Today, Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz announced a new program the Guard Card Project to provide free Verizon telephone cards to all deployed Vermont National Guardsmen and women. In partnership with the Vermont National Guard, the USO (United Service Organizations) and Verizon, the Office of the Secretary of State has created a program to engage students in service learning projects that will help guard families by putting a free, 100 minute calling card in the pocket of every soldier who is deployed as a result of the mobilization order announced by Adjutant General Michael Dubie last week.Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said, We are pleased to announce this new program to help our citizen soldiers keep in touch with their families while they are serving overseas. With over 1,500 Vermont National Guardsmen and women to be deployed to Afghanistan beginning next fall, every Vermont community will be impacted. When we learned how many Vermont families would be impacted by this historic deployment, we wanted to organize an effort that would bring our schools and communities together to help support our troops and their families. Missy Shea, Secretary of State s Office Civic Education Coordinator said, Communities across the state will feel this deployment. In many schools students will be impacted when a parent, or another loved one, is deployed. We thought a great service learning project would be to link students with guard families to offer support.Markowitz said, We know through research that students who have had opportunities to practice the skills of civic engagement will be more likely to be active citizens in the future. Our Guard Card service initiative provides this kind of learning opportunity. It is our hope that teachers will use this project to help students learn the meaning and importance of service in our communities.Shea explained that the original concept of the project was for students to provide assistance to guard families either through direct service such as babysitting, stacking wood and mowing lawns, or by raising money to help buy long distance phone cards for each soldier who is being deployed to make it easier for them to keep in touch with their families. Shea explained that when Verizon was approached with the phone card idea, they offered to provide the calling cards for free through a promotional program they had established with the USO. Shea says it was a pleasure working with Verizon. The company does a lot to support the troops. Their partnership with the USO is what s providing these cards. The fact that Vermont soldiers have a back-up way to stay in touch with their families during deployment is incredibly helpful. We very much appreciate the generosity of Verizon and the USO.Major Randall Gates, Director of the Vermont National Guard State Family Readiness Program, and himself a soldier who will be deployed, adds, “This calling card endeavor is a tremendous showing of community support for our soldiers. While some of our soldiers may use other communication technologies such as instant messaging or personal video, all of our soldiers will benefit greatly from these phone cards. The soldiers will be able to use the cards during their out-of-state mobilization training or use them for a call from Afghanistan. We commend Verizon and the USO. Our airmen, soldiers and Family Readiness Program have benefited from the ideas generated by Secretary Deb Markowitz’s office, and we look forward to further collaboration.”Now that the cards have been donated, it opens even greater opportunity for schools to develop other service-learning projects in support of the soldiers and their families. According to Shea, some schools have already been inspired by the Guard Card project to raise money to help pay for the distribution of the cards. Benson Village School 3rd and 4th graders have designed phone card envelopes with special messages for the guardsmen and women. At Cavendish Elementary, students hosted an Ed-u-thon , playing learning games through the night to raise $1,400 they will donate. Beginning this fall, the Office of the Secretary of State will be rolling out the Service-for-Service program to link schools with guard family support efforts in their communities. For more information about the Guard Card or related school-based service learning projects, please contact Missy Shea, Civic Education Coordinator, Office of the Secretary of State.Source: Markowitz’s office.