America Supports You Grassroots Groups Meet President
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 10, 2006 The leaders of several grassroots organizations associated with the Pentagon's America Supports You program met today at the White House to discuss their efforts to support the men and women of the U.S. armed forces with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush.
'AMERICA SUPPORTS YOU' - President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush, center, meet with members of the Defense Department's 'America Supports You' program, which highlights grass-roots and corporate efforts to support U.S. servicemembers. Bush met with the group at the White House March 10. Photo by Evan Sisley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"The meeting was awesome," Julieann Najar said. Her nonprofit organization, "A Soldier's Wish List," sends care packages to troops serving overseas. "It was better than Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter all rolled into one," she said. "He was very nice and very, very down to earth."
Jeanette Cram, a.k.a. the "Cookie Lady," said the meeting with Bush was great because it "boosted the morale of those who work to boost the morale of U.S. troops."
"To know that he recognizes what we do for the soldiers, nothing will keep you going more than that," she said. Cram's South Carolina-based "Treat the Troops" organization sends home-baked cookies to deployed troops.
Cram said she cares a great deal about the troops, and her cookies are so popular with them because of her secret ingredient. "I've gotten thank you letters from troops saying how good they are," she said. "The troops tell me they figured out the secret ingredient that makes them taste so good -- it's love.
"The letters from the troops are the most important thing, but meeting the president and first lady today was icing on the cake," Cram added. "It makes you want to go home and bake."
Following the meeting with the president, members of the 15 assembled grassroots groups held a roundtable meeting to brainstorm about ways to get the word out to servicemembers about the services they provide and to discuss how to solve certain inherent difficulties associated with nonprofit work.
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who started the America Supports You program and runs its operations, began the meeting by saying how much she appreciated the efforts of each group. "You guys are the heart and soul of America Supports You. You've been supporting the troops long before there was ever an America Supports You program," Barber said. "We're humbled by your work."
The America Supports You program highlights how individuals, nonprofit groups, and corporations are supporting members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. This support runs the gamut from sending care packages to troops stationed overseas to constructing modified homes for disabled servicemembers. The program was launched in late 2004 and currently has about 195 grassroots groups as members.
The number one problem area discussed at the meeting with Barber was the shipping costs of sending care packages to troops. Barber said she was currently in discussions with private shipping companies and the U.S. postmaster general to see about getting discounted shipping rates for America Supports You members.
Judy Seale, who runs a group called "Stars for Stripes," which provides celebrity entertainment to troops deployed in remote locations, said the brainstorming session was good because it helped the grassroots groups focus on ways to better serve the troops. "They fight for us, so it's important to support them," she said. "When we go over there and we give them a morale boost and we give them hugs, they know that America appreciates there sacrifices over there."
Daniel Shannon, of "Operation Homelink," a nonprofit that provides refurbished computers to the spouses of deployed troops, said the meetings with Bush and Barber "helped reenergize" his desire and passion to support the troops. "We're about the troops," he said. "We can never repay them for their sacrifice."
Kathleen Lewis, who heads the care-package provider "Packages From Home," agreed. "Our troops our defending our freedom; they are defending our country from terrorism; they're the best of America," she said. "It's the least we could do"
John Lewis, Kathleen's husband, served in Vietnam and said he had firsthand experience about what it was like to get something from home while serving his country overseas. "There's nothing like something from home," he said. "It makes you feel like people care."
There are several upcoming America Supports You events scheduled, including:
- A nationwide Weekly Reader program for grade school-age children that starts in April;
- A Pentagon concert on May 5 featuring actor-musician Gary Sinise and his "Lt. Dan Band";
- A May 6 welcome-home event for returning troops held at Camp Lejeune, N.C.;
- An America Supports You-themed Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday of May; and
- A Memorial Day parade down Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.
There are also plans to have all 50 states host individual Freedom Walks to commemorate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Last year's first America Supports You Freedom Walk in Washington, D.C., drew about 15,000 participants.
Additional America Supports You grassroots summits are scheduled for Chicago later this month and for Houston in May.