"It was 2006, I was working in hotel management," Gina Elise says. "There were all these stories about the Veterans Administration struggling to treat returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to do something to support them and to support the hospitals who treated them."
Gina Elise is the founder of Pin-Ups for Vets, a non-profit whose mission is based on producing WWII-style pinup calendars to support hospitalized veterans and deployed troops. After four years, she quit her job at the hotel to work with veterans full time. She has produced nine annual calendars since, but her efforts don't stop at just calendars. Elise and her unit of celebrities and women veterans are currently on a 50-state VA and military hospital tour. To date, the pinups visited 6,000 veterans at their bedside.
"Attitude is a huge part of recovery," says Shannon Stacy, a former Marine Corps Flight Surgeon and the 2015 calendar's Miss April. "I think its great that an organization like this can come in really make a difference in patients lives, on top of what the doctors and nurses do." Stacy can appreciate how attitude affects recovery, as she is also currently an Emergency Medicine Physician.
"On the surface, we're shooting a fun, artistic calendar," Elise says. "Under that, we're supporting a cause that should be important to all Americans: supporting our veterans." Most importantly, Pin-Ups for Vets buys medical equipment for VA and military hospitals and sends morale-boosting care packages to deployed American troops around the world. So far, Pin-Ups for Vets donated more than $50,000 of state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment to VA military hospitals nationwide.
"When you think about the fact these soldiers painted these women on the sides of aircraft, and it gave them the confidence to go fight," says Jovane Henry, a former Marine Corps Photojournalist and 2015's Miss July. "What's more empowering than that? I think it's great. It's a continuation of service for me. Serving was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I'm happy to be able to continue that service through Pin-Ups for Vets."
The spirit of Pin-Ups For Vets also promotes volunteerism at Veterans Hospitals, supports homeless Veterans in shelters, and boosts morale for military wives and female Veterans with makeovers and clothing.
The recent launch party for the 2015 calendar, the first to feature 12 veterans, was held at the American Legion in Hollywood (Post 43) and featured a burlesque show headlined by an all-veteran pinup revue. It was the first of its kind. Jennifer Campbell, who worked a .50 cal in a US Army transportation unit participated in the show, but saw it as a family event.
"It gave us a chance to jump into a different period of time," Campbell recalls. "My great aunt was a WWII poster pin-up girl. It was fun seeing the transition from then to now."
The burlesque troop, "The Dollface Dames," performed a variety of numbers. It was a vintage burlesque show, true to its 1940's heritage, complete with dancing, feather boas, hula-hoops, singing, even a shadow silhouette erotic dance.
"There's no hard, fast rule that says I can't be a hard-charging Marine and a lipstick-wearing pinup," Henry states. "So I choose to be both."
Learn more about Pin-Ups for Vets and purchase the calendar at PinUpsForVets.com.