America Supports You: Florida Moms Help 'Cell Phones for Soldiers'
By Monique Reuben
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 3, 2006 Two teens' ongoing effort to help deployed servicemembers communicate with their loved ones back home inspired the Orlando-Conway, Fla., chapter of International Moms Club to donate $4,000 to "Cell Phones for Soldiers" June 28.
America Supports You members Robbie and Brittany Bergquist (second and third from left), co-founders of Cell Phones For Soldiers, receive a $4,000 check from Moms Club of Orlando-Conway, Fla., June 28. Also pictured are Moms Club representatives (left to right) Sherry Brown, Betty Tehrani, Juliet Anderson, Jacqueline Reece and Tricia Jones. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Moms Club is a nonprofit support group for stay-at-home mothers.
The organization presented Cell Phones for Soldiers co-founders Brittany Bergquist, 15, and her brother Robbie, 14, with a check for $4,000 at an informal gathering at Conway Realty in Orlando. Cell Phones for Soldiers will use the donation to purchase pre-paid calling cards to distribute to soldiers stationed overseas. The Bergquists' venture is part of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which spotlights ways the American public and the nation's corporate sector support the members of the armed forces.
Betty Tehrain, president of Moms Club of Orlando-Conway, said she never knew that phoning home was so expensive for soldiers until she discovered Cell Phones for Soldiers.
"Family is just extremely important to us, and we had often talked in the past about wanting to do something for the troops," she explained. "We could just only imagine if our spouses were over there, how much that would brighten our day to be able to hear from them."
So Tehrain and the other members of Moms Club of Orlando-Conway held cell phone drives and announced them in their local newspaper. The group also posted flyers in the community and requested donations from local companies.
A local Wal-Mart, Total Site Development, and America's Money Source donated money. Tehrain said that one mom went to garage sales every weekend and collected 74 cell phones.
At the Moms Club of Orlando-Conway annual banquet, the group raised $800 in a raffle drawing. In three months, the organization had collected 585 phones. After recycling the phones at a phone recycling company, they made $4,000 and were eager to donate it to Cell Phones for Soldiers.
"We loved the story of how it began, and we loved the fact that it was started by children," Tehrain said. "Meeting with them the other night, we were all blown away by them."
Brittany and Robbie began Cell Phones for Soldiers in April 2004 after they saw a news report about how expensive it was for a soldier stationed in Iraq to call home. Since then, they have raised more than a million dollars.
"It's really important, because being able to speak to their families is really a morale booster and allows them to be able to hold out until they're able to see their families again," Brittany said.
From cash contributions and money acquired by recycling donated used cell phones, the organization buys calling cards and distributes them to deployed or deploying servicemembers. The organization has over 4,000 sites nationwide where people can drop off their used cell phones.
Robbie said that the best part about his experience is learning from the people he's encountered and helping soldiers.
His sister agrees. "They're (soldiers) so appreciative of what we're doing," Brittany said. "Learning more about how to help others has been the most rewarding part."
After receiving the donation from Moms Club of Orlando-Conway, Cell Phones for Soldiers gave a National Guard recruiting officer 130 pre-paid phone cards to give to members of his unit.
The brother-and-sister duo from Norwell, Mass., said they receive hundreds of e-mails from soldiers and people showing their appreciation for their service to the troops. One person who wanted to show his support for their efforts was Montel Williams of "The Montel Williams Show." The teens appeared on his talk show last November to talk about their group.
Williams surprised the teens with a stay at the Royal Pacific Hotel at Universal Studios so they would be able to afford the trip down to Florida from Massachusetts to accept the donation from the Moms Club of Orlando-Conway.
"We didn't expect that at all, so that was a really big surprise for us," Brittany said. "We knew he was going to be supportive of the program. ... He was in the military before, but we had no clue he was going to do this for us."
In August, Cell Phones for Soldiers plans to collect used cell phones at the NASCAR Brickyard 400 Nextel Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Brittany and Robbie said that when they first began their organization, they never imagined it would grow as much as it has. They said they don't see an end to this project because servicemembers, no matter where they are, always are going to want to keep in touch with their families without hurting their pockets.
"It's just incredible, and it makes us want to continue doing this for them because we know we're making a difference," Brittany said.