circle for us. So it’s a really cool honor and we’re super excited for it.
Irish Philly: Talk to me about your Irish-ness. That really does seem to be an essential component of this award.
RM: My dad (Col. Tom Manion, USMC, Ret.) is almost 100 percent Irish descent. There is a book that rests on the bookshelf in my house about our Irish American heritage and background and how my dad’s family, the Trainers—that was my grandmother’s maiden name—came over here from Ireland. We always were raised with much pride in our Irish American heritage and background. I have an interesting background where I’m 50 percent Irish and 50 percent Italian from my mom’s side.
There was always incredibly fun banter growing up Irish and Italian, and my mom actually always used to say to me, you’re just like your father. You’ve definitely got the Irish part. You have more Irish in you, but yeah, it’s something that I think as generations get older, a lot of times you lose a lot of that. You look around today, I mean even my kids, they’re are a mix of a bunch of different things. But I’m old enough to be able to hear my grandparents talking about their parents coming over here from Ireland. I love the history and the richness of kind of bringing that heritage forward. It’s exciting.
Irish Philly: Do you see this award as honoring the memory of your brother?
RM: I think any award that we get for the work we’re doing at the foundation certainly remembers him and honors him in some way, too, because Travis is the inspiration behind the work that we do every day and if not for him, this organization would not exist. So I mean, I certainly think that in some way, shape or form, it’s definitely honoring him as well.
Irish Philly: Could you describe the mission of the foundation?
RM: Our mission statement is to empower veterans and families of the fallen to instill character in the next generation and, simply put, as an organization, what we’re trying to do is connect the one percent of men and women who proudly serve our country with the 99 percent who don’t, and in turn be able to take those men and women as they’re coming home, as they’re transitioning out of active duty, and make sure that they are showcasing how they are civic assets and helping to build up communities—helping to strengthen America’s national character and, and really showcasing what an important role they play in our country. And also to make sure that we can learn from their leadership and service as well.
Irish Philly: There’s a lot of leadership that often goes unnoticed or taken for granted or something that they probably don’t bring to the fore anyway. I’m thinking of the Boeing commercial where so many veterans don’t even talk about their service in their resumes.
RM: Right, they don’t even self-identify. And you have men and women who spend as little as one or two years up to an entire career (in the military) and one of the biggest components of being in the military is the leadership training that they are afforded, and what a missed opportunity for us as a country to not take the leadership that they’re learning while they’re in the military and use that as they come back into their community. And we’ve seen some pretty incredible things happening when veterans are getting out there and demonstrating this continued service to their own communities after transition out of the military.
Irish Philly: Can you describe your impact up to this point?
RM: From a numbers perspective, we have over 100,000 members of our organization. One of our largest initiatives at the Travis Manion foundation is our Character Does Matter initiative, where we actually have trained veteran mentors who go into schools across the country and who work to mentor our nation’s youth, and teach them about the fundamentals of character and break down how they can be servant leaders in their own backyard. And we hit a really cool milestone this year where our veteran mentors hit 250,000 youths that they had presented this program to over the last 10 years. So the reach is certainly wide in the impact that we’re having. We’re certainly never satisfied and we want to continue to grow and make sure that we are continuing to train veterans to deliver this important work and continuing to get in front of more and more kids and communities to continue the work that we’re doing.
You have men and women who spend as little as one or two years up to an entire career (in the military) and one of the biggest components of being in the military is the leadership training that they are afforded, and what a missed opportunity for us as a country to not take the leadership that they’re learning while they’re in the military and use that as they come back into their community.
Irish Philly: That actually gets close to answering my next question, which is plans for growth. You’ve come a long way.
RM: We started here in Doylestown, Pa., where we were essentially raised after my dad left active duty in the military. And so this was our home. Our headquarters is still here today in Doylestown, Pa., but we have eight regional offices across the country. And we have just jumped over now to 50 employees working for us across the country as well. And really our whole plan is to continue growing out these regions, grow out more chapters and make sure that if you want to be a part of the Travis Manion Foundation, there is a place near you where you can get involved. We want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to be a part of our organization.
Irish Philly: I wonder how many people are going to be hearing about the Travis Manion Foundation for the first time.
RM: That’s an interesting question. I do know that we definitely have some shared sponsors, so that was exciting. Penn Mutual is a tremendous sponsor of ours and I know that they’re one of the big sponsors for the event as well. So that was really cool to see. SAP is another sponsor. I love nothing more than introducing people to our organization and especially, we’re pretty familiar in the Philadelphia area, in the northeast, but we’re not Nike, right? There’s still certainly people who don’t know about the Travis Manion Foundation, so every new person that can learn our story and learn about ways they can get involved, that’s always so exciting for me.
Irish Philly: Did you know about the honor? Did it come as a surprise to you?
RM: It did, yes. It came as a surprise. My dad and I were both super excited—excited and pleasantly surprised.
Irish Philly: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to talk about?
RM: It is especially important for this audience to know that while the Travis Manion Foundation is a veteran-serving organization, our organization has opportunities for everybody to get involved. You do not have to be a veteran to join our organization. So there are a ton of civilian opportunities outside of just donating, but volunteer opportunities and ways to be an active member of our community. And I want to make sure that everybody knows that.