ORANGE, Calif. (AP) — Between cramming for finals, preparing for prom and graduating, Shauna Fleming crisscrossed the country, visited the Pentagon, threw out the first pitch at a baseball game and filmed a television advertising campaign.
Not a bad way to finish high school.
Three years ago, the Orange County student started the “A Million Thanks” letter-writing campaign for U.S. troops fighting overseas. After tripling her expectations, she is starting a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to wounded service members.
“It’s been an amazing but very humbling experience,” the 18-year-old said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world because it’s so valuable.”
In the age of e-mail, cell phones and text messages, Miss Fleming reached out the old-fashioned way — by mail. She wanted to express her gratitude to troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The idea was inspired by her father, Michael, who started sending Valentines to enlisted men and women after the September 11 attacks.
Miss Fleming’s goal was to collect 1 million letters, but once word got out, her school was flooded with responses that haven’t stopped.
Within six months, she reached her goal and flew to Washington to present the millionth letter to President Bush, who gave her a tour of the White House.
Miss Fleming was challenged by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers to gather 2.6 million letters — the number of men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces.
She surpassed that mark and predicts she’ll reach 4 million by the end of the month after teaming up with General Motors Corp., which placed letter boxes in 3,700 dealerships nationwide. Miss Fleming also appeared in a national TV advertising campaign for GM promoting the effort.
The letters shipped to military bases come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Some have drawings scrawled in crayon, while others have pictures attached. The cards come from teachers, parents and young children. Despite their differences, the letters have the same, unwavering message: You have our support and appreciation.
It’s not known how many troops have received the letters, but e-mails to Miss Fleming offer a glimpse of the difference they make.
“People like you are making a difficult task much more enjoyable through your kindness,” Marine Sgt. Aaron Jensvold wrote. “It means a great deal to me and my Marines.”
Miss Fleming will attend Chapman University in Orange County in the fall, but her devotion to the troops won’t end. She was inspired to start “Wounded Soldiers Wish” after visiting troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she saw a woman who lost both legs.
“I thought if she’s a mother, she may never get to run with her kids again,” Miss Fleming said.