RICHMOND, Va. — When U.S. troops deploy overseas, there are obvious things missing in an unfamiliar place, such as family … or Oreos. Many organizations send letters and care packages, and family members may Skype with their loved one.
Kyle Liggan, a senior at St. Catherine’s School, wants to make sure they don’t miss the latest songs of Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Blake Shelton or the recently reunited Destiny’s Child while they’re gone.
She raised more than $3,000 to buy about 50 iPods and download music for them.
Soon, the iPods will be in the hands of deployed men and women of the Air Force.
Her project, Tunes for Our Troops, is part of St. Catherine’s School’s X-Term program, in which ninth- to 12th-graders take a week away from school in the spring to explore nonacademic topics. Freshmen do a gradewide project, this year called “What is an Ethical Response to Poverty?,” sophomores and juniors typically travel internationally, while seniors craft community projects or volunteer.
Liggan knew early on that she wanted her senior project to involve the military. She saw an organization’s website that was collecting books and movies to send to troops.
“So I thought, ‘Why not music’?”
There’s already a huge disconnect for members of the military when they come home from months of service, she said.
“‘All the music I loved a few months ago is old news,’” Liggan imagines them saying. As for her, “I couldn’t imagine going somewhere without my music.”
To help connect her with those who could benefit the most from the iPods, Parker Northrup, a retired airman after 24 years of active duty, put in a call to Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.
“Can’t just call the Pentagon and say, ‘Hey I want to send you some iPods,’” he said. But getting Langley involved is well worth the effort, he said. “Little things from home make a big difference.”
Master Sgt. Brian Lackman at Langley set up the destinations. Northrup said the iPods will likely go to service members deployed to work with new teams rather than with their customary units.
“Military folks are just like everybody else,” he said. During individual deployment, “it’s a little more challenging to establish a friend network.”
The effort required about $2,700 to buy the iPods and music to download. Liggan’s project proposal in October included a detailed fundraising plan that surprised senior project coordinator June Lehman.
“She had a goal in mind and knew how to get there,” Lehman said. “To know Kyle is to know someone who is confident.”
Liggan set up a Facebook page, blog and Twitter profile to promote the project. The St. Catherine’s School Foundation brought Tunes for Our Troops under its nonprofit arm. She read military biographies to better understand how the system works and relate to those she was helping.
During X-Term from March 4 to 8, Liggan amped up her fundraising efforts and went door to door in her western Henrico County neighborhood with her dog and asked businesses for donations to meet her goal by the March 8 deadline.
Midweek she had $1,100.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it,” she said.
But thanks to several last-minute donations from individuals and businesses, Liggan surpassed her goal, totaling $3,058.
The six-month process has taught Liggan a lot about how a business is run — marketing, managing money and making realistic goals.
“I realized I couldn’t go everywhere in Richmond,” she said. “It was nice to be able to expand my knowledge on what already interests me.”
Lehman said Liggan came to her occasionally for guidance, but she didn’t need as much oversight as other students.
“Once she committed to this, she became self-functional … like a plane on autopilot,” Lehman said.
Liggan plans to study engineering when she heads to the University of Virginia in the fall so she can develop information systems for the military.
“I’ve always had an interest in the military,” she said, though no one in her family has served.
“Knowing that in the end it was really going to benefit those 51 or 52 people who have access to something that they didn’t have access to before … (it will) help them feel more at home.”