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Getting to Know Thanks USA

ThanksUSA provides college, technical and vocational school, need-based scholarships for the children and spouses of U.S. military personnel from all five branches of the Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves.

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Roughly 2.9 million military family members in the US don’t wear the uniform but “serve” too; 560,000 service members claim 1.1 million children as dependents. And there are more than 100,000 military children ages 17-22 in active duty households.

Scholarship applicants are eligible for grants if their military family member has served 180 days since September 11, 2001, and preference is given to spouses and children of the wounded and fallen. Since 2006, ThanksUSA has awarded nearly 4,000 scholarships totaling $12 million in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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College affordability is one of the greatest burdens facing military families who largely depend on a single income — an average annual salary for an E9 over 20 years of service is $46,000 plus variable housing and cost of living allowances. According to Blue Star Families 2016 Military Family Lifestyle Survey, military families are 27% less likely to have dual incomes than civilian families.

ThanksUSA seeks to lift part of this burden with the gift of scholarships. Each ThanksUSA scholarship is for $3,000, which may not seem like a large amount but most military spouses and children receive some form of tuition assistance because of their family finances. An additional $3,000 goes a very long way — enabling the scholar to drop a part-time job; to pay for travel expenses, books and fees; or to close the gap between affording and not affording a more expensive school.

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ThanksUSA began as the “brain blast” of two sisters, Rachel and Kelsi Okun of McLean, Virginia, while on a family vacation in August 2005. They became fascinated with the appeal of treasure hunts. The girls wondered about using the appeal of treasure hunts to inspire children and their parents to support a national goal. Asked what that mission should be, the girls said they wanted to help the families of military troops. They were inspired by their neighbor, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Lanier Ward, who had been severely injured in Iraq. Although the girls had already sent care packages to soldiers overseas from school and church, and had written letters to soldiers, they wanted to do something more.

ThanksUSA’s military family scholarship program was born out of compassion and a simple idea, and over a decade later, ThanksUSA is still inspired by Rachel and Kelsi’s passion for helping military families.

One of ThanksUSA’s most exciting times of the year is the opening of its scholarship application, April 1-May 15, and the subsequent awarding of scholarships to these applicants. Year-round we work hard to get the word out about our scholarship program and to raise awareness and funds to award as many scholarships as possible to deserving military spouses and children. We look forward to learning about our new scholars – their journeys, their ambitions, and their passions – and following them throughout their schooling and beyond.

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ThanksUSA is also extremely excited about our weekly Wounded Veterans Adaptive Tennis Clinic at East Potomac Tennis Center in Washington, DC. In February, we kicked off this clinic as a way to give back to wounded veterans by providing a sport that acts as rehabilitation, as well as a fun way to stay active and socialize.

The clinic is taught by PTR Adaptive Tennis Certified, USPTA wheelchair certified and 2015 PTR Maryland Member of the Year, Brenda Gilmore. Brenda says: “It’s been quite rewarding for me to see not only the progress of the participants but to see how much they enjoy each other’s company as much as they do learning to play tennis. I think this is truly one of the highlights of their week!” And it is truly the highlight of ThanksUSA’s week as well! Getting to know the veterans and their stories, and watch as their passion for tennis grows off the court, is a rewarding experience.

ThanksUSA has plans to continue this clinic into 2018, and there is growing interest in beginning clinics in additional cities.

A great day at ThanksUSA is spent at one of our events – including our military appreciation days and our golf and tennis tournaments – where our military and their families are appreciated and thanked for their service. Getting out and about in such active environments with our supporters, who meet and get to know our troops and their kids and spouses, all while raising money to boot, is a great reminder of why ThanksUSA works hard every day!

America’s troops and their families deserve our respect and our thanks for their selfless service. Members of the United States Armed Forces have borne significant burdens to protect this country, and we can’t let their contributions be forgotten.

