Education Funding

Military-Family College Aid Inspired by School-Age Sisters

By Laura Greifner — August 29, 2006 1 min read

Two young sisters have inspired the establishment of a nonprofit organization that awards scholarships to the family members of U.S. soldiers stationed overseas.

Rachel and Kelsi Okun, now 10 and 8, had already sent letters and packages to troops through their school and Girl Scout troop in McLean, Va., but wanted to do something more to show their support.

With the help of their parents, teachers, and friends, they wrote a 12-part “treasure hunt” puzzle that incorporates themes of American history and culture. The group also worked to set up a college-scholarship program—financed by a $4 million congressional appropriation from the U.S. Department of Defense as well as by private donations—that aids the children and spouses of American troops.

Both the treasure-hunt game and the scholarship program make up the organization ThanksUSA, short for Treasure Hunt Aiding Needs of Kids (and Spouses) of those Serving the United States of America.

“It was their idea to do the scholarships, because education is very important to them,” Carolyn R. Ferek, Rachel’s 3rd grade teacher at Franklin Sherman Elementary School, said of the sisters. The girls had initially approached her with the idea of creating the treasure hunt.

The puzzles are available both in book form and online at www.thanksusa.org. Incorporating trivia, crosswords, and other types of puzzles, the treasure hunt is intended to raise awareness of the scholarship program, as well as of U.S. history and the contribution of the troops.

Participants of any age can submit their answers to the riddles and become eligible to win donated prizes, from iPod MP3 players to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to a trip to the next year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

So far, 1,000 scholarships have been awarded, ranging in value from $1,000 to $5,000. Ms. Ferek said that plans for a second treasure hunt are in the works.

A version of this article appeared in the August 30, 2006 edition of Education Week

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