- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2009

Amy Grant, the best-selling Christian contemporary music singer-songwriter, is asking Americans to take care of wounded veterans in their communities. She and fellow artists — including husband Vince Gill, Allison Kraus, Michael McDonald, Darius Rucker, Mac McAnally and Melinda Doolittle — will appear in concert Monday at the Kennedy Center to launch Challenge America.

The nonprofit organization hopes to spearhead grass-roots efforts to help injured warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find jobs, homes or recreation to facilitate their readjustment to civilian life.

Challenge America co-founder Houston Cowan told The Washington Times that the goal of the foundation is to partner with existing organizations and resources in communities across the nation to help vets “one person at a time.” Mr. Cowan is a childhood friend of Miss Grant’s brother-in-law.

Miss Grant said she realized in 2000 that her musical gifts could be used for a “real purpose.” She told The Times she attended an annual benefit concert that year that celebrated the music of the late John Denver. At the concert, she said, she became aware of Mr. Cowan’s work as one of the leaders of Challenge Aspen, a program established in 1995 to provide adaptive recreation to those with disabilities. She was “moved” to get involved, she said. Music drew her to an event that changed her life: It was “one of the most important nights of my life,” she said.

Subsequently, she and her children interacted with persons with disabilities who had found ways to perform remarkable athletic acts. On the ski slope, for example, she marveled at how those with severe injuries trained by Challenge Aspen were able to outperform some able-bodied fellow skiers. “I saw a wall come down between my children and their understanding of disability,” she said. At first, “you see the disability, but then you only see the person.”

Music inspires people to action, she said, reminiscing about how her own desire to hear Mr. Denver’s music led her to embrace a noble cause. People will “do things for music” that they might not do otherwise, she explained.

Challenge America will be launched by a concert rather than a press release because that is a warmer, more inspiring setting. The concert will be “unscripted, creative, spontaneous”; it will be a “family-friendly environment” because “returning veterans are family — and family takes care of family,” Miss Grant said.

During the concert, there will be a video presentation and the distribution of special mementos to motivate those in attendance to take action to support the cause, she said. The Grammy Award winner said she would like the audience to “enjoy a great night of music” but also “accept the challenge” to help find resources or provide services for veterans in need.

Challenge America is a nonpartisan organization whose Web site will provide veterans with access to tools to help them reintegrate into civilian life, she said. Miss Grant wants audience members to ask: “How can I be a part of this equation?” She also wants audience members to post their services on the Web site.

Initially, Miss Grant thought of asking past presidents and leading politicians in both parties to help launch the project. Although many were willing to help, she decided that was not the right approach. If politicians were involved, Americans might conclude that this is not “their responsibility,” she said. Every individual is needed to find solutions for veterans in their areas. “With everyone’s access to each other, our ability to help is increased exponentially,” she said.

Miss Grant said she was inspired by the 2008 presidential campaign when she saw how involved and energized the American people can be. She is hoping similar enthusiasm can be generated for America’s warriors.

Miss Grant described her parents as “compassionate,” not “pious.” She also said she joined a free-loving, unstructured church in Nashville, Tenn., in her youth. She said she was not interested in addressing “lifestyles” and that her focus is “a relationship with Jesus that starts with gratitude and brings you into a relationship with God.” Music should “only bring people together,” and “judgment has never brought healing,” she added, explaining how her faith impacts her career.

Miss Grant said she has seen how dramatically people can change. For example, she said, even people she has known who have had abortions “have changed their mind ten years later” about the practice.

Asked how she avoids getting embroiled in heated political discussions while talking openly about her faith, she told an anecdote. “A stripper entered my church and asked, ‘Preacher, I take my clothes off for a living. Am I welcome here?’ The preacher replied, ‘You give your life to Jesus. He’ll tell you what you can or cannot do.’ ”

For Miss Grant, a compassionate regard for disabled veterans is an extension of the values she promotes in her music, her community and her family. On Monday, Americans will be asked to care for disabled veterans as they care for their own family members: Will we embrace this worthy challenge?

• Grace Vuoto is the editor of Base News, a community journalism project of The Washington Times for America’s military families.

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