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Grassroots Groups Say 'America Supports You' Boosts Efforts

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 17, 2005 – Representatives from 175 grassroots organizations say their decision to join "America Supports You" is paying off in a big way to boost their ability to support the troops.

America Supports You, a Defense Department initiative aimed at galvanizing individual, group and corporate efforts aimed at U.S. military member, has amassed a sizable following in the year since its founding one year ago this week. In addition to widespread participation by nonprofit grassroots organizations, the program has attracted 18 corporate sponsors.

Grassroots member organizations report that the program has increased the visibility of their efforts, attracting new volunteers and donations. Others say the program has sparked new ideas about ways to rally behind and serve the needs of U.S. troops, particularly those deployed overseas.

Andrea Hoshmand from Operation Paperback, a group that collects used books to ship to deployed troops, said being featured on the America Supports You Web site attracted more than 200 volunteers, 8 percent of the group's volunteer base. At the same time, postage donations increased five-fold, she said.

Packages From Home, a nonprofit group that sends care packages to deployed troops, also experienced a big jump in participation since joining the program, founder Kathleen Lewis reported. In just 16 months, the group grew from a one-mom operation to a 200-volunteer organization that sends about 1,000 packages a month and thousands of letters to deployed troops in the Middle East, she said.

Carolyn Blashek from Operation Gratitude, another organization that sends care packages to deployed military members, said the program has helped boost their reach significantly. "America Supports You has played a vital role in our growth by introducing Americans in every state of the country to our efforts, and letting them know that we offer a way for them to express their appreciation to the military in a hands-on manner," she reported.

It's impossible to know exactly how many people have contributed to Operation Gratitude as a result of its affiliation with America Supports You, Blashek acknowledged. However, many of her contacts say they learned of the program through America Supports You, she said.

Judy Seale, founder of Stars for Stripes, a group that brings top-name entertainment to troops, particularly those in remote areas, said she's finding it far easier to partner with other groups since joining America Supports You. "I've been contacted by various other organizations who have now partnered with my organization, enabling me to do more for our U.S. military personnel deployed overseas," she said.

Seale said America Supports You also provides a new avenue for people looking for ways to support U.S. troops. "I receive numerous emails from individuals who go to my Web site and want to know how they can support our U.S. military," she reported. "It's so easy to send them to www.americasupportsyou.mil, where they have all the resources available in one click."

Shauna Fleming, a California teenager who founded "A Million Thanks," a group that sends personal letters and emails to troops to thank them for their contributions, credits the America Supports You program for promoting her organization's success.

"I was very honored to be part of the kickoff event at the Pentagon for America Supports You," said Fleming, who attended the program's unveiling on Nov. 19, 2004. "Since that time, not only have I promoted ASY every chance I get, but ASY has helped Americans and our military men and women know that my organization exists," she reported.

Fleming said hits on the A Million Thanks Web site jumped dramatically after the group joined America Supports You.

"My entire family thinks that America Supports You is the best thing to happen for our military," she said. "Those of us here at home want our servicemembers to know that Americans by the millions appreciate the work and sacrifices they make. ASY gives us a way to let them know that Americans really do support them."

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