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Giving back with gaming: Pros vs GI Joes’ Greg Zinone

Wednesday, 7th September 2011 20:20 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Addie and Greg Zinone have a mission, and during the Call of Duty XP event, their organization Pros vs GI Joes was on-hand to show gamers exactly what it entails.

Pros vs GI Joe

Founded in 2007 by Addie and Greg Zinone.

Uses video games as a way for military personnel to interact with pro athletes and family while stationed overseas.

Activision and the Call of Duty Endowment are major corporate and non-profit sponsors.

Greg Zinone, who founded the California-based Pros vs GI Joes in 2007 with his wife Addie who herself is in the Army Reserves, explained to VG247 during XP that his non-profit organization makes virtual connections all over the world to military men and women between family and pro-athletes in an effort to boost morale and help temporarily alleviate the longing for home.

Giving back through video games

In conjunction with the USO, Pro vs. GI Joe sets up real-time video game competitions between professional athletes, musicians, celebrities, high-ranking military officials and politicians. The organization has connected athletes with troops serving in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and at various bases around the United States and the rest of the world.

“My wife and I started Pros vs GI Joes about four years ago as a real fun, and simple way to give back,” he told us. “It was a real easy fix. Guys overseas play video games, so do professional athletes as the majority are 22-23 years old and they grew up playing video games, so it was just natural. It was something that we wanted to do.

“We didn’t know it was going to get half as big as it has, but it got big pretty quick. It’s just a simple idea which really works.”

When possible, family members are also invited via webcam during the events, and in order to identify soldiers and their families, Zinone has partnered with the USO, another nonprofit organization which supports the troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services and has done so for the past 70 years.

“It’s just a simple idea which really works.”

“We identify the troops overseas, and if they are local, we get the families involved,” he explained. “We started out at first flying-in families, but it proved to be a bit difficult because it is just my wife and I, which is as small a non-profit as you can get. But we realized the family element was huge, so we do outreach to the guys in local communities. Let’s say, we go to Arizona: we will reach out and try to find someone in the military from Arizona and then invite the family to the event. They come in and watch them play the games and then they get a chance to webcam with them.

“So, it’s great, and now we’re working on Afghanistan after getting guys from the front lines in Iraq. You see, they don’t have webcams they don’t have phones – it’s a special, special event for them.”

Pro-athletes from the NBA, Indy 500, MLB, the NFL and more have participated to date, and Zinone travels to events such as the NBA All-Star Game, the Super Bowl, and other large venues where the event determines what games athletes will play with members of the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard.

Zinone is also working on getting various celebrities to participate as well.

“We started out with athletes, as it was originally built around the NFL and NBA, and now the UFC,” he said. “So it’s definitely geared towards the athletes, but celebrities and musicians is where we want to go as well. Just like the pros, celebrities love video games and the guys overseas would love to play with them as well, so it is just a matter of getting them and just getting the word out that we’re here, to come down and play with the guys.”

Starting small for something large

Since the organization is very small, sponsorships are extremely important to the continuation of Zinone’s work, and Activision is one of the main supporters of Pros vs GI Joes. For the moment, though, the firm hasn’t found a good grip on donations, but it is something it wants to work on implementing.

“We don’t get too many donations, but sponsorship is big for us,” said Zinone. “Activision came on board as our first sponsor three years ago, when we were almost at the point to where we were going to close shop. They came on board and have been supportive ever since.

“It’s been tough at times, but they support us in such a way that we can do things like this, which is good.”

The Call of Duty Endowment, the non-profit set up by Activision as a way to help provide job placement and training to veterans ensuring that they find a career upon leaving the military, has also became involved with Zinone in Rehabbing with the Troops and its Wounded Warrior Arena program. Rehabbing with the Troop allows wounded vets to work out simultaneously with the pros in customized EA Sports Active workouts, which was launched with the help of EA.

It seems a great fit, as the Endowment assists organizations that provide former service members with job placement, training and educational services in their post military careers.

“It’s been tough at times, but [Activision] supports us in such a way that we can do things like this, which is good.”

“Now we have branched off into the Wound Warriors Arena program which focuses on rehabbing our troops,” explained Zinone. “We will be going from stadium to stadium for NFL home games and we’re going to get scholarships for the wounded vets to come out and work the event with us so they can go home with a little change in their pockets. It will be something they earn, as opposed to just getting a check in the mail and that is important to them for morale.

“The Call of Duty Endowment is actually coming on board for that program, which is allowing us to do it. Up to a month ago, we had the idea and we were getting going, but we had no money to do it. The Endowment, well, it just came on board in a really big way, and now it’s going to be an incredible few months.”

While Greg himself has never served in the military, as mentioned earlier, his wife is in the Army Reserves and has served two tours of duty in Iraq.

For more information on the Pros vs GI Joes program, or how you can help, please visit the links.

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