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This past Wednesday, friends and supporters of ThanksUSA gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the legacy of the late Senator Ted Stevens while raising funds to support the second year of Senator Ted Stevens Memorial Scholarships to be awarded through ThanksUSA.

The Honorable Ted Stevens was the U.S. Senator from Alaska and was the longest-serving Republican in the United States Senate. He served continuously from 1968 to 2009. Senator Stevens enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943 and served in the China-Burma-India Theater with the Fourteenth Air Force Transport Section and received the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1964, and became House majority leader in his second term. In 1968, he was appointed U.S. Senator to Alaska after the death of Senator Bob Bartlett. He held many leadership roles in the Senate, including Assistant Republican Leader (Whip) from 1977 to 1985, and Senate President Pro Tempore in 2003, and chaired many committees in his senatorial career, including Appropriations and Commerce.

Staffer for Congressman Young, Catherine Stevens, Sid Ashworth of Northrup Grumman, Maj Gen Pete Proctor, USA (Ret)

We extend our warmest appreciation to Mrs. Catherine Stevens, widow of the late senator, for joining active and retired military personnel, members of Congress, and ThanksUSA team members for this special fundraising event.

ThanksUSA Scholarship recipient, Jennifer Benecke, attended with her husband, Chief Petty Officer George Benecke, U.S. Navy, and thanked those in attendance for their continued support of ThanksUSA. In a few months, Jennifer will graduate from the University of Maryland: University College with a B.S. in Psychology. She is currently making plans to attend graduate and, eventually, hopes to work as a counselor to military veterans.

Jennifer and George Benecke with ThanksUSA's Michele Stork

Thanks to the generosity of ThanksUSA sponsors such as EADS and Lockheed Martin, ThanksUSA will once again honor the memory of Senator Stevens by awarding 40 Senator Ted Stevens Memorial Scholarships, valued at $3,000 each, to the children and spouses of U.S. military personnel pursuing post-secondary school education.

Senator Ted Stevens Memorial Scholarships for the 2012-2013 academic year are sponsored by EADS, Lockheed Martin, Rumsfeld Foundation, Altria, Northrup Grumman, TimeWarner, Express Scripts, General Dynamics, GE, Association of the United States Army, and Boeing.

Please visit the ThanksUSA Facebook page to view additional photos from the luncheon.

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In the spring of 2010, Amanda Blount was a young, expectant, Army wife. Her husband, Army Specialist William Anthony Blount, had secured mid-term R&R so he could witness the birth of his daughter. Tragically, on April 7, Specialist Blount was killed in Mosul, Iraq, when his vehicle was attacked with an IED. He died one month shy of Avery Elizabeth Blount’s birth.

Amanda & Avery Elizabeth Blount

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With the loving support of her family, Amanda Blount is pressing forward. As an Army widow and single parent, she decided to pursue her education to ensure a better future for Avery Elizabeth. With the financial assistance of a $3000 Folds of Honor Foundation/ThanksUSA Scholarship, Amanda is a freshman in the Physical Therapy Assistant Program at Pearl River Community College.

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Born and raised in Hattiesburg, MS, Amanda says that she has always wanted to give back to her supportive community. Her mother, a nurse, encouraged her to explore areas of study within the medical field and Amanda was soon drawn to the Physical Therapist Assistant Program.

“I was captivated by the structures of the body and its ability to recover from disease and injury,” says Amanda. She also explained the mental aspect of physical therapy adding, “Not only does physical therapy help a patient return to previous activity levels, it provides reassurance and the motivation necessary for patients to reach their goals.”

Amanda has excelled academically and plans to continue her education and earn her undergraduate business degree. Describing herself as detail oriented and business-minded, Amanda’s end goal is to manage her own physical therapy office. But for right now, Amanda is focused on her studies and providing the best life possible for her daughter, Avery Elizabeth.

Education has become such a driving force in Amanda’s life that she helped establish the SPC William Anthony Blount Memorial Scholarship at his alma mater, Petal High School. Each year, teachers at Petal High School nominate a senior who demonstrates academic and civic excellence. Amanda explained that the scholarship recipient is always kind, shows eagerness to help others, and is never boastful…qualities that her own humble hero possessed.

