- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2011


On Monday, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive plan to coordinate and promote government efforts to assist military families and veterans in need. The president praised his own administration’s “unprecedented commitment” to the issue. The commander in chief added that first lady Michelle Obama would appear on “Oprah” to “urge every American to join a new national campaign to support our military families.” The first couple’s newfound interest in this worthy cause is welcome, but private initiatives that are making a difference deserve equal attention.

Six years ago, Marine Cpl. Vishnu Gonzalez was shot by a sniper during his second tour of duty in Iraq. Having nearly died from his wounds, he spent years convalescing in hospitals. This warrior emerged paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of his hands and dependent on a wheelchair to get around.

A Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization called Homes for Our Troops came to his aid. The charity was founded in 2004 to help those who have been severely wounded in service to the country in the war on terrorism. The organization donated the money to build a wheelchair-accessible home for him, his mother and his sister. Another nonprofit, Hope for the Warriors, contributed funds to help buy the lot on which the house was built.

One of the fundraisers who helped Mr. Gonzalez was Kristin Kosch, a high school senior from Mahwah, N.J., who raised nearly $150,000 over three years working with Home for Our Troops. Kristin got involved with the effort through her brother Matthew, who had seen an article about the challenges facing another wounded warrior in their town. Matthew circulated a letter at his school asking for donations and succeeded in raising $4,000 in contributions - a few dollars at a time, mostly from other students. Matthew currently is attending Villanova University, where he is active in the Naval ROTC program and soon will be commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps.

After Matthew graduated, Kristin took over her brother’s network and expanded it to 25 school districts and more than 300 schools. Last year, she raised more than $70,000, and her efforts have contributed to the construction of four specially adapted homes in New Jersey. “I think it’s great,” she told The Washington Times. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have helped someone so deserving, to have such an impact on his life. It makes me want to help more.” Kristin will be matriculating at Seton Hall University in the fall on a soccer scholarship and will hand off her network of contributors to two younger students who will carry on the effort. She does not plan on a military career but says she definitely will find other ways to continue to serve the community.

The efforts of Homes for Our Troops and other charitable organizations reveal the heart and soul of America. The United States is the most giving country in the world, with our voluntary contributions adding up to more than $300 billion a year. Mr. Obama is right to elevate the needs of military families and veterans, but compared to these young pioneers, he is a newcomer to the effort.

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