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Small Company Hopes Donation Makes Big Connection With GIs

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2004 – A small Indiana telecommunications company is thanking service members for helping keep America free by donating thousands of prepaid calling cards to those injured in the war on terrorism.

Terry Ballantini, chief executive officer for Tellis Long Distance, said he started "GI Connections" to show his gratitude to service members.

The company recently donated 2,500 prepaid cards, embossed with the words "Thank You for Our Freedom," to the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps wounded and sick service members and their families by providing lodging close to military medical treatment centers.

"I'm just extremely pleased and gratified that we can do something that makes a difference," he said.

David Coker, executive director of the Fisher House Foundation, said the phone cards will be a "tremendous morale booster" for hospitalized service members. He added that the foundation plans to distribute the phone cards to military and Veterans Affairs medical centers where injured service members are receiving care.

"The cards will go to the servicemen and women and to their family members so they can keep their families and friends up to date on the medical condition of a loved one," he said.

Ballantini's will to help injured service members was spurred after a discussion with his brother-in-law about donating prepaid cards to the military.

After researching various groups that were helping the military, the brothers learned that many of them were "grass-roots" organizations that were purchasing phone cards from retail stores and providing them to service members.

"And what I decided to do, since we are a prepaid company and we set our own rates and sell our own cards, was to design a card that thanked the military for our freedom."

He then offered the special-edition prepaid phone cards to those groups at a bargain rate.

For $3.75, service members get more than eight hours of talk time -- one of the best deals on the prepaid market. Similar cards can cost as much as $5.00, Ballantini said.

In addition, for every five cards sold, the company donates an extra 20-minute card, he said. The company also takes care of all printing and design work, as well as overnight shipping, he added.

A few organizations already have taken advantage of the offer.

Members of College Park Church in Indiana purchased 1,500 cards. And more recently, a McLean Bible Church in Northern Virginia raised more than $19,000, enough for more than 5,000 cards.

Ballantini, whose company has only 11 employees, said the prepaid card program is not for profit, noting that after costs for printing and shipping "any profits will be negligible." Instead, he said, he is just proud to be helping the military in some way.

"I've never been in the military, but if there is anything that we can do, we will do it," he said. "We really believe in this country and our military."

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