In Memory of Specialist William Anthony Blount, United States Army

ThanksUSA is honored to be a part of Amanda’s academic journey and though she has been through much, Amanda says, “I am quite determined. Despite my hardships, I have to do what my husband would want me to do, ‘keep my chin up.’ It’s not easy most of the time, but I have our daughter to motivate me, to give me a reason to keep pushing and make me smile.”

Are you a military spouse considering pursuing your degree? We hope that Amanda’s story has inspired and motivated you! ThanksUSA Scholarship applications are accepted every year from April 1 through May 15 and we encourage you to register for a reminder. We close this week’s Scholarship News blog with a message for the Folds of Honor Foundation from Amanda:

“Thank you for choosing me as a recipient of the Folds of Honor Foundation/ThanksUSA Scholarship. It makes a huge difference to me as I study to become a physical therapist assistant. Thank you for being mindful of those who have served their country. My husband and our family have made the ultimate sacrifice. Again, thank you!”

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As the first in her family to earn an undergraduate degree, Melissa Spear has set high academic standards for herself. She plans to earn her BS in Biology from the University of Texas El Paso and then continue her education with graduate and doctorate studies. Melissa received a $3000 EADS/Senator Ted Stevens Memorial Scholarship through ThanksUSA for the 2011/2012 academic year and is eager to share her experiences and academic goals with ThanksUSA supporters.

The daughter of SFC William Spear, US Army (RET), Melissa’s military childhood helped to shape her into the confident, diligent young woman that she is today.

“My father was in the Army for 20 years before he retired. Because of his career, I’ve had the chance to live in Germany, New York, Georgia, and Texas. I was able to see many different parts of the world. At the age of 20, I can definitely say that I’ve been to many more places than my peers have been to. Life as a military child has taught me to be fortunate of my experiences. I may not have been the child who was able to grow up in her hometown, but I can definitely say that I’ve been able to experience different cultures from all over. I may not have been the girl who’s had the same friends since kindergarten, but I have met people from all over. I’ve been able to see what this country offers and it motivates me to make a difference. I’m very proud of being a military child and being able to say that my father spent a part of his life serving this country,” says Melissa.

Since she is most interested in medical research, Melissa spent her summer working in the lab of Patrick Phillips at the University of Oregon. “My project is focused on understanding how organisms react to a stressful environment. We know that stress tends to have a negative impact, but we’re interested in finding how it affects lifespan and how it affects genetics. In the future, this research could possibly help in delaying the onset of age related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. We’re not necessarily trying to find ways for people to live longer, but rather trying to find ways where they could live a much healthier life. Why live to be 90 years old when the last 15 years of life is spent having to fight Alzheimer’s? This project is important, because we’re hoping that we’ll be able to find that genes that control stress resistance and lifespan. I’ve been working with worms that have been living in a standard lab environment but are then selected for acute stress. I’ve been extracting RNA from these worms and having them sent off to be sequenced so we can look at their genetic lines.”

This invaluable experience has bolstered Melissa’s own research goals. She explains, “I’m most interested in understanding how cancer runs through continuous generations in a certain family. Why is one family always more at risk for a specific type of cancer? If your mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, why does that make her daughter more at risk for contracting it too? My ultimate goal is to be able to teach at a university and run my own lab.”

Though academic success is a priority for Melissa, she is also dedicated to the UTEP University Honors Council. Made up of UTEP honor students, the University Honors Council devotes many hours to the Reynolds House, a shelter for women and children. “We try to provide as much as we can for the kids by hosting fun events for them as well as providing many goods for their needs.” When she’s not studying or volunteering with the University Honors Council, the well-rounded Melissa enjoys baking and dancing.

The ThanksUSA team wishes everyone a very safe and enjoyable Labor Day weekend. While you’re relaxing with friends and family, take a moment to reflect on the thousands of military families who have loved ones serving here at home and abroad. We leave this week’s feature with a special message from Melissa about receiving the EADS/Senator Ted Stevens/ThanksUSA Scholarship:

“Receiving the ThanksUSA Scholarship has motivated me to work harder for my goals. I’m striving to graduate from school debt free and every little bit of money helps. I want to become a scientific researcher, but that path comes with a price. I’ve seen people give up their dreams, because of the time and money it takes and I do not want to be one of them. I’m very grateful for every bit of help I get because it brings me one step closer to my goal.”

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