Communities look to ‘Local Heroes’ to create a better future


September 8, 2020

By Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, President, Charles Schwab Foundation

Growing up, my dad taught me that the future is yours to create. If you get involved and take charge of the choices you face, you can achieve the future you want.

It’s not just a philosophy but a way of life. And there are very special individuals who passionately live this philosophy. These advocates for change define their lives by what they can create for others. They listen. They guide. They encourage. And they do so without giving it a second thought.

At Schwab we believe these heroes should be honored. That’s why we created Local Heroes, a program that celebrates individuals who dedicate their lives to helping others. These difference-makers educate, advocate for, and lift up those in need, helping people in their communities build better futures. Nominated by Schwab employees, Local Hero recipients are honored with a grant of $25,000 to the nonprofit organization with which they are associated, providing support for some of the most vulnerable members of their communities. Schwab also provides volunteer support through CommUNITY 2020, a program that includes virtual volunteering and pro bono work, while also helping raise awareness of our Local Heroes and the causes they support.

Please join us in celebrating our Local Heroes! Schwab hosted a virtual forum with our honorees, to discuss community leadership in times of unrest. Register to view the event replay.

Local Heroes

  • Rob Bingham

  • Elena Zee

  • Karen Ranus

Rob Bingham

Colorado Veterans Project (Denver)

Each year in Colorado, as many as 50,000 people transition out of active military duty to civilian life. Government does a lot for our veterans but there are gaps in those services. Rob Bingham, a combat veteran who currently serves as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, founded Colorado Veterans Project (CVP), to help bridge those gaps. CVP is Denver’s largest nonprofit organization focused on raising money and awareness for local veterans and veteran organizations. Working side-by-side with the City and County of Denver, as well as with veterans organizations, Bingham has made a significant impact. CVP hosts three major fundraising events annually with thousands of participants and attendees paying tribute to our fallen heroes. Participants donate food to help feed local veterans, and push themselves to compete in 5k, 10k, and 30k runs.

Bingham has always had a kinship with our nation’s veterans and has always answered the call to serve, both on a personal and a professional level. His selfless attitude is an inspiration, and his positive influence on the Denver veteran community makes him a true hero.

To learn about Schwab’s commitment to Veterans, click here.

Colorado Veterans Project, Denver

Colorado Veterans Project, Denver

"I think we did 138,000 pounds of food that we've been able to donate to help feed homeless veterans. It's quite amazing."

Rob Bingham

Opens in popup+ Transcript

Todd Youngblood:  You hear the number 22 in the military community, a lot. 22 is supposed to represent the number of suicides by veterans or active duty military that happen every day.

Nicole Jirtle:  As soon as I graduated high school, I joined the military. I was stationed in Mosul, in Northern Iraq, the most violent city at the time. I was a medic working in the emergency room. Every now and then, a tank would have hit an IED and we'd have 18 men come in, covered in shrapnel. With still processing the trauma, they prescribed me Ambien, Xanax, Mirtazapine, Remeron. It was a cocktail.

Nicole Jirtle:  One day I took, I think it was a three month supply, a blood pressure medication, and locked myself in the bathroom. It didn't work. No, I did not feel like I was in my right mind.

Todd Youngblood:  We've never, as a country, dealt with this amount of people cycling through these combat roles. I think there's, roughly, about 40 to 50,000 transitioning out of active duty military, a year, in Colorado. Our government does a lot for our veterans, but there's a lot of gaps in those services. There's so much to be done. Hey man, how you doing?

Rob Bingham:  It's nice, man. Third deployment. This is the first time that I've had my own space, so it's kind of nice.

Todd Youngblood:  You know, why are you in Kosovo?

Rob Bingham:  I'm just here to drink their coffee.

Todd Youngblood:  That's it, huh? Well that's-

Todd Youngblood:  So, Rob Bingham is the founder of the Colorado Veterans Project. It's our mission to help establish a network, so when they get home, they truly have access to the services that they need so they can heal.

Rob Bingham:  You can see that now. I think we did 138,000 pounds of food that we've been able to donate to help feed homeless veterans. It's quite amazing.

