From a White House News Release
WASHINGTON – First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden today announced the five winners and “The People’s Choice Winner” of the Joining Forces Community Challenge, an effort to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary efforts of citizens and organizations across the country that are working to improve the lives of military families.
The announcement comes in advance of the one-year anniversary of the launch of Joining Forces, the national initiative started by the first lady and Dr. Biden to support and honor America’s service members and their families.
The Joining Forces Community Challenge, launched in July, captured the innovative ways Americans have stepped up to support and honor military families.
“Jill and I are so proud of all of these finalists and the work that they have done for our military community,” the first lady said. “Our military families demonstrate such strength, service, and sacrifice every single day, and we’re so grateful for everyone who is stepping up to give back to these families. The challenge winners are leading by example, and showing that all of us can find a way to serve those who serve us.”
Dr. Biden also praised the winners and all efforts to support military families. “As a military mom, I know firsthand the impact a small act of kindness can have on a military family,” she said. “So the great work we have seen through the Joining Forces Community Challenge has been inspiring. I hope others can look to these incredible examples for ways to support service members and military families in their own communities.”
The Joining Forces Community Challenge winners are:
-- Our Family for Families First Foundation, East Greenwich, R.I., also chosen as the “People’s Choice Winner.” The foundation supports military families pursuing higher education by supporting military children through scholarships and military spouses through grants and assistance identifying educational opportunities. Since 2006, Our Family for Families First has provided more than 20,000 hours of outreach in communities surrounding seven military installations, and its scholarship program has given more than $3.5 million in direct scholarship and grant awards to the children and spouses of active duty service members. John G. Picerne, president and chief executive officer of Picerne Military Housing, created the effort.
-- Armed Forces Service Center, St. Paul, Minn. The service center is a 24/7 “all free” lounge staffed by volunteers at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport for active-duty military personnel, their families, activated reservists and National Guardsmen and other members of the uniformed services. Maggie Purdum founded the center in 1970 after her son was killed in action in Vietnam. More than 766,800 active duty service members have passed through the center since its inception, and more than 25,800 military family members have been served since Sept. 11, 2001.
-- Defending the Blue Line, Hastings, Minn. This organization 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. Since it was founded by two Minnesota National Guard soldiers in 2009, more than 3,000 families across the United States have been served, including more than 300 recipients of hockey equipment, more than 700 children attending hockey camps. In addition, more than 2,000 professional hockey tickets have been donated.
-- Give an Hour, Bethesda, Md. Founded by Washington, D.C.-based psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen, this organization is dedicated to meeting the mental health needs of military personnel, their families, and the communities affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of February, Give an Hour had about 6,000 providers across the nation -- in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam -- with more volunteer mental health professionals joining its network every day. In addition to counseling, providers also consult to schools, first responders, employers, and community organizations. Give an Hour has provided nearly 50,000 hours of free service, valued at roughly $5 million.
-- Project Sanctuary, Parker, Colo. This organization brings military families together in the Rocky Mountains after deployments to help them reconnect through recreational activities and therapy. Follow-up support beyond the retreat is also provided, and includes support to families with housing, job placement and veterans’ assistance. Project Sanctuary has hosted 22 therapeutic retreats and is providing support and services to 164 families, 80 percent of which are those of wounded warriors.
-- City of Richfield, Utah. The city has supported its local Army National Guard unit through four deployments since Sept. 11, 2001. Additionally, Richfield provides several programs and services for military families, including a city utility abatement program and distribution of the city’s newspaper to deployed soldiers so they can stay in touch with the community. The Richfield community has contributed more than $250,000 in monetary and in-kind donations to build a Veterans Memorial.
Since 20 finalists were announced in February, the public voted to select Our Family for Families First Foundation as the “People’s Choice Winner.” The additional five winners were selected with input from a panel of judges:
-- Tom Brokaw, NBC News special correspondent and author of five bestsellers, including The Greatest Generation;
-- J.R. Martinez, Iraq war veteran, motivational speaker and “Dancing with the Stars” winner of season 13;
-- Sloan D. Gibson, USO president and CEO;
-- Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, one of the nation’s largest military communities; and
-- Deanie Dempsey, military family advocate and wife of Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.