Posts Tagged ‘Kelsi Okun’



More than 3,000 children and spouses of U.S. troops awarded the gift of education

Mclean, VA – August 29, 2013 – ThanksUSA today announced that it has awarded more than $9 million to date in post-secondary school scholarships for the children and spouses of U.S. troops. This milestone includes approximately 300 new scholarships awarded over the past week, totaling nearly $1 million in funds.

Since its founding in 2005 by sisters Rachel and Kelsi Okun, ThanksUSA has awarded over 3,000 scholarships to military families in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“We were just girls – I was 10 and Kelsi was eight – when we started looking for a way to thank our troops for all they sacrifice in keeping us safe,” said Rachel Okun, now 17. “Over the past eight years, we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of those who feel the same and who want to help support military families through ThanksUSA.”

“We understood the importance of a good education and wanted to share our blessings with the families of our service men and women,” added Kelsi Okun, now 14. “The gift of education is the perfect way to do so.”

The Okun sisters travel the country speaking with ThanksUSA scholarship recipients in order to introduce them to Americans through video profiles and speeches. ThanksUSA’s new videos will be released at the organization’s annual gala at Washington DC’s Newseum on September 25, 2013, hosted by Lara Logan of CBS News. Tom Brokaw will be honored at the gala as will Col. Lanier Ward, survivor of a critical battle in Iraq and inspiration for ThanksUSA. Senator Roy Blunt, who represents 74 Missouri scholarship recipients, will also be honored. Senator Blunt took a personal interest in ThanksUSA as a House Member discussing the program with the troops in Iraq during the formative years of the program.

Among this year’s award recipients is Donnice Roberts, proud widow of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Kevin Casey Roberts. Donnice is pursuing dual degrees in Education and Rehabilitation Services with the end goal of working within the military community.

“I am truly grateful to ThanksUSA for this generous scholarship. I want to honor my husband’s legacy by using my education to help fellow military families. My children are learning that even through tragedy, we can overcome and succeed. With your support, I will make a difference and I will succeed.”

ThanksUSA also announced today a continuing partnership with the world-record holding doubles tennis twins Bob and Mike Bryan. The organization has established a nationwide Tennis Thanks the Troops campaign – a partnership with the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) involving tennis pros, fans and local communities, and presents an online challenge called the “ ThanksUSA Treasure Hunt,” sponsored since 2008 by the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, which explore the nation’s history, culture and values.

As the battle in Iraq ends and the conflict in Afghanistan winds down, ThanksUSA plans to step up efforts to support the families of military personnel who are re-integrating into the workplace. Helping service members’ children and spouses advance their education and achieve successful careers will relieve the new pressures that challenge those who have returned home.

“Our troops and their families deserve our respect and our thanks for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 12 years,” said General George Casey, former Army Chief of Staff and ThanksUSA board member. “They have borne significant burdens to protect this country, and we cannot allow their contributions to be quickly forgotten. Their mission of defending us is, unfortunately, not over.”

About ThanksUSA
ThanksUSA is a non-partisan, charitable effort to mobilize Americans of all ages to “thank” the men and women of the United States armed forces. The organization provides college, technical and vocational school scholarships for the children and spouses of active-duty status military personnel. For more information, visit www.thanksusa.org.

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What an exciting week it has been for ThanksUSA!

On Tuesday, March 6, ThanksUSA founders Kelsi and Rachel Okun were honored as recipients of the 2012 Jefferson Awards for Public Service. What began as the idea of two young schoolchildren has blossomed into the national non-profit that has provided 2,500 scholarships to the children and spouses of military personnel. To date, ThanksUSA scholarship recipients have received nearly $7.5 million in financial aid. We extends our gratitude to the ThanksUSA friends and supporters who joined Rachel and Kelsi for the awards ceremony in New York…Congratulations Ladies!

2012 Jefferson Awards Recipients Rachel Okun and Kelsi Okun

Later in the week (Thursday, March 8) ThanksUSA recognized distinguished Irish Americans at a public service awards ceremony presented by Blavatnik Family Foundation. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Congressman Jerry Lewis, and Governor Martin O’Malley were recognized for their continued dedication to our military service members. Dominick Murray, Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development accepted the award on behalf of Governor O’Malley and Irish Tenor Anthony Kearns provided the musical entertainment with accompanist Patrick Healy.

(from left) Rachel Okun, Deputy Secretary Murray, Congressman Lewis, Governor McDonnell, Kelsi Okun

Additional photos from both events can be found on our Facebook page and we encourage you to remind friends, family, and co-workers that 2012 ThanksUSA scholarship applications will be accepted from April 1 through May 15, 2012. Prospective applicants can register for an email reminder here.