Todd Youngblood:  2020, it's going to be a big year for us. He's got a massive heart and it's not only him, it's his wife, Laura. They're a great team. She's one of the co-founders of the project as well.

Laura Bingham:  When someone signs up to be in the military, the rest of the family signs up as well. There are, gosh, there are like a hundred, 150 veteran nonprofits in Colorado. We bring them together, and fundraise, and give back.

Jim Stevens:  I was shot in the head in Vietnam. It left bullet fragments in my head. One of those bullet fragments moved. I lost my eyesight in 30 minutes. This is the Veterans of Foreign Wars, VFW, post number one. We don't have an open bar, we have an art gallery instead. We work with veteran artists. We assist them, mentor them, we display their work at our art gallery.

Nicole Jirtle:  They just took me under their wing as one of their own and I found an outlet that ended up being my saving grace.

Laura Bingham:  The community part of it is so important because community is a lifeline.

Jim Stevens:  This artist is a veteran and he's legally blind. A man with a vision is never truly blind.

Rob Bingham:  Notes about Colorado Veterans Project. Laura, I hate to task you.

Laura Bingham:  No, this is good. I have a little laundry list to do.

Todd Youngblood:  Once you begin that road of service, it's hard to stop.

Nicole Jirtle:  Jim, he put his arm around me? He was, "Kiddo, you've come a long way. You know you're thriving and I'm proud of you." It's a sign of strength to reach out for help when you need it. It's not weakness at all.

Laura Bingham:  Goose says, "Hi." He misses his dad.

Rob Bingham:  Give him a big hug and kiss for me.

Laura Bingham:  Yeah, I will.

Rob Bingham:  Bye sweetie.

Laura Bingham:  Okay. All right. Take it easy. Love you. Bye.

Rob Bingham:  Bye.

Laura Bingham:  I'm just so proud of him.


Elena Zee

Arizona Council on Economic Education (Phoenix)

“When you don’t have any choice, life is very simple,” said Elena Zee, president and CEO of The Arizona Council on Economic Education (ACEE). “When there are more choices, there are more responsibilities.” Zee grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution. She later immigrated to the United States, worked in financial services, and eventually pursued homeownership. Confused by the mortgage process and terminology, she says, “Here I am working in the financial services industry. If I was so confused by it, I’m sure most people are. I started to see the serious lack of financial literacy in the community. We need to change that. It is as important as reading, writing, and math. We need to put that education into schools.”

Under Zee’s leadership, ACEE provides educational resources and support to teachers and parents across Arizona, which is one of the few states to require K-12 students to take some form of personal finance and economics course. In addition to the events and resources developed by ACEE, Zee has established a solid bond with the Arizona State Treasurer, Kimberly Yee, who has a passion for increasing financial education in schools across all districts and socioeconomic classes. Zee participates on the first-ever State Treasurer’s Financial Literacy Task Force, made up of community advocates who share the goal of giving people from all walks of life as many opportunities as possible to achieve financial security. The task force adopted recommendations on next steps to advance financial literacy in Arizona, resulting in the Governor of Arizona signing S.B. 1184 – the Financial Literacy Bill – into law, which is a significant milestone for Arizona.

To learn about Schwab’s commitment to financial literacy, click here.

"Someone told me about Arizona Council On Economic Education, whose mission is to make sure our children become financially, economically literate. And I remember thinking, we need to put that education into schools."

Elena Zee

Arizona Council on Economic Education (Phoenix)

Arizona Council on Economic Education (Phoenix)

Opens in popup+ Transcript

Elena Zee:  When I was growing up in China, I was in the midst of cultural revolution. They want to get rid of the wealth, property, knowledge. If you have knowledge, that's not good. One day I told my mother, "I'm going to be a business woman on Wall Street." It was pouring rain and I thought, "Where am I? What is this place?" It just seems there's abundance of everything. All cars, very high tech. When you don't have any choice, life is very simple. Where there’s more choices, there is more responsibility.