Anyone can reach us by visiting our website, www.thanksusa.org, or by messaging us on Facebook. Any questions or comments can also be directed to ThanksUSA Executive Director, Michele Stork at MicheleStork@thanksusa.org or (703) 855-4108.

We happily accept volunteers for our events throughout the year. We know there are many people who also have a passion for serving members of our Armed Forces and their families, and we look forward to working with them! Here are some of our upcoming events in the Washington DC region:

May 8: ThanksUSA Charity Golf Tournament
May 27: Tennis Thanks the Troops All-American Family Day Bash
October 25: Treasure our Troops Gala

Another way to engage with ThanksUSA is to like and share our posts on social media:

Facebook: ThanksUSA
Twitter: @ThanksUSA
Instagram: @ThanksUSA

Guest Post: ArtStream

Today we’re delighted to have a post from Patricia Woolsey, Executive Director of ArtStream, Inc., about their Allies in the Arts program at Walter Reed Medical Center, in honor of Veterans Day earlier this week. ArtStream, Inc. provides specialized arts opportunities to people who often lack access to the many benefits of arts involvement. Serving the greater Washington region and the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, ArtStream supports people who are dealing with a variety of life challenges, including those with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities; youth who are adopted or in foster care; children and adults in hospital and hospice settings; individuals and families who are bereaved; wounded military personnel, veterans, and their families; and senior citizens.

by Patricia Woolsey, Executive Director

In honor of Veterans Day, I want to tell you about ArtStream’s Allies in the Arts Program at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. ArtStream was founded on our belief in the healing power of the arts, and we take our programs into the community where the need is. Wounded servicemen and women can’t come to us, so ArtStream artists go to Walter Reed two evenings per week to work with wounded service members, their families, and caregivers.

Some patients love a visit from Jude, a musician. Others prefer writing with Roseanne or storytelling with Ermyn. Still others enjoy making things with Nancy, a visual artist. One of the highlights of my job as Executive Director of ArtStream is reading the artists’ reports of their work at Walter Reed.

For example, musician Jude Crannitch writes:

“I played/demonstrated harmonica techniques to one patient — how to bend notes, breathing techniques, single note isolation, music theory-chord structure, keys — all in response to his questions. I played Rev. Gary Davis’ You Gotta Move, with and without guitar accompaniment. The patient showed me a bracelet with the names of his buddies who had died and described his vision of honoring and consolidating their memory and presence through mastery of the harmonica. He told me he was “shaky” before I came, about his surgery in the morning, but was empowered and focused by the visit.”

Storyteller Ermyn King works with words instead of music.

“The patient was cringing, wincing, and moaning with nerve pain in his injured leg, yet he welcomed the Allies arts session in determination to use it for pain distraction. He chose to work with the magnetic poetry board and “Healing Words.” After concentrating on this and maneuvering words on the magnetic slate, he said that the set didn’t have the words needed to express his thoughts and feelings adequately. I quickly gave him a tablet of paper and pencil so he could use all the words that he needed. He poignantly expressed the guilt that he feels in having survived the attack that killed three of his comrades. He said he feels this guilt “every second of every day.”

We are so grateful to be part of the Artist-in-Residence Program at Walter Reed and proud to be on the cutting edge of the “Arts in Healthcare” movement. ArtStream’s work at Walter Reed is featured as a model program in The National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military’s report, Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum: White Paper and Framing a National Plan for Action, presented to every member of Congress before Veterans Day.

The paper is a result of a growing number of military leaders recognizing that art helps heal the wounds so prevalent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression, and lost limbs. Fortunately, they also understand that artists have expertise and training worth investing in. At the moment, ArtStream supports this program entirely, but one of the findings of the report is that a public/private partnership benefits the military, artists, and the community. “Today, with only 1% of our population in the military, many individuals have no connection to the military yet are concerned and eager to help,” said Judy Rollins, lead writer.

Community support is important to the seriously wounded servicemen and women we work with. Many of them are very young, yet have given so much. Their lives are changed forever in ways that can’t always be expressed in words or treated with medicine. We are honored to share the healing power of the arts with them.

