Sophomore Helps Overseas Troops Stay in Touch

March 26, 2012

Robbie BerquistWhen Robbie Bergquist, a sophomore in the Mark. H. McCormack Department of Sport Management, was 12, he and his sister, Brittany, decided to make a positive difference for American troops in Iraq. Their plan was to collect and recycle old cell phones and convert the proceeds into calling cards for men and women in the military. "For our overseas servicepeople, calling home is a critical emotional lifeline," notes the Isenberg undergraduate. "By sharing their cell phones with their fellow soldiers, some service personnel had accumulated minutes that amounted to hundreds, even thousands of dollars-way beyond what they could afford. We wanted to do something to help."

 

 Eight years on, Cell Phones for Soldiers-the nonprofit organization that Robbie and his sister started-has succeeded spectacularly. To date, it has raised $8 million from 10 million recycled cellphones contributed at 15,000+ collection sites nationwide. That has translated into 600,000 prepaid calling cards (150+ million minutes) for U.S. troops overseas. Last summer, in recognition of their extraordinary impact and generosity, Robbie and Brittany, were honored in Washington, D.C. with a Jefferson Award for greatest public service by individuals 35 and under. (The Jefferson Awards have been described as America's "Nobel Prizes" for public service.

 

"Isenberg's Sport Management program is strongly committed to community service," Bergquist continues. "That, combined with its national reputation, made it a natural for me." Balancing his responsibilities as a student with Cell Phones for Soldiers, Robbie remains active on its board and as a national spokesperson, the latter which involves periodic travel. (He recently visited U.S. bases in Germany.)  His parents, both schoolteachers, run its day-to-day operations while Robbie and his sister focus on their roles as full-time undergraduates.

 

In May, the organization will roll out Helping Heroes Home. Overseas deployment is winding down, says Bergquist, but many vets return home with substantial challenges. "Some of them have a lot on their plate," he remarks. "Our plan is to purchase new cell phones for them. For a vet, one less bill can mean a lot."