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Soldiers Project part of 2012 Book of Dreams

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SACRAMENTO - For 25 years, readers of the Sacramento Bee have been making dreams come true for people in need throughout the capital region. In December, they came through again, this time for The Soldiers Project/Sacramento, helping to fulfill a wish for a commercial grade copy machine.

The Soldiers Project/Sacramento was one of 16 organizations and individuals featured in the newspapers' annual "Book of Dreams" series during the yuletide season. Readers contributed more than $131,000 to the effort, according to the Bee's website; $5,000 of that was awarded to TSP on Jan. 17.

"Being part of the 'Book of Dreams' was a wonderful way to cap off 2012," said Becca Bettis, program manager for the local chapter of The Soldiers Project. "This donation will allow us to buy a commercial copier and print all of our seminar materials and event flyers in-house. We are so grateful to the Bee readers who donated."

The grant was awarded through the Sacramento Region Community Foundation which administers the Sacramento Bee Book of Dreams Fund.

Dirk Ellena, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, and his wife Courtney were featured in the front-page "Book of Dreams" article. Ellena, who suffers from post-traumatic stress due to his service in Iraq, is one of hundreds of military personnel who have been assisted by The Soldiers Project locally and nationwide since 2004.

The Soldiers Project and its Sacramento affiliate is a non-profit organization that provides free, confidential mental health services to active-duty military and veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and their loved ones. Its unlimited services go beyond those provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system.

Ellena's story is one that many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced. Injured during infantry operations, he returned home suffering flashbacks, nightmares and severe survivor's guilt. He self-medicated with alcohol, couldn't hold a job and was homeless.

But with the help of his Soldiers Project therapist, Ellena today is a contributing member of the community. He's remarried, found work and is studying to be a nurse at a local college.

"She was my rock," Ellena said in the Bee article, explaining the importance of his volunteer therapist to his recovery. "It sounds sappy, but I would not be here without her."

The Soldiers Project/Sacramento, named in 2012 by the White House as one of the nation's top 20 military service organizations, is comprised of about 45 volunteer therapists who last year gave nearly 1,000 hours of free treatment to soldiers and their families.

Providing services throughout the greater Sacramento-Placer region, TSP also offers support for military dependents and other loved ones through its Family Ties group therapy program and Peer2Peer program.

For more information about The Soldiers Project/Sacramento and its programs, visit www.tspsacramento.org. To be connected with a therapist, call locally 916-792-3728 or toll-free 877-557-5888 or e-mail Sacramento@TheSoldiersProject.org.