Military Family

Scholarships Honor Military Service and Sacrifice
The Patriot Foundation received $13 million in COVID-19 recovery funds to help military families and disabled veterans afford higher education

Kennedy Johnson has always loved sports. She excelled as a student athlete in high school, playing soccer, volleyball, and basketball. Off the court, her dream was to become the first in her family to earn a college degree. The first step was being accepted to UNC-Chapel Hill, where she could turn her passion into a career by majoring in Exercise and Sports Science. The next step was more difficult.

Student at UNC-Chapel Hill
As the daughter of a disabled veteran, Kennedy Johnson qualified for the North Carolina Patriot Star Family Recovery Scholarship to help bridge the gap between financial aid.

“Financially I just knew it wasn’t something I could do on my own,” says Johnson.

As the daughter of an Army veteran and purple heart recipient, Johnson understood sacrifice and was prepared to work her way through college and take on student loans if necessary. She was about to begin her freshman year in 2022 when she learned about the North Carolina Patriot Star Family Recovery Scholarship and decided to apply. Johnson was among the first recipients, earning up to $6,500 per semester towards tuition and fees to bridge the gap between financial aid.

“I’m able to achieve success in furthering my education without the financial burden. I can focus on school completely.”

She’s now completed nearly four semesters, debt free. The scholarship also freed up the time necessary for other valuable experiences, including a student internship with the UNC Tar Heels football program.

Disabled Veterans & Family Members Can Receive Academic Scholarships

The North Carolina Patriot Star Family Recovery Scholarship is supported by $13 million from the State’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, an economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in 2021. The scholarship is intended to help military and veteran families, and disabled veterans, afford higher education, while navigating the economic uncertainty and learning loss attributed to COVID-19.

Qualifications include:

  • Child or spouse of a fallen service member or disabled veteran, children of injured active-duty service members, or a disabled veteran with a VA disability rating of at least 50%.
  • North Carolina residents accepted to or currently attending in-state post-secondary institutions.
  • Household income less than 350% of the federal poverty level.

Patriot Foundation oversees the program with oversight from the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office. While the nonprofit has been providing similar scholarships for over 20 years, the State’s investment expanded its reach at a critical point.

“Education is more important than ever,” says Kim Gilley, Patriot Foundation President and CEO. “It can help increase your ability to support yourself and your family, even in the face of a crisis. The impacts will go on for generations.”

Since the scholarship began in fall 2022, nearly 300 people have benefitted across 45 colleges and universities. Funding is available through December 2026, with applications reopening each spring and fall. Gilley says it’s inspiring to see how many lives have already been positively impacted.

“When you read the essays that some of the recipients and scholarship applicants have written, you need a tissue box,” says Gilley.

Higher Education Eases Transition to the Civilian Workforce

Male and Female soldier
Angie Oliva (right) served in the U.S. Army for 22 years before retiring due to a medical condition. She is classified as 100% disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Like Johnson, most scholarship recipients are children of disabled veterans. But it also supports many disabled veterans as they transition into the civilian workforce. If Angie Oliva hadn’t developed a medical condition, she might still be in Fort Liberty leading one of the Army’s most prestigious intelligence programs. But after 22 years of service, Oliva found she was no longer physically able to serve and made the difficult decision to retire in 2022. She’s rated 100% disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“That took a big toll on me,” says Oliva. “It was a dark time.”

She found healing in farming, and a chance at a new career, through the sustainable agriculture program at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro. In addition to classroom instruction, Oliva works on the student farm to gain hands-on experience by growing food for the campus and community. She’s using her scholarship to fully fund her final semester and will graduate this May.

woman on farm
Angie Oliva is using the North Carolina Patriot Star Family Recovery Scholarship to earn an associate degree in sustainable agriculture at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro.

“Being a student means that you’re taking a risk, especially when you’re doing something new,” says Oliva. “Having the support of the American people as you’re making this huge transition back into society lets veterans know that someone is behind them, that they do matter.”

Oliva plans to pursue her bachelor’s degree in the same field. She encourages other disabled veterans to seize the unique opportunity presented by the North Carolina Patriot Star Family Recovery Scholarship, so they too can find new ways to serve their country and their futures. Johnson echoes a similar message to the children of fallen or disabled veterans.

“I encourage all military children who have a dream of getting a college education but feel discouraged, like they can't financially afford it,” says Johnson. “Just put yourself out there and reach out.”

Learn more about the NC Patriot Star Family Recovery Scholarship

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