To learn more about ArtStream and the Allies in the Arts program, visit our website at: www.art-stream.org.

Guest Post: Yellow Ribbon Fund

In honor of Veterans Day, we welcome the Yellow Ribbon Fund to GoodWorks. While Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital provide world-class medical care for gravely wounded service members, the Yellow Ribbon Fund provides the programs that make daily life more manageable for the wounded and their family caregivers. YRF serves over 1,000 soldiers and their families annually through practical, hands-on assistance during recovery at the hospital, and ongoing support during reintegration to civilian life back home.

by Kristin Henderson
Communications Director, YRF

It’s Veterans Day again, a time to honor and thank those who’ve served in uniform. Be sure to thank the families, too. Every week, we hear stories like this one from the injured service members and families we serve:

“The Yellow Ribbon Fund took care of us when no one else would. I arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on a weekend to greet my wounded husband, with a newborn son and 3-year-old daughter in tow. No one is in the offices there on the weekends and my kids desperately needed a place to rest other than the hospital. YRF paid for our hotel room for those first few nights until the Army had cut us orders to stay at the hotel on base. Later in my husband’s recovery, when he could leave the hospital, they took us to baseball games. This seems inconsequential but it gave our entire family a break from the hospital environment. It made our daughter feel special and let us smile and laugh together. We’re eternally grateful for that. Our daughter’s best Walter Reed memories are going with the Yellow Ribbon Fund to see the Nationals play. And my husband’s first solo trip without me was on a Yellow Ribbon Fund tour of a battlefield. That trip gave him confidence that he could do some things on his own despite his physical limitations. Yellow Ribbon Fund provides not just assistance for wounded warrior families, but they build hope as well.

Through the Yellow Ribbon Fund, our supporters are able to offer real thanks to injured service members and their families for their sacrifices. Since 2005, we’ve been listening to what the injured and their family caregivers tell us they need. Then we fill those gaps in support with practical help for the whole family, because when the service member is wounded, the whole family is wounded. Our focus on the family sets us apart, especially the services we pioneered for family caregivers — mostly moms and wives who sacrifice jobs and put their lives on hold to help care for their injured loved ones. It can take years to recover from a devastating combat injury. Family caregivers are truly America’s unsung heroes.

So while injured troops are recovering at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, YRF provides free rental cars, taxi rides, hotel stays, and apartments for visiting family members. We arrange for family-friendly activities and stress-relieving massages for the family caregivers. We organize more than 100 social events and outings yearly for the injured and their families, including free tickets to sporting and cultural events. These events and outings nurture family relationships during a difficult time. We also offer career and education mentoring. Even after they return to their hometowns, our nationwide network of volunteers continues to provide practical support.

The needs of our injured heroes and their families will go on long after the wars are over. But with the help of our donors and volunteers, we will ensure they don’t fall through the gaps. We’ll keep on saying thank you in ways that make a real difference.

Learn more or get involved at: www.yellowribbonfund.org

In The News …

By Marie LeBlanc, Community Partnerships Coordinator

20 DC schools targeted for closure (Washington Post) “One in six traditional DC public schools is targeted for closure under a plan put forth Tuesday by Chancellor Kaya Henderson, the latest sign of a system facing budget pressures and increased competition from fast-growing charter schools. The 20 schools marked for closure are spread across six city wards but are concentrated in Northeast Washington and east of the Anacostia River. The chancellor said her plan would shift resources from maintaining under-enrolled schools to focus on improving academic programs,” Find a list of all proposed public school changes here.

