America Supports You: Girls Organize Treasure Hunt

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2006  - A good book read in August led two McLean, Va., sisters to start a program designed to thank the nation's servicemembers.

"We were inspired by Michael Stadther's book 'A Treasure Trove' last summer, along with the movie 'National Treasure,'" Rachel and Kelsi Okun told American Forces Press Service via e-mail. The book contained clues to real tokens hidden around the United States. Once found, those tokens could be turned in for a real jewel.

Rachel 10, and Kelsi, 8, decided they could do something similar, albeit with a different focus. From that decision has sprung Treasure Hunt Aiding Needs of Kids (and spouses) of those Serving the USA, or ThanksUSA.

Treasure hunt questions, available Memorial Day on the ThanksUSA Web site, will cover everything from pop culture to history. "This hunt focuses on America's history and its values, which is what the troops are fighting for," they said.

While they knew it was a good idea, the girls quickly discovered creating a treasure hunt was "really hard." They had no idea how many people it would take to breathe life into their vision. Their parents, friends and a teacher gathered around the Okuns' dining room table for several months, brainstorming about the treasure hunt and what types of questions to ask, the girls said.

"What we really wanted was a treasure hunt that got a whole family involved, so some of the questions are much harder than others, and elementary students like us would need to ask their parents or other members of their family for help," they said.

The treasure hunt is only part of the ThanksUSA program, however. The nonprofit organization received seed money from Congress to establish scholarships to support undergraduate education opportunities for military children and spouses, they said.

Though this seed money is a good base, other donations are needed to grow the fund. That's where the treasure hunt comes in, the girls said. They are hoping that those who participate in the treasure hunt will donate to the ThanksUSA scholarship program.

"Although kids will be able to participate in the hunt online for free, we still hope families will make contributions to the scholarships once they play the game and become excited about American history," they said.

The girls also are creating an official clue book they hope companies will buy to donate to schools and libraries. In an effort to foster community support for the scholarships, the Okuns have provided some ideas for fund-raisers.

"In the clue book and on the Web site, we've added some really cool, family-friendly activities to raise money and awareness for ThanksUSA," they said. "These are things you can do in your neighborhood such as walking (or) playing with neighbors' dogs and donating any tips to the scholarship fund."

ThanksUSA is working with Scholarship America, a nonprofit scholarship distribution organization, to help select and award the scholarships. With Scholarship America, the girls decided ThanksUSA scholarships should be based on need, leadership ability and participation in school and community activities.

"We also asked Scholarship America to give extra credit if a son, daughter or spouse has studied a foreign language, because that seems like something more American kids should do," the girls said.

Applications for the $1,000 to $5,000 scholarships are being accepted now. The postmark deadline is May 30, or until 3,000 applications are received, whichever comes first.

"This will give the families of the troops a better chance to experience the freedom and opportunities that they protect for us," they said.

Related Sites:

ThanksUSA []

America Supports You []

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