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'Blogger Challenge' Supports Grassroots Efforts in Iraq

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2004 – Web site operators are uniting in the first "Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge" to help the Spirit of America foundation help the Iraqi people build a new future.

The blogger challenge kicked off Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 15. Already, 162 bloggers have raised more than $52,000 all of it to go to specific projects these Web operators select, according to Jim Hake, Spirit of America founder.

The nonprofit group supports grassroots efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is committed to the concept that winning hearts and minds requires personal not just governmental intervention.

Hake said many of the group's projects support requests made by U.S. servicemembers serving in Iraq for goods that help the Iraqi people. Others directly support Iraqis who are on the front lines of building a better future for Iraq.

The Friends of Iraq Blogger Challenge is the latest of many initiatives the group is using to support its cause, according to Spirit of America media relations manager Michele Redmond.

She said bloggers people who post journals on the World Wide Web -- have proven a strong ally to Spirit of America, which distributes information and raises funds largely through its Web site. The challenge, she added, represented an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience of bloggers.

Bloggers can join the challenge as individuals, join a team or create a new team, Hake explained. Spirit of America will create and host a custom fund- raising page for challengers.

"All you have to do is link to your fund-raising page and encourage your visitors to donate," he said.

Hake said bloggers who raise more than $100 get a Spirit of America cap and T- shirt. And all participants, no matter how much they raise, will get the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping support freedom, democracy and peace in Iraq.

He said he was inspired to found the Spirit of America organization after televised reports about U.S. Special Forces soldiers in Orgun-e, a remote Afghan village about 20 miles from Pakistan. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jay Smith had asked his wife to send baseball gloves and balls for the local children. Within just a few weeks, she had collected enough donations to equip two teams.

Hake said the impact of the initiative and similar grassroots efforts being conducted throughout Afghanistan and Iraq runs far deeper than the gifts themselves. He said it's helping Americans serving overseas improve the lives of people in need, while at the same time improving local perceptions about America and the American people.

"This is a way of saying, this is who we are," he said. "It's the way a lot of attitudes and perceptions get changed through personal interaction."

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