By Caroline Williams
This year 600 military children “cashed in” years of sacrifice and hard work in classrooms and homes across America and overseas for a $1,500 scholarship from the Scholarships for Military Children Program. The scholarship program kicked off in 2001 and, according to Defense Commissary Agency officials, has awarded a total of more than $6.4 million dollars in scholarships to more than 4,000 of the best and brightest children of military families. The program is funded by the public at large and manufacturers, distributors and brokers that provide products and service to commissaries.
“Military families sacrifice so much in service to our country,” said DeCA Director and Chief Executive Officer Philip E. Sakowitz Jr. “Military children must learn to adapt with each permanent change of station, tackling the challenges of a new curriculum with each school they attend.” In fact, according to Military Child Education Coalition research, “military children generally move from six to nine times during their ‘K-12’ school years. Many make multiple moves during high school years alone, some even during their senior year. Academic standards, courses, access to programs, promotion and graduation requirements, programs for children with special needs, and transfer and acceptance of records vary greatly from state to state and even from school to school. These frustrations, in addition to giving up friends and associates with whom a rapport has been established, cause anxiety. Separation from a deployed parent (or parents) raises an additional issue.” Yet despite these hardships, the well-rounded quality of the scholarship applicants suggests that military children flourish academically.
“The average GPA of the applicants is 3.8 to 3.9,” said Bernard Coté, president of Scholarship Managers, a professional firm that screens and awards scholarships for more than 400 programs. “This is the finest field of applicants among the scholarship programs that we manage. The students are excellent, the grades are high, but in addition to that, their participation in school and community activities is overwhelming.”
According to DeCA officials, the scholarship program is a wonderful opportunity for commissaries to get involved in the lives of military families in a very practical and meaningful way, and to honor the sacrifices they make in serving our country. Military children have responded enthusiastically, to the tune of nearly 46,000 applications in the eight years since the program began.
The scholarship program is part of the commissary’s overall spirit of promoting quality of life for service members and their families, especially stretching their military paychecks. The commissary prides itself on offering customers a savings of 30 percent or more on their grocery bill as compared to grocery stores “outside the gate.” The scholarship program is the “cherry on top” of the sundae of savings, giving earnest, hard-working children of military families an opportunity to put a $1,500 scholarship toward tuition rather than having to dig into their pockets for the money.
Retired Marine Lt. Col. Fred Thomas’s son Mark earned a scholarship in 2001. He said he’s still paying for his son’s undergraduate tuition, but every scholarship helps. “[This scholarship] was one more piece that allowed my son to attend a top university and excel by not having to work his way through,” Thomas said. Mark posted a 3.96 grade point average upon graduating from the University of Notre Dame, with a Bachelor of Arts in theology, music and philosophy. He is presently a Senator Jacob K. Javits fellow at Boston College, working on a doctorate of philosophy in religion.
A sampling of scholarship recipients from the 2001 and 2002 seasons reveals that they have put the scholarship money to good use:
Eleanor Carr earned a bachelor’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution with a minor in Spanish at American University, Washington, D.C. She is currently a first-year graduate student studying international law at Columbia University, New York, N.Y., and has earned a full grant to do human rights work abroad this summer.
Kendy Hornack earned a bachelor’s degree in international business and finance, graduating summa cum laude from the University of South Florida, Tampa. She is a Fulbright scholar studying European central bank policy and the euro’s effect on the German economy.
Shannon Banks earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro. She is preparing to apply to medical school.
Michael Anthony Berl earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. He is serving as an officer in the Naval Civil Engineer Corps, Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, Miss., and is presently deployed to Guam and Iraq.
Renee Simon earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Ala. She is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force analyzing data from infrared satellites.
Nichole Finklea earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. She is serving at a Christian children’s home in South Africa, assisting elementary teachers, and tutoring and teaching English to children abandoned and orphaned by the scourge of AIDS.
Beth Mabry earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a sociology minor at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is working on a master’s degree in pastoral studies with an emphasis in family ministry at Multnomah Biblical Seminary, Portland, Ore. She plans to work with Malachi Ministries, an organization that serves the military chaplaincy ministering to military family members in Japan and Germany.
“It’s accomplishments like these that make all of us involved with the program enormously proud,” said Jim Weiskopf, executive vice president of communications for Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that builds comfort homes near military medical facilities. “Hearing personal stories of success from scholarship recipients from the first two seasons is evidence of what we instinctively knew – that the program gives military children an opportunity to do great things.”
Fisher House Foundation underwrites administration of the program through Scholarship Managers. Neither Fisher House nor DeCA are involved in the decision process.
The 2009 Scholarships for Military Children season kicks off Nov. 1, 2008. For more information about the program, check out DeCA’s Web site at http://www.commissaries.com or the Military Scholar Web site at http://www.militaryscholar.org.
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. Shoppers save an average of more than 30 percent on their purchases compared to commercial prices – savings worth about $3,000 annually for a family of four. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.