Marty Sheetz embraces her son in his uniform after he completes boot camp
Marty Sheetz reunites with her son after he completed boot camp

As we mark Veterans Day this month, we are dedicating our blog content during November to highlighting causes and individuals with a connection to the military. The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation provides grants to organizations serving active duty military and Veterans. Many Delta Dental employees have a personal connection to and feel deeply passionate about supporting those who serve and have served our country through philanthropy and volunteering. One such employee is Marty Sheetz, vice president customer onboarding and operations. Her son is an Active Duty Marine. Amid the height of lockdown, she pioneered an opportunity for her colleagues to honor the military by raising money for Carry the Load. The event was such a success that she replicated it for Veterans Day. We spoke with Marty to hear about her motivations and what these events mean to her.

Why did you organize these events?

The truth is that we were trying to figure out a way to increase volunteering across our team. So, it started from a slightly selfish place. I had a brainstorm with Kenzie Ferguson and Kate Ross [vice president and program manager for the Foundation, respectively], because I wanted to drive something in conjunction with Memorial Day. By this point, we were pretty well into the pandemic, and we thought, “What if we do a virtual 5K?” We need to give people something to focus on besides COVID-19. We’ve all been trying to figure out how to balance meetings and home life and learning how to disconnect while we’ve been sheltering in place since March. This was a chance to bring together volunteering, give people something else to think about and promote work/life balance. People needed to be reminded that it’s okay to take a break!

Were you surprised by the participation in May?

I was blown away! We have about 400 people on our team, and I thought we will set up lofty goals for the Memorial Day walk: maybe we can get 250. We offered it to my team first, and it just kept growing as people forwarded the invite. Kenzie suggested that we put a challenge out, and we challenged the whole organization. I started soliciting other leaders in the company. We got over 500 people, including engagement from employees’ family members. And we hosted a similar event for Veterans Day and had nearly 800 people participate.

How did it make you feel to see your colleagues embrace the idea?

It literally had me in tears. After the walk in May, my colleagues were sending me photos with notes about what it meant to them and their families. To see the organization rally behind the event and cause and to feel personally supported was phenomenal.

Most importantly, I was lucky enough to walk with my Marine.

What is it like to have a child in the military?

It is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I don’t have any family in the military and didn’t know what we were getting into. My son went to college for a semester and a half and then he just said to me in the second semester, “I don’t think this is for me. I am going to go into the Marines and get my degree later.” It took me a minute to process. But at 19 he was brave enough to come to me and tell me, “This is my path – and I need to be on my own journey.”

I can’t express the fear you have as a parent but also the amount of pride you have for the sacrifice. He is doing it to ensure our freedom and the rights we have as Americans. But, when I stop and think about what he’s REALLY doing, that’s when the fear sets in. As a parent, my job has always been to protect him at all costs – no matter what obstacle he faced along the journey

And then one day he tells me, “I am going into the Marines.” And I thought, this is opposite of anything I have done as a parent; let me send you somewhere where people are going to push you harder than anyone ever before – allow you to walk into harm’s way, knowingly, and sacrifice in ways I could never imagine. Meanwhile, we’re going to have zero contact at points, and all I can do is write you letters, support you as best I can and pray.

It was against everything in my parenting grain. But I could not be more proud!