November 17, 2021
(Pittsburgh, Pa)–Todd DePastino is the founding director of the Pittsburgh-based, non-profit, Veterans Breakfast Club. The non-profit’s mission is to host storytelling programs where veterans of all eras and branches of service can share their experiences with the public. DePastino has a Ph.D. in American History from Yale University and is an award-winning historian author and teacher.
The Click: Why did you start a non-profit for veterans?
DePastino: It is not at all what I thought I would do with my life. I really thought I would just write history books, write and teach history- and I did do that. But, I quit doing that in order to run this nonprofit full time. That’s because the nonprofit deals with veterans, and holding events, to have veterans share their stories with the public, and I so am enamored with the community that is formed around that mission, that I got the opportunity to do it with some grants
When I talk to younger people, I encourage them to pay attention to what absorbs their attention. If I start writing at 9 a.m., I will often look up and it’s 1 p.m. and truly wonder, is there something wrong with the clock? If time moves that quickly when you’re doing something, that means it is what you are meant to be doing. That is what I felt like with writing and that is what I felt like with working with veterans.
The Click: Do you have any advice for people trying to start a non-profit?
DePastino: Be clear about the mission of the organization and make sure you’re the person that should be pursuing that mission. And then, be doggedly determined to complete the mission. That’s it. Sometimes it’s hard because these things have their ups and downs and it’s easy to walk away when things go bad, but I think it’s important to stick with it.
The Click: What is the biggest impact you think you are making with these veterans?
DePastino: I guess the biggest impact is twofold. I think one is allowing people like me who don’t come from a military family, understand better the veteran experience. And the other thing is the dealer service we do for veterans, to provide them with a platform for sharing their stories and not only providing the platform but being a catalyst for sharing those stories.
The Click: How has the pandemic and social media impacted the Veterans Breakfast Club? I read a recent news article that your page was huge on TikTok.
DePastino: It really forced us to adapt and forces us to become an online national organization. In March of 2020, we stopped doing in-person events. So, we shifted everything online… and it was devastating. We lost a lot of sponsorships, program revenue, and people. But, what happened was people around the country started tuning in and joining us on zoom. Over 2020, we ended up getting about 1,500 new people from across the country, and having really fascinating conversations with veterans and people we never would have been able to meet, if not for via zoom.