Robbie Bergquist with soldiers at Fort Lewis McChord
At 12, he and his sister Britanny, then 13 came up with the idea of providing US troops with cost-free calls to their families. They started to collect used cell phones among their families, friends, neighbors. Soon, they found themselves receiving more and more used cell phones from all over the United States and later found themselves with a bigger mission: to continue to provide FREE calling cards to active soldiers with their families overseas and also preventing the accumulation of used cell phones in landfills.
Nine years later, Robbie now a Junior at the University of Massachusetts has built a nationally recognized non-profit organization which continues to show their appreciation of the US troops and their families. He and his sister has provided 181 million minutes of free talk time, mailed 12, 000 calling cards each week since 2004 and has recycled more than 10.8 million cell phones! He has also appeared on the CBS Early Show, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The View and other TV shows. He travels extensively both nationally and internationally to speak about this cause. He has been a consistent recipient of many distinguished awards, with the most recent one in 2011 as the Jefferson Awardee for Public Service.
Robert (Robbie) Bergquist, Director and co-founder of the Cell phones for Soldiers knows how to always be humble despite his success. He knows how to balance happiness and achievement. He knows how to enjoy the little things in life and to be happy about them.
This is his amazing story:
Alpha: Tell us the story of your company and how and why you started it?
Robbie: Cell Phones for Soldiers is a non-profit organization that collects used cell phones in order to generate funds which ultimately purchase communication tools to connect active military members with their loved ones at home in the states.
The story begins in 2004, when I was just 12 years old. As I was preparing for school one morning, I paused to watch the television featuring a story of a Natick, Mass. soldier who was serving in Afghanistan. While deployed, he had rung up and astounding $8,000 cell phone bill trying to contact his loved ones to let them know he was okay. At the time, I had two cousins who were active duty, and put myself in their shoes and immediately wanted to do whatever I could to help this soldier. We held car washes and bake sales to do our little part. When word spread about our efforts, we needed to create a name for the project. We called it Cell Phones for Soldiers, and the organization was created.
Alpha: Tell us about the biggest successes and failures in your organization? What worked, what didn’t, and what did you learn?
Robbie: The biggest success: Exploiting the opportunity of recycling donated cell phones to serve as donations. Instead of asking for money, we were asking for something nobody wanted anymore. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Initially, we tried to put minutes on the donated mobile devices and send them directly overseas. We quickly learned that this was a security hazard, so we adapted efficiently to recycle the devices and with the money raised, purchase prepaid phone cards. I learned that there is always a back up plan if you’re never willing to give up.
Brittany and Robbie at Langley Air Force Base
Alpha: What do you want to achieve for Cell phones for Soldiers?
Robbie: the next week: Continue to send 12,000 phone cards per week so that our troops can call home for free.
the next year: Successfully transition our new initiative Helping Heroes Home into a national program that supports veterans in their transition back into society.
the next 10 years: Continue to be in a supportive role for our military members, no matter where in the world they may be.
Alpha: I am sure you have a lot of great moments but what was your most inspiring moment doing what you do?
Robbie: In 2006 we were able to travel to a deployment in Minnesota. It was the first time we were able to experience one of these events. About 400 men and women were leaving their families, friends and loved ones for over a year. There were 15 buses lined up on the side of the road, each scheduled to transport the men and women to the airport down the road. Brittany and I handed out phone cards directly next to the buses to noticeably upset grown men and women. It was this event that truly put into perspective what our efforts were going to provide the people who keep us safe every day.
Alpha: If you were to tell us what are the most important skills that you need in order to be successful in life- what are they?
Robbie: A balance of confidence and humility. The ability to stand tall in the face of adversity, while staying humble.
Alpha: How would you define Success?
Robbie: Success to me is a balance of true happiness and achievement. Enjoying the little things while striving for the boldest of endeavors.
Alpha: What are your favorite things?
Robbie: I love the following:
Book: Life of Pi
Place on earth: Jost Van Dyke, British Virgin Islands
Travel: Studying abroad in Australia this upcoming Spring Semester!
Food: Honey Mustard Wings from Wings Over Amherst
Drink: Shirley Temple
Quote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
Learn how you can donate your used cellphones. Read all the FAQ’s at Cell Phone for Soldiers.
To read other inspiring Success Stories, click here.
Alpha Sanford is the creator and editor of Aspire.Motivate.Succeed! a personal development website which aims to inspire and motivate people from all walks of life through its bi-weekly articles. She interviews and features inspiring individuals whose extraordinary work impact the lives of many people in the community. You can contact her via facebook, twitter, email or pinterest.