Elena Zee:  And one day I had an opportunity to purchase a one bedroom apartment. The realtor showed me a schedule of mortgage payment, and I just got so overwhelmed by these terminologies, amortization, down payment. It was the first time I heard about mortgage. And I didn't do anything, and here I was, I'm working in the financial services industry. I thought if I were so confused by it, I'm sure most people were. I started seeing the serious lack of financial literacy in the community. We need to change that. It is as important as reading, writing, and math. Someone told me about Arizona Council On Economic Education, whose mission is to make sure our children become financially, economically literate. And I remember thinking, we need to put that education into schools. I got certification, licenses, and I joined the board.

Elena Zee:  How are you everybody? Good morning. I want to empower the teachers who are the real heroes.

Speaker 2:  All right, so ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to continue our discussion on compound interest. We read about compound interest. Does anybody remember anything about compound interest that they can share with me? Anything?

Elena Zee:  I come from a family of teachers, my parents, my grandmother. Growing up, I want to be like them. Looking back, I grew up in China during a time when education, choices, investment, was not allowed. Now I live in a country where we have abundance of opportunities, choices. I feel that we have a responsibility to give back and to help other people to reach their full potential.


Karen Ranus

National Alliance on Mental Illness (Austin)

When Karen Ranus’s daughter struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, the family found a lifeline in The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Central Texas, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of individuals affected by mental illness. Once her daughter and family were on the road to recovery, Ranus accepted a leadership position with the very organization that helped her family. “Once I started sharing our story, I discovered so many other families struggling with the same isolation and shame we experienced,” Ranus said. “I try to get people enthusiastic and willing to share their story. When we do that, we create a whole community of people together saying, ‘I don’t need to be ashamed. And I’m not alone anymore.’”

Ranus is an advocate for individuals affected by mental illness and a dynamic leader committed to growing the educational, support, and advocacy programs offered by NAMI. Her vision of changing the mental health conversation is reflected in the successful programming she developed to provide people with the information and tools they need to have positive and proactive conversations about mental health at home, school, work and in faith communities. She has a strong commitment to develop partnerships with law enforcement, which has ensured officers in the Austin Police Department and Travis County Sheriff are receiving mental health training rooted in a deeper level of empathy, compassion and understanding for people in mental health crises.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (Austin)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (Austin)

"Suddenly I'm in this room with these people who are all navigating the same stuff and it was transformative. It wasn't what got my daughter to recovery but it transformed us as a family."

Karen Ranus

Opens in popup+ Transcript

Karen Ranus:  Wow, you really are starting at the beginning. I have no memories of them together. My mom found herself as a single divorced mom when I was about two years old. And so once I had kids, I needed to create that safe space for my own family. Because it wasn't anything that I had growing up. I met Mark. We were going to get married, save money, buy a house. You know, we’re going to do it right. One of the things that I loved about this house was there's this window that looks out into the backyard. I would stand there and I'd be cooking dinner or washing dishes and I could just see them. I could hear them laughing and running around chasing each other. I wanted to make sure that I took the time to absorb it because it's like, this is it. This is all I ever wanted.

Karen Ranus:  I remember one night I was going up to bed and I checked my phone before I went to bed and there was a text from her. And it said, "Always remember how much I love you, but I don't want to die and can you come get me?" I remember sitting in the hospital and thinking, "How does this happen to a family like ours?" I was not ashamed of her, but I was ashamed. Like we'd failed as a family somehow. That only happens to bad families, right?

Karen Ranus:  We felt really isolated and alone and I'm constantly searching for resources. And I stumbled across NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And I just thought, "I'm just going to take this class." Suddenly I'm in this room with these people who are all navigating the same stuff and it was transformative. That wasn't what got my daughter to recovery, but it transformed us as a family. We were about nine months into Sarah's recovery and things were better. And I was trying to get back into gear with work. So I went to this job site that's for nonprofits, and at the very top of the listings was a job for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in central Texas.

Karen Ranus:  And I knew the power of how that had transformed my family and I wanted to make that possible for more families in our community. This was an opportunity to impact people's lives. There were all those people that I kept encountering saying, and that happened to me too, and my son and my daughter and my husband. And I knew they were there because I'd been talking to them. And if I can get people enthusiastic and willing to share their story, we create this whole line of people behind me saying altogether, "We don't need to be ashamed" and "I'm not alone anymore."