When soon-to-be high school senior Sierra Ginther, the newly elected District 1 State Representative for DECA PA, contacted the Boot Campaign inquiring about whether we would be interested in being the charity beneficiary for the State of Pennsylvania High School DECA Organization, we were curious and very excited! Sierra was elated that for the 2014-2015 school year, the state officers wanted to select a military-based charity for their annual fundraising goals. It was important especially to her because her brother had just recently enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Japan. She wanted to do something meaningful both with her school and in her own home. So she started looking online for options and found the Boot Campaign.

Lots of phone calls, conversations, encouragement and many good laughs took place with Sierra over the next several months and in February, the PA DECA group asked us to join them for their State Career Development Conference in Hershey for a check presentation in their opening ceremonies. The Career Development Conference is a three-day event where 2,200 high school students gather to participate in mock employment interviews, test their knowledge on business administration, marketing and promotional presentations as well as have some fun! While the focus is personal and professional development, the organization also encourages citizenship and charitable giving as a responsibility of personal growth.

A few weeks before the event, we were asked if any “local” veterans involved with Boot Campaign would be interested in joining in the presentation. It just so happened the answer to that question was a YES! Although not presently living in Pennsylvania, our Hero Ambassador Stephen Kolos grew up in the Keystone state, and in fact, his high school was represented in the audience at the opening ceremonies. Even better, part of Stephen’s military career in the Air Force was exactly where Sierra’s brother is currently stationed.

As the evening started there was lively energy in the room for the opening ceremonies. Lots of fun, chatter, singing, dancing, glow-in-the-dark necklaces swirling and some “Uptown Funk” billowing off the walls made for a very energy-infused start to the conference. When Boot Campaign was invited onstage for the check presentation, the state officers, all wearing their boots. stood to welcome Stephen to the stage. As he explained how life in the military is one of great personal sacrifice, an audible hush came over the room. Suddenly it was apparent that awareness just happened! You could see it on their faces, in their silent steady gazes, and then it was heard, in the eruption of a standing ovation.

The result of this new awareness accomplished two things – one was immediate and the other is still unfolding. The money raised in all the different districts now had a purpose: those 2,200 students could put a name and a face to their “freedom protector.” Then the gratitude began, because after the initial $8,500 check presentation on stage was made, buckets circulated the room with teenagers from all over the state dropping in 20 dollar bills like they were loose change. That “miracle minute” challenge, another show of gratitude for our military, helped bring the PA DECA total donation to over $10,000 for the Boot Campaign.

That matters. Because of the generosity of a host of highly energetic, fun-loving teenagers, 80%-disabled Army veteran John S. and his family can keep up with their mortgage and living expenses while waiting for his VA benefits to begin. And young National Guard veteran Amy, who worked as a translator in Afghanistan and has become part of the Boot Campaign extended family, won’t lose her home in the midst of her husband managing his final days with Stage 4 cancer. There are many more stories just like these that have positive outcomes thanks to the generous donations of men, women and even children across the country. It matters.

Sierra and the students involved in PA DECA experienced each part of the Boot Campaign mission that day. They embraced their patriotism when they got their boots on and cheered for the military heroes onstage; they became aware of the struggles facing families who serve; and they raised money to fund assistance programs dedicated to the helping all generations of service members and veterans. We’re so thankful Sierra found the Boot Campaign and introduced us to 2,200 of her closest friends. Each and every patriot awakened means more support for America’s freedom fighters, and that’s alright with us!