Meet Gina Elise, the Beauty and Brains Behind “Pin-Ups for Vets”
Our interview with Gina Elise completely changed our understanding of veterans and their needs. Read our interview with the “Pin-Ups for Vets” founder and the inspiration for our newest product, Valor. Brave is indeed beautiful and Gina tells us why.
B&P: We’ve heard a lot about Pin-Ups for Vets lately. Tell us more.
GE: In 2006, I started seeing news articles about under-funded veteran healthcare programs dealing with an influx of young and older veterans entering the VA Hospital System.
The more I heard about the uphill battles of our injured service members, the more convinced I was of the need to produce a project that would bring in funds to support them.
My late Grandpa Lou served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. I wanted to do something to honor his name. I loved the romance of those bygone eras and I drew inspiration from the World War II pin-up girls, whose photos and paintings boosted morale for our soldiers fighting overseas. I created our first fundraiser pin-up calendar back in 2006.
Fast-forward 10 years, and to date, we have produced 10 fundraiser pin-up calendars, and donated over $50,000 worth of state-of-the-art rehab equipment for VA and military hospitals nationwide.
Our organization has received Congressional Recognition and numerous community service awards. Our deployed troops have flown nine flags over military bases and on missions in Iraq and Afghanistan in honor of the work we do to support our nation’s heroes.
We have individually visited nearly 10,000 injured Veterans at their bedsides in 55 VA and military hospitals and state veterans homes in 30 states across the U.S. We have visited our Wounded Warriors at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. We have also made morale-boosting visits to our service members at 23 military bases. We are in the middle of a “50-State VA and Military Hospital Tour” where we bring our calendars as gifts of appreciation to hospitalized veterans and Wounded Warriors. I like to say that we are a “boots on the ground” organization!
B&P: You have come so far and touched so many lives. Tell us more about Pin-Ups for Vets.
GE: We have a very unique approach to benefit the veteran community! In addition to our bedside visits, we donate new state-of-the-art therapy equipment to VA and military hospitals nationwide. We ship morale-boosting care packages to our deployed troops. We pamper military wives and female veterans with glamorous makeovers. We do events, deliver gifts and makeovers to improve the quality of life in homeless veterans’ shelters as well.
B&P: You’ve been one busy gal! Tell us about a day in the life of Gina Elise.
GE: I get asked this question a lot, and there is not a simple answer because I do so many different things. I could be on a plane traveling to our next VA Hospital visit, or on set for a photo shoot for our annual calendar, or visiting a military base. Sometimes I’m Live Chatting with our supporters on Facebook, or working with designers for our fundraising merchandise and planning our charity’s events. Scouting photo shoots, writing press releases, television and radio interviews… I do it all!
I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything! That’s how much I love this work. My job is incredibly rewarding. I saw an inspirational meme online that was an equation. It said: Your Passion + Your Talent = Your Purpose. That struck a chord with me. I love that I get to use my creativity to give something back to a community for which I have so much respect and admiration.
B&P: What are the biggest challenges you face at Pin-Ups for Vets?
GE: Getting the word out across the U.S. The more people support, the greater impact we can have in the military and veteran community.
B&P: You’ve had press coverage at ABC, NBC, Fox News and many other major news outlets. Seeing your work nationally televised must be rewarding.
GE: I have collected some incredible memories of things that have happened during our hospital visits, including the time that a veteran who had suffered a TBI (traumatic brain injury) finally spoke again, for the first time in a month, after we visited him at his bedside. Sometimes, for our ill and injured veterans, getting an unexpected visit and an appreciation gift from a 1940’s-style pin-up girl is just what the doctor ordered!
I also love receiving pictures from our deployed troops, who are posing with the morale-boosting care packages we have sent them, and seeing those big smiles on their faces. It’s so important for our troops to get reminders of home, while they are away for months on end, serving difficult tours of duty.
B&P: How can we show appreciation to our veterans?
GE: Little gestures make a world of difference. You can call up Volunteer Services at your local VA Hospital and inquire about volunteering. Hand-write letters and send them to a deployed service member. Attend events in your town that support veterans. Send a care package to someone in the military who is far from home. Donate goods to a homeless veterans’ shelter. If you personally know a veteran, ask them to tell you about their time in the service.
There’s a saying that goes, “Your time is the most precious thing you can give because it’s the one thing you can never get back.” It’s so important to spend time with our veterans and to let them know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice. So many of them have not been properly thanked for what they have done for our country. Shake the hand of a veteran or Service Member you see, and let them know that you appreciate their service.
B&P: How can we support Pin-Ups for Vets specifically?
GE: Visit the website www.pinupsforvets.com and purchase the unique items in our fundraiser store, or make a donation to the organization. You may also donate calendars to be delivered on our hospital visits or sent to our deployed troops in a care package. And of course, you can also purchase the new Beauty and Pin-Ups hairspray, “Valor.” A portion of each bottle purchased will go back to help support Pin-Ups for Vets and its mission.
B&P: It sounds like your work truly is an act of Valor. What does the word Valor mean to you?
GE: To me, Valor means courage in the face of challenge. It is being brave under trying circumstances. Bravery means standing up for yourself and others, taking risks, being resilient during the challenges that life throws your way. Bravery means being strong in the face of adversity, to endure and follow through, even though it feels like more than you can handle. It means stepping into uncharted territory, to get up after you’ve been knocked down, and being true to yourself.
I have learned from our service members and veterans what it means to have extraordinary courage in the face of extreme circumstances. I am inspired daily by our “Pin-Ups For Vets” female veteran volunteer ambassadors, who have bravely served our country and who show me everyday that “brave is beautiful!”