Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Larry Michael, a McLean resident and voice of the Washington Redskins, Dranesville Supervisor John Foust, U.S. Senate candidate George Allen (R) and nearly 200 othersc gathered in a sumptuous McLean home to raise money for a charity started by two McLean sisters to help military families.
Rachel and Kelsi Okun of McLean lived next door to a family whose father was a lieutenat colonel in the U.S. Army. "Watching a family that we admired so much made us realize that we had to let him know how much we appreciated all he had done. . . They were still struggling on the homefront while they fight abroad. We wanted to liberate them from crushing financial burdens."
Six years ago Rachel, 15, and Kelsi, 12, with the help of their parents Robert and Deanna Okun, organized ThanksUSA, a charity that has now given away 2,200 scholarships totalling $6.5 million to help families of servicemen and women. Founded in 2005, ThanksUSA provides needs-based scholarships to the children and spouses of active duty military forces for college, technical and vocational schools.
Gov. McDonnell said Monday night, "At such a tender age they understand how important it is to support our military."
"To be able to give families the comfort of knowing that they have a helping hand is extradordinary," the governor said to a crowd drawn from around the Washington area.
Then this great grandson of Irish immigrants turned the program over to Anthony Kearns, one of the world-renoun Irish Tenors, who performed a lush concert of Irish music in the ballroom of the home of Chris and Alison Simmons on Swinks Mill Court. Anthony Kearns, a founding member of the Irish Tenors, is a frequent performer at fund-raisers for ThanksUSA.
The governor did little mingling with the crowd. He stayed on the second floor of the large home greeting specially selected guests. Meanwhile former Gov. George Allen greeted folks and gave interviews on the first floor. Allen is again running for the U.S. Senate, a race he lost six years ago. He had spoken to the Virginia Tea Party in southern Fairfax County earlier in the day.
Larry Michael, last year's McLean High School graduation speaker, said, "As a corporate citizen we are here representing the Redskins." He recalled that the Redskins have been based in Virginia for 40 years. Former Redskins coach George Allen moved the Redskins to Virginia in 1971, Michael said. Allen's son is the former governor.
Lola Reinsch and her husband Al Pierce of McLean also attended. "I'm very happy that the military is fighting to keep the terrorists out of this country," she said. "We are very indebted to the young people who sign up. It's a wonderful opportunty for our young people," she said.
Several people attending said they had learned of the fundraiser through the Republican Party. But host Chris Simmons, managing partner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, said,"It's a nonpartisan event. It's an American event."
Simmons has contributed to the campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va. --- all Democrats. But there's also a $2,300 contribution to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate and a Republican.
Rachel, 15, attends the National Cathedral School. Kelsi, 12, attends Longfellow Middle Schools. Mom is the chairman of the U.S. International Trade Commission. Dad heads the Washington lobbying office of NBC.
Gov. McDonnell said Monday night, he once interned for Robert Okun.
ThanksUSA executive director Michele Stork said she was unsure how much money the event had raised on behalf of ThanksUSA.