America Supports You: Teen Inspires Expressions of Thanks
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 16, 2005 Troops in Michigan will have no doubt that they and their families are appreciated, and it all started with a girl's poem and soft spot for the military.
Christie Townsend of Rockford, Mich., now nearly 17, found inspiration for her poem "America's Voice" from a pictorial history of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her poem was so powerful that it has been read at ceremonies honoring fallen soldiers, and it even earned her a letter from President Bush praising her creativity.
But Christie didn't stop with the poem. She spent time before the holidays trying to make sure that troops deployed overseas could call their families back home. Her mother, Susan Townsend, said Christie raised about $5,100 in phone cards.
"She has a huge heart for the military," Susan said. "She would have loved to have done it for every single one of them."
Instead of continuing on her own, she and her family took a suggestion to formalize Christie's efforts in hopes of garnering support. Thus was born America's Voice/Kid Expressed. The organization's nonprofit status is pending, Susan said.
Kid Expressed sends care packages and works to make sure deployed servicemembers have post cards and greeting cards from back home. The group also tries to help in sending care packages that are waiting to be shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan by raising money to cover the postage.
The organization's next show of support won't leave anyone in the area wondering how the Townsends or Kid Expressed feel about U.S. servicemembers.
Christie has worked with her family and Kid Expressed to put up three billboards in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area conveying deep appreciation for U.S. servicemembers. Two of the billboards are set to go up next week, and the third on April 11. The official kickoff for the boards will be on March 25. Retired Army Lt. Col. David Britten, principal of Lee Middle-High School, will help with the ceremony.
The boards carry the image of four saluting children in the full dress uniform of each of the armed services. The message is quite clear: "... To Our Defenders of Freedom and their Families ... We Appreciate You Beyond Expression!"
And there is a very good reason the Kid Expressed board decided that children should be the messengers. "There is no purer form of expressing something than through a child," Susan said.
Christie said she would like to see the billboards appear nationwide. In fact, she said, she has been told there is a spot available in the center of Times Square in New York City, but Kid Expressed doesn't have the $100,000 necessary to make that happen. She's more hopeful of getting one of the boards up near Walter Reed Army Medical Center here so that the servicemembers there know they have America's support.
The motivation behind her own efforts and those of others showcased by the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program is important for deployed servicemembers, she said. "It means that America cares, that America has not forgotten," she said. "It means that America does appreciate them beyond expression. For us to support them, it's even a part of their healing to know that America supports them."
Susan said that she feels the support of America is critical to the troops - to help them heal or carry on with their mission. She also said she feels just as strongly that the troops' families need to feel that support too.
"When those men and women are deployed, so are their families," she said. "(The families) may not have to go to Iraq, but part of them is going to Iraq or Afghanistan."
She added that as the needs of those families arise, America's Voice/Kid Expressed wants to be able to help meet those needs.
One important aim of the America's Voice/Kid Expressed is expressed on its Web site: "It is also the goal of America's Voice/Kid Express to inspire our future generation in the appreciation and support of our military."
"That is my full intent," Susan said, "to inspire these kids to, when they see a soldier, tell them, 'Thank you.'"