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ThanksUSA co-founders, Rachel and Kelsi Okun, will be presented with the prestigious Jefferson Awards, the “Nobel Prize for public service,” on Tuesday, March 6th. The Okuns will join fellow honorees for the national awards ceremony to be held in New York. Read the press release below to learn more about this year’s honorees and their altruistic efforts. Updates will post to our Facebook page and we encourage you to visit www.jeffersonawards.org to learn more.

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This past week ThanksUSA hosted our 2010 Congressional Roundtable and Pentagon Briefing.  This event was dedicated to continuing the ThanksUSA mission of providing financial need-based scholarships to the family members of our service men and women.  We have many friends and supporters to thank for making the event successful, but I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to a special group of attendees, ThanksUSA Scholarship Recipients.

A select group of scholars traveled by plane, car, and bus to join us for this memorable event.  For most of our guest scholars, the event began early Wednesday morning at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs where they were interviewed by ThanksUSA co-founder, Kelsi Okun.  A big thank you to Thalia Assurus and Professor Roxanne Russell for bringing out the best in our scholars and allowing them to share their educational experiences and future goals.

While the majority of the country dealt with thunderstorms and rain, our Nation’s Capital was in the midst of a heat wave.  Even so, our scholars bonded over lunch and then walked along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

ThanksUSA Scholarship Recipients, Ashley Wagner, Michael Atkins, Leighann Temple, Bailey Smith, Michelle Spradlin, Brice Guyer, Jennie Laurent

After a few photos, we were off to the historic Willard Intercontinental where our scholars boarded a bus for the Pentagon Briefing.  During their visit, they toured the Pentagon Memorial and were briefed by General Chandler, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

Upon return to the Willard, our scholars and guests enjoyed a lovely reception and then moved on to dinner and our roundtable discussions.  Our emcee for the evening was The Honorable Dick Gephardt.  Brigadier General David H.  Cyr, USAF, gave the invocation and Major General Jack Catton, USAF (Ret), presented opening remarks.  ThanksUSA scholarship recipient, Michelle Spradlin, gave a moving speech about the challenges she faces as a military spouse and of the rewards that she reaps from her educational journey on her way to becoming a teacher.  She was followed by ThanksUSA scholarship recipient, Michael Atkins, Jr, who spoke of his dedication to pursuing dual degrees in pre-law and pre-med and his ultimate goal of becoming President of the United States…he will be eligible to run in 2028, so stay tuned for updates!

Veteran milspouses, Mrs. Sheila Casey and Mrs. Eva-Marie Chandler, had encouraging words for military families and discussed ways in which to close the gaps that exist in getting resources to military families who need them most. We honored two very distinguished Veterans during the evening, Senator Inouye and Congressman Dingell.  Both spoke of their military service, the importance of education, and their continued dedication to today’s military families.  The Folds of Honor Foundation President and COO, Ginny Creveling, explained her foundation’s collaboration with ThanksUSA to provide scholarships to the spouses and children of service members who have been killed or disabled while serving our great nation.

During our Roundtable discussions, we examined the Post 9/11 GI Bill, availability and access to needed resources by military families, and the best ways to improve awareness of resources to our military communities.  The consensus of all involved was that military families need to be aware of, and have easy access to, the resources that best meet their needs.  You can help us get resources to military families today – start by sharing ThanksUSA with your friends and family.  Even if you are a member of the civilian sector, chances are that you know someone in the military.  Tell them about ThanksUSA, follow our twitter feed, and join our Facebook page…these simple actions take mere moments, but can help get the word out about the mission of ThanksUSA and fellow organizations, like The Folds of Honor Foundation, that are dedicated to improving the lives of our military families.

I would like to personally thank those ThanksUSA Scholarship Recipients who joined us this week:

Michael Atkins, Jr, parents, SMSgt (Ret) Michael & Tracy, and sister, Brittany

Shadie Andraos

Joan “Brice” Guyer

Tyne Iverson and her husband, PO3 Brandon

Jennie Laurent and her husband, Marc (former Sgt, USMC)

CSM Bernard & Margie McPherson, parents of Bernard McPherson, II

Bailey Smith

Jackie “Michelle” Spradlin

Cornilia “Leighann” Temple

Ashley Wagner and parents, Sgt Thomas & Lisa Williams

On behalf of these scholarship recipients and their families, I wish to thank the wonderful staff of Aloft at National Harbor for being so courteous and truly making us feel welcome!  There are so many sponsors and supporters to thank, that I encourage you to visit our Facebook page to see updated listings of all those who deserve our thanks…photos will be added soon!

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