Partnership Leads to New Beginning for Homeless Veterans (Huffington Post: DC Impact) “Across the country, men and women who served in the armed forces are becoming homeless at a rate that is higher than the civilian population. Sadly, this is consistent with a history of overrepresentation of veterans in the homeless population. This year, Veteran’s Day marks a new beginning for many homeless veterans in the District who are benefiting from an innovative housing program and critical community partnerships. Our organizations — Pathways to Housing DC and Miriam’s Kitchen — are working together to identify chronically homeless veterans with mental illness and/or disabling medical conditions in the District who are eligible to move into their own apartments as part of a pilot project sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

Region leaders hoping for federal spending cuts compromise (Washington Examiner) “The region’s leaders say they’ve prepped their 2013 budgets for what will be hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue if federal spending cuts start in January. But they are also holding out hope those cuts — and the devastation they say it would bring to the region — never come. ‘It’s like Hurricane Sandy — there’s only so much you can do with powers beyond your control,’ said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. at a Greater Washington Board of Trade panel discussion Thursday.” How is your organization preparing for possible cuts and sequestration?

Veterans Day

Each year, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we pause — as a nation, and as a people — to pay tribute to you. To thank you. To honor you, the heroes, over the generations, who have served this country of ours with distinction. [...] Today, a proud nation expresses our gratitude. But we do so mindful that no ceremony or parade, no hug or handshake is enough to truly honor that service. For that, we must do more. For that, we must commit — this day and every day — to serving you as well as you’ve served us.

President Obama, 11/11/12, Arlington National Cemetery

Today, learn about several Catalogue nonprofits dedicated to servicemembers, veterans, and their families:

- Comfort for America’s Uniformed Services (CAUSE): ensures that recuperating service members have opportunities for recreation and social interaction.

- Operation Homefront DC Metro Chapter: acts as a problem-solver and facilitator to provide swift emergency assistance: goods, financial aid, and skilled hands-on support.

- Yellow Ribbon Fund: supplies the personal services that government programs don’t cover with the help of over 1,200 volunteers.

Back On Their Feet

By Jill Carmichael, Neighbors First Division Director
Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place

The day our staff found out that the Department of Veterans Affairs chose Friendship Place as a recipient of a $1 million Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant, the excitement in our office was off the charts. As the director of our Veterans First program, I of course am thrilled about our newly expanded grant to work with Veterans and their families. It’s so gratifying to think about how many people we will be able to help get back on their feet.

We launched our Veterans First program at Friendship Place about nine months ago, and in that time our staff learned invaluable information about working with this population. We now know what homeless Veterans’ unique needs are, and we’re using that information to tailor our expanded Veterans First program to be as effective and efficient as possible.

I’m particularly looking forward to rolling out our new specialist positions. Our Housing Specialist, for instance, will be fully trained in tenant rights and will create partnerships with landlords throughout the DC Metro Area. This will allow us to rapidly rehouse the people we?re working with while serving as a liaison between client and landlord.

The VA wants us to do our best to move our clients into housing with employment opportunities on the horizon. Our Employment Specialist will continue to expand upon the great employment services that Friendship Place already provides. This position will focus on job development as well as marketing to potential employers the special skills that Veterans bring to the table. We’re also creating specialist positions in benefits and outreach/intake.

Above all, we want to make a lasting impact on Veteran homelessness in DC. We are dedicated to working to prevent homelessness and to house those experiencing homelessness. This grant couldn’t have come at a better time — when the need for services continues to rise in our community. But in my eyes, seeing the dedication of my staff and the willingness of places like the VA to fund these efforts, I truly believe that we’re getting one step closer to ending homelessness every day.

In The News …

Investing in Education, Workforce Development, and the Safety Net Will Close the Income Gap (Give It Some Thought: Community Foundation blog): “[...] while our region’s economy has led to economic growth and prosperity for many on the middle and higher rungs of the ladder, residents on the bottom of the income scale largely are being left behind [...] Our philanthropic efforts take on a new urgency as local and state governments are grappling with budget cuts that would have a devastating effect on low-income residents already hit hard by the recession.” CFNCR President Terri Lee Freeman advises focused investment in “three key areas: education, workforce development and the safety net.” You can learn more about Catalogue Education nonprofits here, and those with a job training-based mission here.

