Beyond the Yellow Ribbon reflects on 2023, looks ahead to 2024

Minnesota’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program, known as BTYR, had another busy year filled with events, new members, and planning toward the future.

There are 53 cities and counties in the BTYR Community Network and 79 active BTYR companies and organizations in the BTYR Corporate Network. Their combined efforts are an ongoing commitment that greatly impacts those in the state’s military community.

Community Network

From January to September 2023, the community network, comprised entirely of volunteers, coordinated more than 164 events, served at least 13,791 volunteer hours, and supported over 16,144 military community members. Some examples of the networks’ efforts include helping veterans transition from homelessness to permanent housing, providing transportation to the VA facility, volunteering at unit events, sending care packages to deployed service members, assisting with basic necessities, and recognizing high school students joining the military. The goal for many networks next year is to further increase volunteer participation.

Stefanie Hurt, northern Minnesota BTYR community outreach coordinator, said two of the most memorable events in 2023 were the Joining Community Forces conference at Camp Ripley in May and the Hero Meals holiday initiative, which was supported by community networks and corporate partners.

“JCF provided an opportunity for the networks to come together. It was like a family reunion. It was an amazing experience to have people from all over the state in one room, working together to better serve our service members, veterans, and families,” Hurt said. “The Hero Meals initiative is definitely a feel-good experience. It provides families with a holiday meal, meal stretcher kits, and donated turkeys from Beyond the Yellow Ribbon company, Thomson Reuters. I believe these networks are wonderful in everything they do and continue to do.”

In the fall, Ryan Walker joined the BTYR team as its new outreach coordinator for southern Minnesota. Walker’s grandfather served in the Army during World War II and his father served in the Air Force during the Cold War. He appreciates the opportunity to serve the military community.

“I am looking forward to working more closely with and getting to know the southern Minnesota networks, finding ways to help our community networks develop and enhance local partnerships with other organizations and businesses, and fostering cooperation and coordination between networks,” Walker said.

Corporate Network

The network welcomed four new members in 2023, including the YMCA of the North, Ryan Companies US, Inc., Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures – Grand Casino, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. BTYR companies and organizations support the military community through many efforts, including employment opportunities, benefits, recognition, and more. This year for instance, Ryan Companies US, Inc. donated baby items for military families at the 133rd Airlift Wing. The Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, and Minnesota Wild hosted military appreciation days. General Mills hosted the Minnesota National Guard Women’s Leadership Forum. USAA served as a sponsor of the annual Military Appreciation Day at the Minnesota State Fair. BTYR corporate networks also hosted Veterans Day observances, volunteered at special events, and supported deployed service member employees and their families.

For Taylor Kristoffe-Jones, BTYR corporate outreach coordinator, the best parts of 2023 included interacting with BTYR companies and learning about their efforts in support of the military community and hosting two corporate conferences. Plans are being made to offer more opportunities for BTYR companies and organizations to interact with one another in 2024.

“We hope to do this through virtual meetings, perhaps monthly and quarterly, that would allow participants to explore a topic and exchange ideas to improve everyone’s program,” Kristoffe-Jones said. “We are also looking to begin a quarterly survey so companies can share their programs’ successes in recruiting, retention, and recognition, employee volunteer hours, and other contributions in support of our service members, veterans, and families.”

BTYR’s mission is to establish and sustain a comprehensive community and corporate support network that connects and coordinates agencies, organizations, and resources to meet the needs of Minnesota’s veterans, service members, and families in all military branches. Visit the BTYR website and follow on Facebook and Twitter

Cristina Oxtra

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs