Alice Kraatz still remembers a disturbing story she heard nearly a decade ago of how a Vietnam veteran was welcomed back to Michigan when he returned from the war.
All the veteran wanted was a steak dinner.
“Instead, he was spat in the face,” Kraatz, a 17-year-old senior at Portage Northern High School, told MLive.
That story stuck with her for years. It left her knowing she wanted to make a difference.
Kraatz accomplished her goal by raising thousands of dollars to organize an Honor Flight for a group of Vietnam veterans. As a result of her efforts, the teen received a regional philanthropy award, which was presented to her Thursday by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Kraatz won this year’s Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award, presented by Association of Fundraising Professionals West Michigan Chapter. The award was presented at the 36th annual National Philanthropy Day Awards inside the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.
Kraatz described receiving the award from DeVos as a “really incredible experience.”
“Alice is a pretty special individual with a big heart, a relentless drive, and a can-do spirit. It reminds me a bit of those she so impressively honored: America’s veterans,” DeVos said in a statement. “They go to work every day and get the job done. They don’t put it off until tomorrow or wait for a better moment.
“They don’t do it for the recognition. They don’t do it for themselves – they do it for all of us,” she added.
The Kalamazoo teen was elected – at the age of 13 – to serve as Michigan’s state president for the Children of the American Revolution, the nation’s oldest, largest, patriotic youth organization. During her time as president, Kraatz was tasked with completing a project.
That’s when her idea of sending Vietnam veterans on an Honor Flight first began.
To help fund the project, Kraatz drove all around the state of Michigan selling POW/MIA bracelets. On top of that, she was also hosting can drives and looking for grant opportunities.
Kraatz’s efforts caught the attention of the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, which aided in the trip through a grant.
She raised over $140,000 in a one-year span to help put 80 Vietnam veterans on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. last June.
“It was a lot of emotion,” Kraatz recalled the trip. “A lot of people were very excited. A lot of them were remembering what had happened.”