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Teen's tune effort makes for 'happy soldiers'

  • Story Highlights
  • Kaylee Marie Radzyminski spends Saturdays sending donated CDs, DVDs to troops
  • Radzyminski, 16, goes to high school in a small Tennessee town
  • Her organization has expanded to include 200 affiliates around the nation
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CLEVELAND, Tennessee (CNN) -- At 14, while attending the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet camp in Florida, Kaylee Marie Radzyminski asked one question to troops returning from overseas military service. Their simple answer spurred the small-town teen into action.

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Kaylee Marie Radzyminski, center in black shirt, spends her Saturdays sorting CDs and DVDs for troops overseas.

"I asked, 'What was the number one thing they missed?' " recalls Radzyminski. "The first thing was, of course, their families. But second to that was entertainment."

They described limited access to Internet and satellite service, with some soldiers sharing just a few DVDs or CDs with an entire unit. So Radzyminski returned home and gathered her CDs and DVDs to send to the troops.

What started as an individual project at home is now 16-year-old Radzyminski's nationwide nonprofit, Tunes 4 the Troops. Since 2005, she and volunteers have organized the collection and delivery of more than 200,000 CDs and DVDs to deployed service members around the world.

"My mission is not about supporting or opposing the war, it's about supporting the troops," says Radzyminski, whose own family has a military background. "They sacrifice so much for us, why can't I do a little bit to give back to them?"

Reaching out to friends, classmates and community members for donated discs of all kinds, Radzyminski's own community joined her cause. She made disc donations easy by placing Tunes 4 the Troops collection boxes at football games, churches, neighborhood events, and community centers.

Her own Cleveland High School helped out by setting up an account for the school's management of financial donations -- for disc purchases, packing supplies, and shipping costs.

"It first started with my collection, then my friends chipped in with their music and movies, and it just spread and spread through my community -- and now, nationwide," says Radzyminski. "It's great to see the amount of people that care."

When she receives a CD or DVD, Radzyminski first sends a hand-written "thank you" to the donor. Then she separates all discs into genres and combs through them to ensure there is no explicit, burned or copied material.

Each disc to be sent is branded with a Tunes 4 the Troops sticker, which allows a soldier who has never heard of her organization to request more items.

"That way, if they get sent to a unit, and then that unit gives it to another unit, that unit can always request a box," explains Radzyminski.

Video Watch Radzyminski explain the way she and volunteers support troops overseas »

Each Saturday, the teen tapes, wraps and labels boxes before spending about two hours at the post office. Radzyminski originally stored donations and materials in her home, but in 2006, her local Home Depot donated a small shed for Tunes 4 the Troops operations.

Today, the organization has about 200 satellite locations across the United States and has collected more than $3 million worth of donations. They also hold yearly Outback Steakhouse fundraisers, which have grossed close to $5,000 for each of the past two years.

Video Watch Radzyminski describe the rewards of bringing entertainment to U.S. soldiers overseas »

In addition to Tunes 4 the Troops, Radzyminski also runs track, maintains a 4.0 GPA, and works night shifts at a restaurant, admitting that life can get "a bit stressful sometimes."

She recently received the Prudential Spirit of Community Service Award, missing her junior prom to be in Washington for the honor. But she says her own sacrifices pale in comparison to those made by thousands of American soldiers everyday.

Video Watch soldiers overseas describe the impact Tunes 4 the Troops has had on them »

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"I love what I do because it's not just affecting me, it's affecting thousands of other people," she says. "To have such a large outcome of happy soldiers is so worth it."

Radzyminski's goal? She hopes to collect and ship 500,000 CDs and DVDs to deployed soldiers overseas by the end of the year.

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