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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Teen-led program is music to veterans' ears

Operation WiA Tunes gives music gift cards to wounded soldiers
by Meghan Tierney, Staff Writer,

Like a lot of teenagers, Cat Calantonio loves music and knows classmates who are joining the Army after high school graduation. The two merged this fall when she launched a project to collect music gift cards for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center.

Calantonio, 17, of Poolesville came up with the idea after she attended a fundraiser for soldiers who were recuperating at the Washington, D.C., medical center's campus.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Calantonio, a self-described "music junkie" who listens to country and indie rock, said of meeting wounded veterans at the event. "I was nervous, I thought they were going to be these banged up guys who were a lot older than me, but they were all 21, about my age. …These guys just inspired me as soon as soon as I [left]."

Calantonio's mother, Marci Calantonio, told her that mothers of soldiers said they loved iTunes gift cards, which can be used to download music online, because they can be used from anywhere in the world. The idea for Operation WiA Tunes — short for Wounded in Action — was born.

"When I told her these guys wanted iTunes, her eyes got big as saucers and she said, ‘I can do that,'" Marci Calantonio said.

Donations to the project, formed under the umbrella of the Poolesville-based nonprofit America's Wounded Heroes, are used to buy gift cards for wounded soldiers recovering at Walter Reed and eventually at U.S. military hospitals across the world. Cat Calantonio discussed her ideas with soldiers, one of whom came up with the project's name, garnered support from charities and is reaching out to corporate sponsors, publicizing the project and making arrangements to do fundraising at schools.

"I've blown off my homework a few times, but to me this is more worthwhile," Calantonio, a senior at Poolesville High School, said with a laugh.

The hope is that the music will boost the soldiers' morale and provide an emotional outlet during recovery, Calantonio said. The project dovetails with an initiative by the nonprofit Soldiers' Angels, which distributes iPods to injured veterans at Walter Reed, her mother said.

"Cat's project is a really cool project that will be a big help to the wounded soldiers. They don't have a lot to do in the hospital and they all love music," said Lynn Fullerton, treasurer of America's Wounded Heroes, the nonprofit that hosted the September fundraiser that sparked Calantonio's idea.

Ten gift cards had been donated to the project as of last week, and two corporations said they would discuss donating, Calantonio said.

"You can't help but fall in love. [The soldiers are] such great people," Calantonio said. "...On paper it sounds impressive, but I'm really not that cool. I'm just trying to help."

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