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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI student wants to help members of armed forces phone home

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KINGSTON, R.I. -- February 22, 2005 -- University of Rhode Island student Tom Shevlin wants to help service men and women stationed outside the U.S. to reach out and touch their families and friends by providing them with prepaid calling cards.

To accomplish that, Shevlin is asking Rhode Island businesses with high pedestrian traffic to place collection canisters to support the United Service Organizations (USO) program, Operation Phone Home.

The 24-year-old Jamestown resident learned about the USO campaign while driving home from New Jersey recently. It sparked his interest. A friend in the Marines had been recently deployed to Afghanistan.

“I have a long history of involvement in community service projects,” says the URI political science major, son of URI 1968 alumnus Thomas Shevlin and his wife Paula of Darien, Conn. “ I hadn’t done anything in the last couple of years. When I heard about the program on the radio, I realized this was something I could do.

“There are similar programs, but I liked Operation Phone Home because 100 percent of the donations are designated for the purchase, shipping and distribution of the calling cards,” he says, noting that a $10 donation will provide a 100-minute global calling card.

The USO, perhaps best known for its road shows for troops around the world with such high profile entertainers as the late Bob Hope, was established before the U.S. entered World War II. The non-profit, congressionally chartered, private organization continually strives to deliver comfort and recreational services to service members and their families.

“It was hard to talk via the satellite because of the voice delays,” recalls U.S. Army Capt. Eric Carlson, a member of the military science program at URI, who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for eight months in 2002.
“The only effective way we could phone home was by calling card or by calling collect, which ends up costing a lot of money. You can go through calling cards very quickly.”

Carlson actually had a special reason to burn the wires. On the one and only leave he got during those eight months, he and his girlfriend met in Puerto Rico and got married.

Being able to talk to loved ones is a real morale booster, says Carlson who adds that it also boosts soldiers’ morale when folks like Shevlin try to help make those connections.

Shevlin plans to conduct his campaign in Newport County and South County from March 1 to Memorial Day. If the idea catches on, he will extend the effort statewide and run it to July 1.

The URI student does not want to set a monetary goal, nor does he want any special recognition. He would like it if members of the military from Rhode Island discover that their phone card came from contributors living in the Ocean State. “I would like to think that it would give them a boost,” he says.

To learn more about the program or to help Shevlin spread the word email him at RIphonehome@yahoo.com or call him via cell phone at 917-535-3814.