When Shauna Fleming was just 15-years-old she had an idea.
It was 2004 and she wanted to start a community service project in Orange County, California with the goal of sending one million cards and letters of appreciation to U.S. military serving around the world. Within just a few weeks, thousands of letters were pouring in and Shauna was receiving incredible support from her local community. Six months later and Shauna reached that initial goal of one million letters.
So, why stop there? More than 10 years later, Shauna has built out her organization A Million Thanks and it now has over 50 official letter drop-off locations nationwide. She even presented the framed one-millionth letter to President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House. To date, A Million Thanks has distributed more than seven million letters to U.S. troops stationed around the world and every day she works to support her goal of providing support to service members and their families for as long as the United States has a military.
What is A Million Thanks in your words?
A Million Thanks is a military benefit non-profit organization with three main missions: we support active duty military by sending thank you letters to service members stationed around the world, we grant wishes of injured veterans, and we fund scholarships for children of fallen military. We are essentially a one-stop-shop for military support, so there is a way for everyone to jump in and support!
What inspired you to start A Million Thanks?
I started A Million Thanks in 2004 when I was a freshman in high school. It was a couple years after 9/11 and the war started and our military was constantly in the news. I decided that as a community service project for school, I would see how many letters I could collect from my surrounding community. I had no idea the response I was going to get! With the help of many, many media interviews, we were able to spread the word to people across the country to get them involved in writing and sending their letters to us!
From the very beginning, we have always opened it up to both hand-written letters and emails. I would say in the last 15 years of the organization, we have had less than 200 emails. I think letter-writing is a lost art and so when people find out about us, they immediately jump on board because they want to do something to make a difference, and this is a physical action that sparks the ability to truly make a difference.
How many letters have you delivered in the time the organization has been active?
We just celebrated our 15th anniversary in March of this year and to date, we have sent close to 10 million letters! My original goal was to collect one million (hence the name), and we reached that in six months. After hearing back from countless men and women serving in the military, I realized we couldn't stop there, so we just kept going!
What are a few tips you would give someone writing a letter for A Million Thanks for the first time?
I always give three tips when encouraging people to participate! First, say thank you! That, of course, is what we are all about. Second, tell them about yourself. Imagine if you were thousands of miles away from home and family and you got a letter from a complete stranger. What would you want to hear? Tell them what you do, about your family, where you live, and what you get to do on a daily basis because of your freedom. Finally, ask for correspondence back! Include your mailing or email address and let them know you would love to hear back. We can't guarantee it, of course, but a lot of military love to respond.
Is there a particular story that you can think of recently that shows the great work A Million Thanks is doing?
Getting letters back from military is probably my favorite thing. We recently received a letter from a soldier saying that for him, getting mail from complete strangers was more important than getting food on a daily basis. What we do makes a huge difference. I also encourage people to check out some of the wishes we have granted or are in the process of granting for our injured veterans. There are some incredibly stories of bravery and heartache that really shows how important our support is, especially when they return home.