The AHEPAN - Fall 2010 - (Page 18)
Supreme President’s Initiative Spotlights Charity that Provides Educational Assistance to Military Families
By Thalia Assuras
Sometimes, it’s the smallest hearts that give the greatest love.
ive years ago, 10-year-old Rachel and her sister Kelsi, 8, had what they called a “brain blast.” The brain blast was really from the heart. They created a charity to benefit the families of men and women in the military. That charity is ThanksUSA, which today provides needbased, post-secondary school scholarships to thousands of children and spouses of U.S. troops, across all the Armed Forces, the Reserves and the National Guard. “My sister Kelsi and I have always been instilled with a desire, almost a need, to give back,” says Rachel, now 15. “I’m blessed with a loving family, a roof over my head and access to education. “It was once said, ‘To whom much is given, much is
FROM THE HEART:
(L-R): Kelsi Okun, Andy Leftwich, Rachel Okun, Deanna Okun and Bob Okun.
expected’ and I’ve always wanted to make a profound difference, to leave my world a little brighter, a little cleaner and with a little more love than when I came into it.” The girls are “paying it forward” says Rachel, but their focus on the families of America’s troops was not inspired by any family connection to the military. In large part, it was their relationship with new neighbors in Mclean, Virginia. Five years ago, Army Colonel Lanier Ward, his wife and seven-year-old daughter moved katty-corner to the Okuns. Kelsi recalls her reaction to the severe injuries Ward sustained in Iraq. “To watch him go through the struggle of picking up his daughter … We decided that we needed to let him know the immense gratitude we feel for him and the rest of our military through helping those who he loves – his family – by giving them the gift of education.” The girls, daughters of Bob and Deanna Okun, started gathering family and friends, and even one of the girls’ teachers, around their dining room table on weekends to work on a scheme. They decided to transform Rachel and Kelsi’s passion for treasure hunts into a national competition to be made available in print and online (see www.thanksusa.org). They wouldn’t charge for participation, but instead would ask for donations in return for playing for prizes. The community reaction “was amazingly embracing and encouraging,” says Bob Okun. “It really was just a domino effect and it fell into place that easily.” Today, that one-time dining room table strategy is run by the Okun family, two full-time staff, and volunteers who raise funds through the treasure hunts, concerts, galas, golf tournaments – any and all ideas are welcome - to provide several hundred scholarships annually. So far, more than 2,000 (each is $3,000) have been awarded, totaling more than six million dollars.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The AHEPAN - Fall 2010
The AHEPAN - Fall 2010
Supreme President’s Message
Daughters of Penelope President’s Message
Sons and Maids Presidents’ Messages
AHEPA Family News
AHEPA Journey to Greece Program Successfully Completes Fifth Season
Montreal’s Charm Energizes the AHEPA Family
From The Heart: ThanksUSA
Ahepan Captures Historic Liturgy on Film
AHEPA Family Chapter News
The AHEPAN - Fall 2010