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New Operation Homefront Goal: 'Staying Relevant'

The head of the military family support non-profit Operation Homefront said his top goal for the organization is making sure it stays relevant for young, incoming military families.

"We continue to bring in young people who volunteer to serve .... And we should try to take care of them the best we can," said retired Brig. Gen. John Pray, Operation Homefront's newly minted chief executive officer. "It's understanding the changing needs of that new group of people who continue to come in and swell the ranks of our military forces -- kind of keeping our finger on the pulse of what that is is important."

Pray took over the Chief Executive Officer role at Operation Homefront early this month. He retired from the Air Force in 2007, then served as the executive secretary of the National Security Council until 2009. After a short stint at a private sector job, he worked for six years at the USO. Operation Homefront's previous CEO stepped down in 2014.

Operation Homefront volunteers hand out gifts at a holiday toy event. Operation Homefront volunteers hand out gifts at a holiday toy event.

Operation Homefront provides a variety of programs and services for current and transitioning military families, including emergency relief, school supplies, holiday toys, food,  wounded warrior family support, baby showers, homes and more. In 2014 the organization spent about $49 million on programs, according to their financial report.

To keep the organization relevant, Pray said he's asked the organization's staff to take a hard look at what programs they offer -- and what they should be offering. Because the organization is designed around regional offices, Pray said they are in the unique position to pilot new programs and outreach in those locations before expanding them nationwide.

But he's also taking a look at what, if any, programs they can cut, he said. And while he declined to give examples, he said he's asked the organization's staff to do some thinking on that subject as well.

"Every organization needs to understand that the most difficult question is not what you do do, it's what you decide not to do," he said.

In late 2013 Operation Homefront came under scrutiny when a news report inaccurately accused co-founder Amy Palmer of stealing $36,000 worth of in-kind donations. As a result of the article Palmer first filed and then later dropped a lawsuit against the organization. The goods were all accounted for, they said in a statement, and Operation Homefront never tried to hide the situation. Palmer left the organization and remaining officials said they put in place additional inventory controls to make sure the misunderstanding was not repeated.

Pray said he is aware of the past challenges, but feels the organization at the time did was what right.

"I applaud the organization that they didn’t try to cover this up," he said. "I think the issue was investigated and resolved."

Operation Homefront has a Charity Navigator rating of 96.36 out of 100, considered above average.

Pray said now the organization's challenge in continuing to provide services to military family is continuing to bring in donations.

"The goal for any non-profit is to create that sustainable business model," Pray said. "I would also encourage the American public to consider supporting Operation Homefront financially so we can collectively take care of some people who are very deserving of our very best support."

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