Va. sisters create charity to help children, spouses of service members

WASHINGTON — Veterans Day comes once a year, but two local sisters are busy helping military families year-round.

Inspired by a family who lived near them, then-8-year-old Kelsi and 10-year-old Rachel Okun, of McLean, Virginia founded a charity.

A decade later, ThanksUSA has given away more than $11 million in need-based scholarships to help children and spouses of active-duty members of the military go to colleges, and technical and vocational schools.

Kelsi Okun is now a high school senior, and Rachel is a sophomore at Yale. (Courtesy ThanksUSA)
Kelsi Okun is now a high school senior, and Rachel is a sophomore at Yale. (Courtesy ThanksUSA)

“They do what they do because they want to protect their families.  So the least that we can do on the homefront is to support those brothers and sisters and sons and daughters and spouses of our armed forces,” says Kelsi.

Each scholarship is worth $3,000, and ThanksUSA awards hundreds of them yearly.

“There are thousands of applications a year, so we definitely have not satisfied the entire need, and that is the reason that we are still here and still tirelessly working,” Kelsi says.

ThanksUSA stands for “Treasure Hunt Aiding Needs of Kids and Spouses of those serving in the United States of America.”

“When we first started the charity, the treasure hunt component of ThanksUSA was one of the biggest draws of the organization.  We would sit around our dining room table every Sunday and my sister and I and our teachers and some neighborhood friends, we’d all write clues about American history, the history that our military protects. That was our biggest way of fundraising,” says Kelsi.

Today, the charity is more reliant on galas, tournaments and sponsors.

Last year, for Constitution Day, Kelsi and Rachel recorded a rap song about the Bill of Rights.

As the lyrics describe, “Con Rap” celebrates “10 good reasons why our brave troops fight.”

Watch the video here:

If you’re interested in donating to ThanksUSA, you can do so by clicking here.

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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