Massachusetts Teens Ask for Nation's Support

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2007 - With only a few days left before the voting comes to a close, one troop-support group is asking for assistance in putting it as a forerunner in winning $50,000 to support the men and women of the armed forces.

"Cell Phones for Soldiers" founders Brittany and Robbie Bergquist of Norwell, Mass., are in the running to win the grand prize in a Volvo-sponsored awards program that highlights the generosity of citizens throughout the nation. The deadline for voting is Feb. 4.

Cell Phones for Soldiers is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting U.S. citizens with troops at home and overseas.

The Volvo for Life Award was designed to "recognize and reward everyday, real-life heroes across America" and for the first time in the award's five-year history voting has been opened to the American public, according to the company's Web site.

"I would feel so proud (if we were named the winners) because I'd know that the American public who voted for us cares about the troops," 15-year-old Robbie said. "A vote for us is really a vote of support for the troops, because (the winnings) go to them."

By recycling used cell phones, ink cartridges and personal data assistants, the Massachusetts brother-and-sister team has raised more than $1 million to purchase and distribute more than 1.6 million phone-card minutes for deployed troops since they began in 2004.

Even though they are competing with 250 other nominees, the duo is remaining optimistic and already has plans for the $50,000 if they are named as one of the top three winners. The winners will be announced April 4 in a ceremony in New York.

Sixteen-year-old Brittany said that America's votes would result in the purchasing of $25,000 60-minute phone cards for deployed servicemembers. It also would help in working with new technology to set up videophones for troops overseas.

"Brittany and I do this because we are thankful that we can live in a country that's safe because of the sacrifices made by our troops and their families," Robbie said. "Winning the Volvo for Life Award would let people across the country, and actually the world, know about the needs of our American troops."

The teenagers, who have appeared on countless television shows and been featured in print articles nationwide, attribute their sense of generosity to their upbringing.

"Our parents have always taught us the importance of helping others," Brittany said. "From a young age we were taught that it's better to give than to receive."

Although others in their positions might be blinded by the near-stardom of being featured on talk shows and national magazines, the two remain focused on their mission -- the men and women in uniform.

"The troops are away from their loved ones for so long, and they need to know that we don't forget that and we appreciate that," Robbie said. "To do something to let them know we appreciate it is the least we can do."

"This is a normal life for us now, since we started at such a young age," Brittany said.

She jokingly referred to it as leading a "double life" since they blend in as regular students during the day and then come home to answer dozens of e-mails, prepare mailings and contend with the responsibilities of such a vast organization at night and on the weekends.

"We get tons of e-mails and notes of thanks from troops and their families throughout the world," she said. "To know that we put a smile on their faces is a wonderful feeling."

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