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The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

First Lady & Dr. Biden Announce “Joining Forces Community Challenge" finalists from across the country

From more than 300 submissions, 20 finalists recognized for displaying exemplary support to military families and veterans

Challenge winners to be announced this Spring, based on input from Tom Brokaw, J.R. Martinez, Sloan D. Gibson, Mayor Julian Castro and Deanie Dempsey

Public encouraged to vote for the “The People’s Choice Winner” at
http://joiningforces.challenge.gov/

WASHINGTON—First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden today announced 20 finalists as part of the Joining Forces Community Challenge, an effort to recognize and celebrate citizens, communities, and organizations who have demonstrated a deep commitment to service by improving the lives of military families and veterans.  Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden are inspired by the outstanding work of all the submissions and hope that celebrating them will encourage others to follow their lead and continue to raise awareness about the military family experience.

Since the launch of the Community Challenge last July, hundreds of submissions were received in three months, all of which captured innovative ways Americans have stepped up to show their gratitude and support for our military families. The 20 finalists are profiled at  http://joiningforces.challenge.gov/. The public is encouraged to participate in this Challenge by voting for their favorite submission to be the People’s Choice Winner, which will be announced on March 16, 2012. 

Five additional winners will be chosen with input from a panel of distinguished judges, including:

• Tom Brokaw, NBC News Special Correspondent and author of five bestsellers including The Greatest Generation;
• J.R. Martinez, Iraq war veteran, motivational speaker and winner of season 13 of Dancing with the Stars,
• Sloan D. Gibson, President and CEO, United Service Organizations (USO);
• Julian Castro – Mayor of San Antonio, one of the nation’s largest military communities; and
• Deanie Dempsey, military family advocate and wife of General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This Spring, the First Lady and Dr. Biden will honor the 20 Joining Forces Community Challenge finalists at the White House where the five winners will be announced.

“Jill and I have asked organizations large and small to direct some of their efforts toward our troops and their families, and today we’re thrilled to congratulate 20 groups who are doing just that,” said First Lady Michelle Obama.  “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, and we can’t wait to see what Americans come up with next.”

“As Second Lady, I have had the tremendous honor of visiting with service members and military families and learning about the many acts of kindness taking place all across the country in their communities to support them,” said Dr. Jill Biden. “All of the submissions for the Joining Forces Community Challenge demonstrate exactly the spirit of service and dedication we see everywhere we go.  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.”

The First Lady and Dr. Biden launched Joining Forces last year as a way to encourage all Americans to support our troops and serve our nation’s military families. For more information and to find opportunities to serve, go to www.joiningforces.gov.

The 20 Joining Forces Community Challenge finalists include:

ARIZONA
Pat Tillman Foundation, Tempe, AZ
The foundation invests in military veterans and spouses nationwide by granting scholarships through the Tillman Military Scholars program. The scholarship funds cover tuition, fees as well as other related costs, including housing and child care. In 2002, Pat Tillman put his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold in order to serve his country. Started by Pat Tillman’s friends and family after his death in 2004 while serving in Afghanistan, the foundation has provided more than $2.2 million in financial support.

CALIFORNIA
The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs, Clovis, CA
The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs (a “Battle Dress Uniform” worn by members of the armed forces) was founded by two California teenagers whose fathers had deployed to Afghanistan. Realizing how important that sisterly support was, the young girls created this organization to support military girls, particularly those 13 to 18 years of age, who experience the deployment of a parent. The project aims to create a network of social bonds between military girls to build self-esteem, encourage leadership and increase community support.

Rebuild Hope, Menlo Park, CA
Rebuild Hope provides services to veterans and caregivers to help with their transition back to civilian life. The organization 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, Los Angeles, CA
New Directions 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, Sacramento, CA
The Soldiers Project-Sacramento provides free psychological services for active duty military, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their family members. The Soldiers Project-Sacramento 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.


COLORADO
Project Sanctuary, Parker, CO
In an effort to decrease military veteran suicide rates and the effects of deployment on children, Project Sanctuary was created to provide recreational activities in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, to help military families reconnect following deployments. Follow-up support beyond the retreat is also provided and includes support to families with housing, job placement and veterans’ assistance.


FLORIDA
Birdies for the Brave, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 
Birdies for the Brave is a military outreach initiative supported by the PGA TOUR and corporate partners to raise funds for military homefront groups that provide programs and services for wounded warriors and military families. Birdies for the Brave was originally created by TOUR player Phil Mickelson and his wife, Amy, to support troops injured during combat.


GEORGIA
The Landings Military Family Relief Fund, Savannah, GA
The Landings Military Family Relief Fund was created by a group of Red Cross Volunteers living in The Landings to provide financial support to military families during every day emergencies when a family member is deployed. The financial assistance is administered through the Red Cross.


ILLINOIS
Operation Homelink, Chicago, IL
To connect deployed service members to their families, Operation Homelink 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.


MARYLAND
Give an Hour, Bethesda, MD
Give an Hour, founded by a Washington D.C.-based psychologist, 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 military service members, their families and people in communities affected by Iraq and Afghanistan.

Luke's Wings, Rockville, MD
Luke’s Wings supports the families of wounded warriors through airplane tickets and travel arrangements to the families of the service members. The nationwide organization may also partner with local hotels or other activities nearby for the family to access for the duration of the wounded warriors’ recovery. Co-founder Sarah Wingfield, a then-Washington Redskins football team ambassador, helped start the organization after meeting “Luke,” a wounded warrior who was recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.


MASSACHUSETTS
Brides Across America, Georgetown, MA
Brides Across America is a national charitable organization that provides wedding gowns to qualified military brides. Founder Heidi Janson wanted to ensure those serving our nation could have the wedding they deserve. Since its founding in 2007, more than 5,000 wedding gowns have been donated to support troops and their families.


MINNESOTA
Defending the Blue Line, Hastings, MN
Defending the Blue Line 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, New Prague, MN
GreenCare for Troops was established by lawn and landscape entrepreneurs — members of the board of Project EverGreen — who were interested in helping families in their communities maintain their lawns and landscapes while a family member was deployed.  GreenCare for Troops volunteers provide these free lawn and landscape services so families have a well-maintained yard in addition to an outside area where families can unwind, play and enjoy outdoor time together.

Armed Forces Service Center, St. Paul, MN
The Armed Forces 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 dependents, activated reservists and national guardsmen, and other members of the uniformed services. The Center was founded in 1970 by Maggie Purdum after her son was killed in action in Vietnam as appreciation for all who have served.


MISSOURI
Trees for Troops, Chesterfield, MO
Trees for Troops 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 beginning in 2005.


NORTH CAROLINA
Canines for Veterans, Wilmington, NC
Through its program – Canines for Veterans – Canines for Service has provided 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, Wilmington, NC
Hearts Apart provides soon-to-be deployed service members with a professional photo session with their spouses and children to keep families connected while military families are separated. Photographs are waterproof and printed on durable cards that fit in a uniform pocket.

RHODE ISLAND
Our Family for Families First Foundation, East Greenwich, RI Our Family for Families First Foundation supports military families pursuing higher education by supporting children of military service members through scholarships and military spouses through grants and assistance identifying educational opportunities.

UTAH
City of Richfield, Utah
The city of Richfield, Utah, has supported its local Army National Guard Unit through four deployments since Sept. 11, 2001. A resource guide provided to military families as family member’s deployed, a city utility abatement program for the duration of a deployment and a community covenant that details the commitment the city will make toward its service members and their families are some of the programs and services provided.