High Proportion of Veterans Live in Rural Areas Less Served by Philanthropic Efforts (Nonprofit Quarterly): “[The Daily Yonder’s Bill] “Bishop points out that 30.6 percent of US military veterans live in rural and exurban counties that house only 25.9 percent of the nation’s over-18 population [...] Veterans in Washington, DC — near the Pentagon, Fort Myer, Fort Meade, and Fort Belvoir — account for only 6.9 percent of the adult population in the area.” In other words, veteran populations tend not to be as concentrated in metropolitan areas, which are often the areas with the greatest philanthropic resources to help out. And overall, “if foundations aren’t paying sufficient attention to rural America, they are likely to be underfunding rural communities — communities with disproportionately high numbers of military veterans.”

Prince George’s County April home prices rise (Washington Post): “While local markets vary significantly from neighborhood to neighborhood, almost all of the 22 jurisdictions in the Washington region have seen some price growth over the past year. The notable exception has been Prince George’s County. But in April — for the first time since they started to plummet in early 2007 — home prices in Prince George’s County are up.” The average detached home price in the County peaked in 2006 and then fell by nearly 50% by 2012 (from $400,000 to $185,000); the foreclosure crisis also had a profound affect on Prince George’s. But this month, the average price has risen to $207,000.

In The News …

Gap between best and worst DC schools growing (Washington Examiner): “The gap between the District’s best- and worst-performing schools has been growing amid the most intense school reform in the city’s history [...] The American Institutes for Research found that, if two students have the same test scores in 2010, but one attends a wealthy, high-performing school and the other attends the opposite, the student at the wealthy school likely would have outpaced the latter student substantially in 2011, even though they were on equal footing the year before.” For example, on average, students in Ward 3 schools demonstrated a 70.8% two-year growth percentile, while students in Ward 8 received a 46% growth score.

State Of The World’s Mothers Report 2012 (Huffington Post): This year, Save the Children ranked Norway, Iceland, and Sweden as the best places to be a mother. “In addition to its annual ranking, the 2012 report focuses specifically on the issue of children’s nutrition. One in four of the world’s children are chronically malnourished or stunted [...] malnutrition kills as many as 2.6 million children and 100,000 mothers every year. Millions of others are left struggling with the physical and mental impairments of stunting.” Over half of the world’s children do not have access to vitamin A, zinc, and water and sanitation — universal access to these perhaps could save as many as 680,000 lives.

Battered and Bruised Minds Lead to Homelessness (TIME: Battleland): “The Department of Veterans Affairs first-ever large-scale study of homeless vets shows that the vast majority of homeless vets have mental disorders [...] Dealing with veterans’ mental health may be just as important in preventing homelessness among vets as dealing with their lack of housing;” the study shows that “78?83 percent of the newly homeless diagnosed with mental disorders at the end of the study, were diagnosed before they became homeless.” Additionally, the “Homeless Incidence and Risk Factors for Becoming Homeless in Veterans” report also followed 300,000 veterans who left active duty between July 2005 and September 2006 until October 2010; while none of these particular veterans had been homeless before, more than 4% became homeless at some point during that period.

7 Questions – Mark E. Robbins (Yellow Ribbon Fund)

This week, we’re getting to know … Mark E. Robbins, Executive Director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund. The philosophy of the Fund is simple: wounded servicemen and women deserve first-class care as they recover. And their families deserve the same. With the help of over 1,200 volunteers, Yellow Ribbon Fund supplies the personal services that government programs just don’t cover.

1. What was your most interesting recent project, initiative, partnership, or event?

We are launching a new initiative to stay in touch with the injured service members we helped while they were being treated at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital after they return to their hometowns. Many of these young men and women have a good support system at home and have goals of getting a job or going to college. But many do not have this safety net and we are reaching out to see how we can help.

2. What else are you up to?

We are starting to build a network of attorneys who can do pro bono work on behalf of veterans with legal needs. We are getting close to launching this effort and believe that this will be a very important service. Continue reading