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Sharon J. Alfred and Lucy Kelly, Red Cross Volunteer Journalists
July 6, 2010

If you want to know about a Red Cross heart-warming campaign ask teen volunteers Karimah Crum, Kayla Ryan, or Sydney Young.  They'll be pleased to tell you about "A Penny from the Heart" campaign.  These young girls are actively involved in this endeavor to raise awareness about the need for bereavement funds to families of our fallen military men and women.  Bereavement funds would cover expenses such as actual transportation costs to travel to burial sites, food and lodging expenses incurred by military families because of necessary overnight stays at hotels/motels in order to attend funeral ceremonies, and costs incurred due to provision of flowers or floral arrangements for a military member's funeral.

Karimah Crum (in the middle showing picture of her uncle, MSgt Anthony Davis), Kayla Ryan (wearing glasses), and Sydney Young hold up collection canisters that were placed in their schools to collect monies in support of the American Red Cross-approved
Karimah Crum (in the middle showing picture of her uncle, MSgt Anthony Davis), Kayla Ryan (wearing glasses), and Sydney Young hold up collection canisters that were placed in their schools to collect monies in support of the American Red Cross-approved "A Penny from the Heart" campaign for grieving families of fallen military servicemembers.
Photo Credit: Cyndi Ryan Photography. Ryan is the Emergency Services Manager for the American Red Cross of Central Maryland.

The campaign was first conceived by Karimah Crum who, along with large number of relatives, got the chance to attend the funeral for her uncle, Master Sergeant Anthony Davis.  MSgt Davis was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.  He was killed while carrying out a voluntary humanitarian mission in Iraq.  He has 17 surviving siblings!  The American Red Cross of Central Maryland (CMC), mainly through the efforts of CMC Emergency Services Manager Cyndi Ryan, defrayed costs and made it possible for all of MSgt Davis' surviving family members (54 counting immediate siblings, husbands, wives, uncles, aunts, daughters, sons, etc.) to be present at his funeral to remember and honor him.

Specifically, CMC called a local bus company, “Morgan’s Bus Tours, Inc.” and asked the owner/driver Barry Taylor to drive all 54 family members to Arlington, Virginia so that they could attend the viewing and then the actual funeral held for MSgt Davis.  The Red Cross chapter worked with Morgan’s to have the driver drive the family to Virginia for the viewing service, spend the night, drive the Davis' family members to Arlington National Cemetery for burial the next morning, and then drive them all back home.  Representing the Red Cross chapter, CMC's Cyndi Ryan was at the departing site that afternoon to see to it that the family’s needs were met.  In addition, CMC purchased a block of 20 hotel rooms for the family and the driver of the bus.  Care packages of snacks and water were left on every seat of the bus. 

Karimah was so moved by the fact that the American Red Cross of Central Maryland enabled 54 family members to attend her uncle's funeral that she not only envisioned “A Penny from the Heart” campaign, but also drew the picture she wanted to use as a logo - A smiling heart with pennies as its eyes and wings on each side.  Karimah was joined by her two best friends - Kayla Ryan and Sydney Young - in the efforts to make the penny campaign a success. Karimah knew that she had to help other military families of fallen servicemen and servicewomen and honor her uncle's service and commitment to our country.  Cyndi Ryan said that when Karimah first explained the penny campaign to her, "I cried. I thanked [Karimah and her friends] over and over, and started making [immediate] plans to support this program."

What is so amazing is that Karimah and her friends are just in middle school.  Karimah (Crum) and Sydney (Young) are students at Windsor Mill Middle School.  Their school principal is Deborah Phelps (who is the mother of Olympic multi-gold medalist Michael Phelps).  Best friend, Kayla (Ryan) attends Dumbarton Middle School, and her school principal is Nancy Fink.  Both principals have fully given their support to this campaign.  The process of collecting monies involved placing coin collection cans strategically throughout the school locales, plus information was distributed about the campaign to all the fellow students.  The girls' staunch determination to make the “A Penny from the Heart” campaign known to everyone at school has inspired fundraisers generating over $700 in donated funds.

Parents, CMC staff, and school principals have committed their time and talents to this endeavor as well.  A PowerPoint presentation was made.  Banners were hung throughout the schools.  Speeches were written.  Cyndi Ryan, Kayla, and the mothers of the girls spoke to the students at each of the lunch periods and morning assemblies in the midst of the main fundraising effort.  In particular, Kayla's mother, Misty Ryan, wrote a fantastic intro speech for Kayla's principal, Nancy Fink, to speak in her remarks when she went before her colleagues at a school principals' meeting.

Cyndi Ryan's fulltime commitment is to assist family members of any armed service cope with the trials and trauma associated with the deaths of military members.  She remarked that the work the Central Maryland chapter does to help the families of these [armed conflict] casualties is appreciated by adults and children alike.  And stated that, "I want to do as much as I can to help these families.  For these girls (Karimah, Kayla, and Sydney) to recognize the effort and want to help us continue this type of service speaks volumes to the impact it is having on those [families] we serve," she marveled.

Principal Phelps readily agreed that Karimah could launch her special “A Penny from the Heart” campaign at Windsor Mill Middle School.  Phelps recalls that "when she was approached by the young student (Karimah Crum) and her family, after the death of her uncle, I could see on her face, through not only her words, but the words of her mother, that she deeply understood the importance of community service, ... of giving to those in need."  Additionally, Principal Fink praised the campaign, as an excellent one.  She noted that the campaign "serves to raise students’ awareness of the plight of families of the military," plus was it was “student-initiated.”

Everyone agrees that the young students have shown an impressive amount of initiative to work the “A Penny from the Heart” campaign.  They serve as role models for other young people in this country, who perhaps may be wondering how they can serve the community, but may not be sure how to proceed with this goal.  There are possibilities to expand the campaign effort into the commercial sector.  For example, perhaps local businesses might allow collection containers to be placed near their cash registers. As Cyndi Ryan can attest, the “A Penny from the Heart” campaign is a touching tribute to servicemembers that helps their families honor their lives.

Karimah’s hope is that the campaign will go nationwide and all schools will participate so all Red Cross Chapters will be able to support families of fallen service members in this way. There is currently no budget for this type of service, so Karimah really wants  to make this campaign a success and see that the families of our fallen military heroes can receive this type of support and compassion. Kayla and her mother (Misty Ryan) plan to reach out to Red Cross Clubs that are in local junior high/high school in their vision quest to spread the word about the “A Penny from the Heart” campaign.  Cyndi Ryan concludes, "I think it (“A Penny from the Heart” campaign) has a heartwarming feel that people of all ages can relate to."


About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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