Children of Fallen Patriots: Honoring Sacrifice through a College Education
Learn More About our Veterans Initiatives in 2021
The Foundation is deeply committed to supporting those who have served our country. Our strategy focuses on helping post-9/11 veterans navigate the transition from military to civilian life and become leaders in their communities. Highlights include:
- Investments in organizations that have helped over 55,000 veterans and their family members achieve their education and career goals through pre-college bootcamps, career coaching, and job assistance programs. In 2021, the Foundation grew its portfolio by investing in the expansion of Dog Tag, Inc.’s Fellowship Program to Chicago, and The Mission Continues’ Veteran Leadership Accelerator.
- Health- and wellness-focused investments that have increased access to post-traumatic growth and mental health services to over 5,400 veterans and their family members. They have also supplied veterans and their families with access to 980 instances of high-quality critical care and evidence-based treatments that were not previously available as an option.
- Investments in Operation Homefront which have provided nearly 850 members of veteran families with transitional housing support, establishing a solid foundation on which they can build their post-service lives.
- Investments in the COMMIT Foundation that have enabled the organization to provide veterans with over 2,800 one-on-one, online and workshop-based services focused on helping them identify and pursue their purpose in civilian life.
Katie Palmer almost didn’t answer her cell phone when Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation called her that spring day in 2018.
Palmer, a college sophomore at the time, was on her way back to school in Columbia, South Carolina after a trip to Disney World. Fallen Patriots called, out of the blue, to offer Palmer a scholarship. Palmer’s father, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin James Palmer, died in Afghanistan in 2011.
The administrator, whose father was also killed in action said, “Hey, we don’t know your family, but we have you in our database, and we’d like to help you pay for college,” Palmer recalls. “It was wonderful!”
Since then, Palmer has come full circle. After graduating debt-free from the University of South Carolina in May 2020, she now works at Children of Fallen Patriots as a scholarship supervisor, helping other young people who have lost a military parent get an education. The call changed her life.
David Kim, a partner at a global equity investment firm, and his wife Cynthia Kim founded Children of Fallen Patriots in 2002. The foundation provides college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.
To date, it has provided over $52 million in scholarships and other assistance to almost 2,200 children from Gold Star families, in all 50 states and Puerto Rico and all branches of the U.S. military. The average assistance package per child is $25,000 for a complete college education.
Over the last 35 years, approximately 25,000 children have lost an active-duty parent in the military. Ninety-seven percent of those parents are men, leaving behind single mothers to care for their families, with 60% reporting difficulty making ends meet.
“It brings us a level of comfort and peace to know that we’re doing something to help these families,” Ms. Kim says. “We felt that the best way to do our part and carry on the legacy of the soldiers who lost their lives was to provide a college education to their children.”
Clark Foundation Investment Supports 778 Scholars
Since 2017, the Clark Foundation has provided $15 million to Children of Fallen Patriots, an investment “equivalent to 2,400 years of college,” Ms. Kim says. One hundred percent of Clark’s grant has gone to support 778 Children of Fallen Patriot scholars nationally.
“It’s made a huge impact,” Ms. Kim notes. “They’ve supported a good percentage of all our students.”
Hayden McCloud, whose father died in a 2006 helicopter accident in Iraq, graduated in December 2021 from the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in international affairs. His mother learned about the Children of Fallen Patriots program and told him to apply during his senior year of high school. “It’s meant the world to us,” McCloud says. “It’s really helped us out a lot.”
Not only has he benefited, but his younger sister, currently enrolled at the University of Tennessee, is also a Children of Fallen Patriots scholar. In addition, Hayden has another sister who is graduating high school this year and is applying for a scholarship. “It’s taken a massive weight off my mom’s shoulders,” McCloud says.
Brendan Gacek followed his older brother’s footsteps into the program. Gacek’s father died while serving at the U.S. Air Force base in Rome in 1997, when his mother was pregnant with Gacek. With a Children of Fallen Patriots scholarship, Gacek graduated in 2021 from Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, with a degree in business administration.
Gacek, like Palmer and McCloud, is a Clark-supported scholar. After graduating, Children of Fallen Patriots helped him land an internship at an insurance start-up in New York City. And when that ended, like Palmer, he too got a job with Children of Fallen Patriots as a development analyst. “I knew this would be something I’d be passionate about,” he says.
A Program That Stands Out
All three scholars said that Children of Fallen Patriots is unique among military scholarship programs. For one thing, it is the most inclusive—available to all children of fallen service members from all branches of the military, regardless of where they served or how they died, as long as it was in the line of duty.
“We really, really want to help as many people as possible—and going even further than that, we want to give them exactly what they need,” Palmer says, speaking with her foundation hat on. “We want students to go to school, get a degree, and pursue their dreams in honor of their parents’ sacrifice. We’re not just giving these students a future; we’re giving them a future they want.”
When possible, financial planning for college begins in high school for the scholars. Each scholar is assigned a scholarship administrator; they meet regularly to discuss the student’s financial needs. Children of Fallen Patriots will help high school students pay for college applications, so they don’t feel discouraged from applying to “stretch” schools with high application fees. The foundation also reimburses high school students for SAT and ACT test prep courses. But their scholarship administrators are more than financial consultants. They also serve as mentors and educational counselors, guiding students throughout the application and admission process.
“I want the students to be as well-prepared as possible to take those exams so that they can get into the schools of their choice,” Palmer says.
Ms. Kim notes that students’ needs vary greatly. Some may only need a laptop and some living expense money. But other students are trying to get into schools like Harvard and may need as much as $200,000. That’s why it’s so important for each scholar to receive individual attention and support from a scholarship administrator.
Scholars can attend any school they choose that admits them; they can even study abroad and the scholarship will pay for it. Another way the Children of Fallen Patriots scholarship differs from most other programs: It pays off student loans of scholars who enter the program after they’ve started college. It also permits scholars to transfer to other colleges if they wish.
Once in college, Children of Fallen Patriots also pays scholars a $2,000-per-semester living expense stipend and a $500 book stipend. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Kim says, the foundation stepped up even more when working students or parents lost their jobs and needed additional support.
Financial Support and More
Gacek says he is deeply appreciative of all the financial support he received. “Not a lot of kids get the privilege of graduating debt-free from college,” he notes.
“I have friends who have tons of college debt that really limits their opportunities going forward, because they have to think about getting jobs that might not be what they want but that will help them pay off their debt,” McCloud says. “Whereas I have a lot of freedom to pursue a career in whatever I want without having to worry how much I’m going to make off the bat. It’s a really freeing feeling.”
But, he adds, there’s much more to the Children of Fallen Patriots program than financial support. It’s a program with a very human and caring feeling.
McCloud recalls how his junior year semester abroad in Australia was cut short by the pandemic, and he wound up having to take an additional college semester to graduate. “Children of Fallen Patriots was very generous and helpful to me during that time,” McCloud says. “They were very willing to support me beyond the typical four years. Not many other groups would do that.”
“It’s a great group of people who really care about us,” he says of the scholarship program staff. “It’s a very personal experience.”
Gacek agrees. He remembers one of the biannual scholars’ symposiums he attended in New York City, where students connected with each other and with program alumni, foundation leaders, and donors. They visited the New York Stock Exchange and listened to panel discussions of people talking about their career paths.
One experience that stands out vividly to him, though, is of Ms. Kim mingling with students at a dinner. “She was going around to everyone, asking them their stories,” he says. “It made you feel really cared for.”