America Supports You: 'Cell Phones for Soldiers' Rolls On
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
NORWELL, Mass., Nov. 30, 2004 Having distributed $100,000 in prepaid calling cards to deployed troops free of charge through their "Cell Phones for Soldiers" program, it would be easy for Brittany and Robbie Bergquist to pack it in and go back to being full-time kids.
From left, Robbie, Courtney and Brittany Bergquist prepare
prepaid phone cards in the basement of their family's Norwell, Mass., home for
delivery to a unit deploying to Iraq. Since starting "Cell Phones for Soldiers"
in April, the children have distributed more than $100,000 in phone cards to
deployed servicemembers, purchased from cash donations and money obtained by
recycling used cell phones donated to their cause. Photo by John D.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Since April, the brother-sister team in this suburb south of Boston has made thousands of hours of conversation possible between deployed U.S. forces and their loved ones. No one could blame them for feeling as though they've done more than their fair share of supporting the troops.
But Brittany, who turned 14 on Nov. 28, and Robbie, 12, have no intention of pulling the plug on Cell Phones for Soldiers, even if it means missing more cheerleading competitions or hockey games.
Brittany admitted the temptation to stop is there if she misses an important school or personal event because of the program's obligations. "But then I think of the soldiers and the sacrifices they're making for us, and it's easy to keep going," she said.
Robbie said he expects Cell Phones for Soldiers to continue "until all the soldiers come home safely -- and even then, we're probably not going to stop, because there always are soldiers who are deployed."
Using cash contributions and money obtained by recycling donated used cell phones, the program buys calling cards and distributes them to deployed or deploying units. An application for nonprofit-organization status is pending.
Cell Phones for Soldiers began when Brittany and Robbie saw a news report about a Massachusetts soldier deployed to Iraq who had built up a large cell-phone bill calling home. They pooled their own money, got contributions from their friends and opened a bank account, hoping to raise enough money to pay the soldier's bill. The bank kicked in $500, and, though the soldier's cell phone company forgave his bill, the youngsters continued their efforts in the hope that other soldiers wouldn't find themselves in the same situation.
As increasingly bigger media outlets reported the story, the demands on the youngsters' time increased proportionally for interviews and appearances, trips to present calling cards to deploying military units, and the day-to-day work of keeping the program running.
The rest of the family pitches in. The children's parents, Bob and Gail Bergquist, are teachers, and having their summer free enabled them to help Brittany and Robbie and accompany them in their travels. Since school resumed in September, eighth-grader Brittany and seventh-grader Robbie have continued putting up honor-roll grades while pursuing extracurricular activities and tending to Cell Phones for Soldiers. Their sister, Courtney, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, prefers a behind-the-scenes role, but also has been active in helping the program to thrive.
Juggling schoolwork with Cell Phones for Soldiers travel and responsibilities is "difficult at times," Brittany said. "But it's worth it," she quickly added.
Robbie said he and Brittany receive a lot of grateful feedback from deployed servicemembers. "But it's all e-mails," he said with a laugh. "They're not going to use their cards on us."