- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Singer-songwriter Amy Grant and her husband, country-music star Vince Gill, assembled some of the most talented musicians in pop, country, rock and bluegrass at the Kennedy Center June 8 for the launch of Challenge America. This is a national initiative to link services in each community that can be of help to wounded veterans.

The nonprofit organization is dedicated to helping disabled veterans and their families find homes, jobs and recreation so they can enjoy life again, according to founder Houston Cowan.

ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, who was injured while reporting from Iraq in 2006 and spent three weeks in a coma, was present to lend his support. Artists Alison Krauss, former Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald, songwriter Mac McAnally, Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, and Union Station’s Dan Tyminski also were in attendance to entertain the crowd and promote Challenge America.

As the Kennedy Center Concert Hall filled with people, a giant screen over the stage displayed statistics about wounded veterans. The evening began with a video montage of veterans from all branches of the military. Their faces panned across the screen as New York Times best-selling author Stephen Mansfield read a narrative, “Coming Home.”

“These are our returning heroes,” Mr. Mansfield said. “They are Americans.”

Former “American Idol” contestant Melinda Doolittle took to the stage as an American flag rippled on the screen. She sang “America the Beautiful.”

“We want to make this austere facility into a living room,” Miss Grant said as she went onstage with Mr. Gill. She forsook her high heels for the more comfortable option of bare feet. This night is “all about family,” she said.

Miss Grant performed her 1994 hit “House of Love,” popular favorite “El Shaddai” and “Tennessee Christmas,” which she dedicated to Mr. Woodruff and his wife. Miss Krauss sang an a cappella “Down to the River to Pray” and played an instrumental duet on her violin with Mr. Tyminski on guitar.

Mr. Gill paid tribute to his deceased brother by singing “Go Rest High on That Mountain.” Other highlights of the night included Mr. Rucker, Mr. McAnally and Mr. Tyminski performing “Alright,” “Blame It on New Orleans” and “Man of Constant Sorrow,” respectively. Also noteworthy was Mr. McDonald’s rendition of “Keep This Train A-Rollin’.”

“The true heroes are our men and women in uniform,” said Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross. The audience gave her a standing ovation.

Four-star general sponsor Dr. Michael Morykwas with his wife, Mardene, were honored for their financial contribution to Challenge America. They were presented a plaque from Mr. Cowan, Miss Grant and Mr. Gill.

Mr. Cowan closed the night by encouraging the audience to participate in Challenge America. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do in my own small way?’ ” he said.

Guests were given small dog tags to remind them of Challenge America’s mission and encourage them to visit the Web site at www.challengeamerica.com.

• Amanda Baker is a writer residing in Washington.