Kaylee Marie Radzyminski, 19, the 2005 founder of Tunes 4 the Troops and who is now a Tennessee Tech sophomore, has been named recipient of the prestigious Daughters of the American Revolution Founders Medal — the Mary Desha Medal for Youth.
The presentation took place recently in the Roaden University Center on the college campus in Cookeville. The award was presented by Martha Willis, honorary state regent of Tennessee. Also on hand were Jennifer Golz, honorary DAR chapter regent who sponsored the Cleveland teenager for the award; Stephanie Radzyminski, Kaylee’s mother; and a family of Cleveland friends — Mike, Fredda, Ben and Helen Burton — who were among the original supporters of Kaylee’s vision.
“We (Burton family) have known Kaylee since she and her mother had dinner at our house one Easter when they began plans for a website for Tunes 4 the Troops,” Helen Burton recalled. “We have all been involved in the four-year process of sorting, packing, shipping and fundraising, and have tremendous admiration for Kaylee and her dedication to this amazing project.”
The Tunes 4 the Troops website was designed, and is maintained, by (Mike) Burton.
Established in 1995, the DAR Founders Medal recognizes U.S. residents “ ... who have given unselfishly to the community, state or nation,” Willis explained.
“The Mary Desha Medal honors a youth — 20 years of age and under — for exemplary service ... through participation and/or leadership in such activities as conservation, organized sports (beyond school-sponsored activities), scouting, church or community, and state or national service organizations,” she said.
Willis pointed out the Cleveland teen “distinguished herself” by organizing Tunes 4 the Troops at age 14, and continues to lead the volunteer-based organization that collects and ships thousands of CDs and DVDs to U.S. troops deployed overseas.
By Oct. 1, the drive had distributed more than 760,000 discs to American soldiers around the world. Total value is estimated to be more than $12,160,000. The drive’s goal is to ship 1 million CDs and DVDs by Christmas 2010.
“We’re still hoping to make the goal,” Radzyminski said in a telephone interview Tuesday from the Tennessee Tech campus. At the very least, her people-spirited troop of volunteers remain mobilized in a combined effort to meet the objective.
The troop’s next “packing party” will be Nov. 11 — Veterans Day — on the college campus at which time volunteers will be shipping 50,000 CDs and DVDs. It will be sponsored through the Tennessee Tech Service Learning Center, which serves as an on-site clearinghouse for student volunteer activities. The Service Learning Center is hosting packing parties each semester.
Of the DAR recognition, the Cleveland High School graduate said she is humbled “and quite honored” to receive the award. The DAR Founders Medal is a unique award and is one requiring letters of recommendation. The award is based on a nominee’s leadership, trustworthiness, patriotism and service.
Her nomination described the teen’s qualifications in each area, and it pointed to her launch — and sustained support — of the Tunes 4 the Troops initiative.
Under “Trustworthiness,” the nomination cited, “Kaylee has stood by the troops for several years through her Tunes 4 the Troops organization. From the time she learned of troops’ need for entertainment, she could have done as so many of us do and had good intentions to help that never came to fruition. However, Kaylee has dedicated her time and energy to fulfilling her commitment to our troops. Her dedication goes beyond having donated some CDs and DVDs, getting awards and recognition, and quitting to go on to college. Instead, Kaylee continues her dedication to our troops in addition to the demands of her college career. Trustworthy ... yes! She has never let our troops down!”
Letters nominating Radzyminski were submitted by John W. Capuzzo, U.S. Army Special Forces, stationed in Special Operations Command Africa; Dr. Susan A. Elkins, vice president of Extended Programs and Regional Development, and dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, Tennessee Tech; and Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland.
The longtime, 19-year Cleveland mayor’s letter described Radzyminski as an “excellent choice” for the DAR honor and pointed out, “She is a young woman who will continue to make you proud.” The mayor’s letter added, “(Kaylee) has an outgoing personality and a sincere caring attitude that inspires others to get involved. There’s no doubt we will see and hear more about Kaylee Marie in years to come.”
The Elkins letter of nomination pointed to the teenager as a prime example of “Service Above Self” which is the motto of Rotary and Interact, and offered, “ ... (she) has always been an outstanding example of that motto.” Elkins’ nomination also spoke of the Cleveland teen’s diligence in sustaining Tunes 4 the Troops and not allowing it to fade from public interest even as her time demands increased in higher education.
Capuzzo, whose letter described his Special Operations work as being humanitarian crisis response, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare, pointed to the importance of campaigns like Tunes 4 the Troops.”
“We are most grateful ... for all the support, goodwill and prayers ... given us by watching over our shoulders as our personal angel,” the Capuzzo nomination letter reads. “(This) gift of music and movies every month pleases everyone and the variety appeals to everyone’s tastes.”
Radzyminski, who recently changed her college major from industrial engineering to environmental geology, remains active in ROTC on the Tech campus and will be going career with her military involvement upon college graduation.
Others attending the recent DAR Medal of Honor presentation included Dr. Jack Armistead, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Tennessee Tech; Carol Teeters, DAR Sequoyah District Director; and several other state government, education and DAR dignitaries.
The Cleveland teenager and Tunes 4 the Troops have been featured twice on the Montel Williams Show, Channel One News, The Pentagon Channel, the Military Channel, CNN.com, Studio B with Sheparad Smith on the FOX News Channel and in Teen Vogue. She was named one of the country’s Top 5 Leaders under 30 years old by the “Washington Post,” and has received a variety of state and national awards over the past five years.