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California Teen Leads A Million Thanks
Shauna Fleming's organization, which thanks troops overseas, gets its own thanks from President Bush.
By Ezra Billinkoff

President Bush meets with Shauna Fleming
President Bush meets with Shauna Fleming, 15, of Orange, California, in the Oval Office of the White House on November 17, 2004. Shauna is the founder of AMillionThanks.org, a letter-writing campaign to collect 1 million thank-you letters and e-mails for distribution to U.S. service members. She presented the President with the 1 millionth letter.
(Photo: Photo Credit: Eric Draper, White House)
Shauna Fleming enjoys acting. She was in two school productions this year alone. She plays basketball and softball and she is learning tae kwon do. To relax, Shauna hangs out with her friends and watches movies. She describes herself as a "normal person."

While she may be an everyday American teenager, this 16-year-old from Orange County, California, has created and leads an organization that is anything but normal. She is the founder of www.AMillionThanks.org, a Web site that sends thank-you letters to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In March 2004, Shauna organized the thank-you campaign among her schoolmates at the Lutheran High School of Orange County to send thank-you letters to troops. The letter-writing campaign did not stop at her school. It became a huge success and by the end of the month, Shauna—with her principal's help—launched AMillionThanks.org.

The goal was simple: Send 1 million thank-you letters to U.S. soldiers and military personnel. But Shauna's task of organizing and managing a national campaign was hardly simple. Shauna works with a number of different people, including school administrators, teachers, and classmates, to get the job done.

Over the summer, she worked to set up chapters of AMillionThanks.org in other schools, youth groups, and community centers.

"It's going to give so many other teens and people my age a chance to get involved," Shauna said.

Measure of Success

In October 2004, Shauna and her team had reached the 1-million-letter mark, but they remained unsatisfied.

"I wanted to find a way to thank all of our service members, so I decided to continue collecting letters and e-mails until I reached 1.4 million: the number [of U.S. troops] given to me by the Pentagon," Shauna said.

Her success has been noted as high up as Washington, D.C. Shauna personally presented the 1 millionth letter to President George W. Bush at the White House this year, and she vowed to keep going. Today, Shauna says, AMillionThanks.org is nearing 1.6 million thank you letters.

"I have learned so many different things" from the organizational work, said Shauna. At the very least, she has discovered new organization skills, she says.

Beyond that, Shauna has learned that sticking with your plan is the only way to achieve such a large goal.

"You have to set it in your mind that you're going to do something," said Shauna. "I've always been strong-willed since I was little."

Throughout the time that AMillionThanks.org has been up and running, Shauna has discovered some of her own leadership qualities. She says some of the important skills of a leader is to know how to balance work and fun, to surround yourself with people who have the same goals, and to remain strong-willed despite challenges. She emphasized having supportive people around you. "You always have to be on the lookout for people who are like you and who want to join your group," she said.

Scholastic News Online asked Shauna to explain the difference between a good leader and a great leader.

"To have more than one thing in mind," she said. She believes that a good leader will set a goal and follow through with it. A great leader, however, will have multiple ideas and will keep working to achieve all of them.

Shauna's work continues. She is a leader for many reasons, but mostly because she wanted to help others. By getting other teens to work with her and by pursuing her goals, Shauna has become a great leader.