By Samantha L. Quigley
WASHINGTON, Sep. 1, 2006 – Americans can help the nation's servicemembers by helping Brittany and Robbie Bergquist and their organization, Cell Phones for Soldiers, win one of three $50,000 Volvo for Life Awards. Cell Phones for Soldiers recycles used cell phones, personal data assistants, iPods and ink printer cartridges, and uses the profits to buy prepaid calling cards for deployed servicemembers. The Bergquists have raised more than $1 million and have distributed more than 100,000 prepaid cards to date.
"Winning the Volvo for Life Award would mean that more of our troops can be helped by our organization," Brittany said in a telephone interview from her family's home in Norwell, Mass. "It would be an incredible honor to receive this award and would give Cell Phones for Soldiers the recognition that it needs to let people all across the country know about what we are doing to help our military and their families keep in touch."
Cell Phones for Soldiers is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program that spotlights ways the American people and the corporate sector support the nation's servicemembers. The annual Volvo for Life Awards program recognizes and rewards everyday, real-life heroes across America, according to the car company's Web site.
The teens are among 250 finalists, five per state, competing for one of three top prizes. The state finalists were chosen from among the semi-finalists of Volvo's past four contests. The Bergquists were chosen as semi-finalists last year after their mother entered them in 2005. The siblings were encouraged to reapply this year because Volvo, the administrator of the awards, has added a twist to the contest. In a switch from the previous four years, Volvo is asking Americans to weigh in on which of the 250 state finalists should go on to compete for the top prizes.
"A vote for Brittany and Robbie is a vote for the troops!" Brittany Bergquist said. A panel of celebrity judges will choose the top three winners after Americans narrow down the field of 250. If the Bergquists finish in the top three, it would mean a $50,000 charitable contribution to Cell Phones for Soldiers. That would equal about 10,000 prepaid phone cards with 60 minutes of "talk time" for deployed servicemembers, Brittany said.
If chosen as the grand award recipient, the siblings also would win a lease on a new Volvo every three years for the rest of their lives. Brittany said that one car wouldn't be a problem, at least for a while. "I'll get my license before Robbie, so I guess I'll have to drive the Volvo," she said. "When he gets his license, maybe I'll consider sharing!"
The Bergquists have numerous awards to their credit for their work keeping deployed servicemembers connected to loved ones. In October, they will receive a National Caring Award from the Caring Institute. But the siblings, who started out to help one deployed soldier who racked up a tremendous cell phone bill, don't do it for the accolades. Their reasoning today is the same as it was in 2004 when they started their nonprofit organization: to help servicemembers.
"It would be an award that wouldn't be just for Robbie and me," Brittany said, of the Volvo for Life Award. "It would be an award for the troops and the thousands of Americans who support them because ... there wouldn't be a Cell Phones for Soldiers without the assistance of Americans who are helping us recycle (cell phones) all across the country."
The Bergquists' cousin, Army 1st Lt. Quentin Charmichael of the 182nd Cavalry Regiment, recently deployed to Kosovo on an 18-month peacekeeping mission, Brittany said, and her family attended the deployment ceremony. "We gave him and his unit phone cards to call home," she said. "I'm going to miss him so much. I can really understand how important it is to hear a loved one's voice and know that they're OK."
To help Brittany and Robbie get the chance to keep an additional 10,000 deployed servicemembers in touch with their families, visit the Volvo for Life Awards Web site. Follow the "Vote for your hero now" link to the map, choose Massachusetts, and follow the voting instructions. Their story also appears on the site.
Voting is under way and will continue through Feb. 4. The top three finalists will attend the 5th Annual Awards Gala in New York on April 4, where the winner of a Volvo for life will be announced.