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First Lady, Dr. Biden Laud Community Challenge Finalists

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2012 – Noting their contributions to military families’ lives, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, yesterday announced the 20 finalists that will compete for top honors in the Joining Forces Community Challenge.

The challenge, part of the Joining Forces campaign, recognizes and celebrates individuals, communities and organizations that have displayed outstanding support to military families and veterans. The first lady and Biden launched Joining Forces last year to raise awareness of troops, veterans and their families, and to rally the nation around them.

“Jill and I have asked organizations large and small to direct some of their efforts toward our troops and their families, and … we’re thrilled to congratulate 20 groups who are doing just that,” the first lady said in a White House release yesterday. “These organizations are doing what they do best: providing financial assistance for scholarships and child care, working to build self-esteem in military teens, offering free photo sessions for military families and so much more.

“Creative ideas like these can be replicated in communities all across the country,” she added, “and we can’t wait to see what Americans come up with next.”

The 20 finalists were selected from more than 300 submissions, which flooded in after the challenge launched in July, according to the news release.

White House officials encourage people to read about these standout organizations on the Community Challenge website at http://joiningforces.challenge.gov, and vote for their favorite finalist. The finalist who garners the most votes will be named the challenge’s People’s Choice Winner on March 16.

Five additional winners will be chosen with input from a panel of judges, which includes:

-- Deanie Dempsey, military family advocate and wife of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey;

-- J.R. Martinez, Iraq war veteran, actor and recent winner of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars”;

-- USO President Sloan D. Gibson;

-- Tom Brokaw; author and special correspondent for NBC News; and

-- Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, one of the nation’s largest military communities.

The first lady and Biden will honor the finalists and announce the winners in a White House ceremony this spring, the release said.

Biden lauded the finalists, other individuals, and the communities across the nation that are stepping up in creative ways to support service members and their families. She cited the many “acts of kindness” she’s seen firsthand in her travels.

“All of the submissions for the Joining Forces Community Challenge demonstrate exactly the spirit of service and dedication we see everywhere we go,” Biden said in the release. “We hope that the great work of these organizations inspire more Americans to take on similar efforts to support military families in their own communities.”

While the finalists are profiled online, the following is a snapshot of their contributions to military families’ lives:

-- The Pat Tillman Foundation, of Tempe, Ariz.,

grants scholarships to military veterans and spouses nationwide through the Tillman Military Scholars program. The scholarship funds cover tuition, fees, as well as other related costs, including housing and childcare. Since 2004, the foundation has provided more than $2.2 million in financial support.

-- The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs, of Clovis, Calif., aims to create a network of social bonds between military girls to build self-esteem, encourage leadership and increase community support. Two California teenagers whose fathers had deployed to Afghanistan founded the group.

-- Rebuild Hope, of Menlo Park, Calif., provides financial assistance, counseling and referrals to organizations that offer pro bono care to veterans and caregivers in a variety of areas, including legal, mental health, and debt management.

-- New Directions, based in Los Angeles, provides comprehensive services to homeless and disabled veterans, including substance abuse treatment, counseling and job training in Los Angeles County, home to the nation’s largest homeless military veterans population. The organization serves more than 600 veterans each year.

-- The Soldiers Project‐Sacramento, of Sacramento, Calif., provides free psychological services for active duty military, recent war veterans and their families. The project is an all-volunteer group of about 40 licensed clinicians who have provided more than 500 hours of free, individual treatment since the beginning of 2011.

-- Project Sanctuary, of Parker, Colo., provides recreational activities in the Rocky Mountains to help military families reconnect following deployments. The project also offers follow-up support with housing, job placement and veterans’ assistance.

-- Birdies for the Brave, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.,

a military outreach initiative supported by the PGA Tour and corporate partners, raises funds for military-support groups that provide programs and services to wounded warriors and military families.

-- The Landings Military Family Relief Fund, of Savannah, Ga., provides financial support to military families during everyday emergencies while a family member is deployed. The financial assistance is administered through the Red Cross.

-- Operation Homelink, based in Chicago, provides refurbished computers to spouses or parents of deployed troops. The organization has provided more than 2,500 computers nationwide and is expanding to include laptop donations to wounded warriors.

-- Give an Hour, of Bethesda, Md., aims to develop a national network of volunteer providers to respond to acute and chronic societal conditions. Their current focus is on mental health services for service members, their families, and people in communities affected by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-- Luke's Wings, of Rockville, Md., supports wounded warriors’ families by assisting with airplane tickets and travel arrangements. The nationwide organization also can partner with local hotels or other activities nearby that the family can access during their wounded warrior’s recovery.

-- Brides Across America, of Georgetown, Mass., provides wedding gowns to qualified military brides. Since 2007, more than 5,000 wedding gowns have been donated to support troops and their families.

-- Defending the Blue Line, of Hastings, Minn., works to ensure that children of military members have access to participate in hockey through free equipment, hockey camps, special events, and financial assistance toward association and other hockey-related costs. Founded by two Minnesota National Guard members in 2009, more than $500,000 has benefited military families across the United States.

-- GreenCare for Troops, of New Prague, Minn., established by a wounded warrior, provides free lawn and landscape services for military families nationwide.

-- Armed Forces Service Center, of St. Paul, Minn., is a no-cost lounge for service members and their families in the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. The lounge, staffed by volunteers, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

-- Trees for Troops, of Chesterfield, Mo., provides thousands of military families in the United States and overseas with Christmas trees. The Christmas Spirit Foundation, working with its partner FedEx, has delivered more than 100,000 trees through the Trees for Troops program since its inception in 2005.

-- Canines for Veterans, of Wilmington, N.C., part of Canines for Service, provides highly skilled service dogs for wounded warriors. Launched in 2008, the national program works with military prisoners at the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston who train rescue dogs as service dogs for wounded and injured veterans.

-- Hearts Apart, of Wilmington, N.C., provides soon-to-be deployed service members with a professional photo session with their spouses and children to keep families connected during deployment. Photographs are waterproof and printed on durable cards that fit in a uniform pocket.

-- The city of Richfield, Utah, has supported its local Army National Guard Unit through four deployments since Sept. 11, 2001. Among its contributions are a deployment resource guide for military families, a city utility abatement program during deployments, and a community covenant that details the commitment the city will make toward its service members and their families.

-- Our Family for Families First Foundation, of Lake Stevens, Wash., supports children of service members through scholarships, and military spouses through grants and assistance identifying educational opportunities.

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Related Sites:
Joining Forces Community Challenge
Joining Forces Campaign
Special Report: Joining Forces
Special Report: Military Family Support


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