MGM National Harbor to host June 28 ceremony and reception to honor five scholarship recipients who are helping loved ones recover from serious injuries sustained while serving in the military.
ADELPHI, Md. (June 15, 2017)—The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program has selected five caregivers of severely injured servicemembers to receive full scholarships to attend University of Maryland University College (UMUC).
The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program was created in 2013 specifically to help these exceptional volunteers—often spouses, friends or parents who sacrifice their own careers—reclaim their educational opportunity through full scholarships to complete undergraduate or graduate studies at UMUC.
The scholarships are made possible through a partnership of The Blewitt Foundation and the Yellow Ribbon Fund, in association with UMUC, the nation’s premier global provider of higher education to the U.S. military since 1947.
A ceremony and reception for the new scholarship recipients, sponsored by MGM Resorts International, will be held at MGM National Harbor's ARIA Meeting Room on June 28, from 4 to 6 p.m.
MGM Resorts International has a long history of support for our military servicemembers and veterans, both internally and in the communities where they do business.
Richard F. Blewitt, founder of The Blewitt Foundation, said in announcing the 2017 class: “These five new scholars—like the 10 recipients that came before them—demonstrate exceptional courage and sacrifice in helping their loved ones recover from serious injuries. Higher education can play a pivotal role in transforming their lives and helping to provide a path to a fulfilling career and a more secure financial future for them and their families.”
The Pillars of Strength Class of 2017 includes:
Secret Brutley, whose husband served in the Navy for eight years, with tours overseas and service that led to a combat action ribbon and an honorable discharge. Shortly after separating from the Navy, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). He suffers from the side effects of TBI including attention deficit, mood swings, memory problems and frustration .
“As a caregiver, I’m not only his wife, I am his memory, security, and sensible thoughts. I am the foundation of our family,” said Brutley, of White Plains, Maryland, who also works full time and cares for the couple’s three children, ages 11, 8 and 5.
With the benefit of the full scholarship, Brutley is considering several options, including a master’s degree in Cybersecurity Management and Policy, or a master’s degree in Homeland Security Management.
Brutley says she is truly honored and thankful to be a recipient of this award. Her perseverance is what she wants her children to see, and continues to remind them that "they can do whatever they believe in. Regardless of the obstacles, you find ways to overcome obstacles and to create opportunities that will allow you to achieve your goals." She would like to give back to the military in some aspect by assisting veterans and caregivers.
She said she also knows she alone could not carry the weight of the family but recognizes a higher power that gives her the strength to "do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Hilda Buah-Mensah’s husband Samuel suffered a stroke while serving with the Navy in Japan and was medically evacuated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on June 1, 2016. After suffering additional strokes and a heart attack, her husband now experiences cognitive communication deficits, visual neglect syndrome and difficulty with activities of daily living. Both of their families live in West Africa, so Buah-Mensah serves as her husband’s sole family support system.
Buah-Mensah, who is currently residing in Bethesda, Maryland, earned a degree in management studies from the University of Cape-Coast in Ghana and worked with the Ghanaian Social Security Administration and, with the Pillars of Strength Scholarship, hopes to complete a master’s degree in Management Information Systems.
“I am so excited to be chosen for this scholarship,” Buah-Mensah said. “My husband will be retiring and he was the main income earner and the family's support. Now, the burden will be on me. It will be up to me to support him. What a great opportunity it is for our lives to turn around and help others. It is such an honor. We are very grateful to God and to UMUC, Yellow Ribbon Fund and Blewitt Foundation for this marvelous opportunity.”
Cara Novas’ husband was discharged from the Marine Corps in August 2011, after suffering a gunshot wound to the shoulder during combat duty in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and a class II concussion when his vehicle struck an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Her husband, Junior, has experienced muscle and bone loss from the shoulder injury and endured debilitating migraines and short-term memory loss from the concussion.
After she witnessed firsthand the struggles that many veterans and their families go through on a daily basis, Novas, of New Bern, North Carolina, decided to leave a successful international consulting career and joined the Marine Corps herself. Since commissioning as a second lieutenant in June 2015, she not only has made it her personal mission to support her fellow Marines, but also the spouses, families and others that sacrifice so much in serving alongside their servicemember.
“With the struggles my husband went through and the experience I had in trying to support him, I want to use my knowledge and his knowledge to help other Marines,” Novas said. “We both now have relevant perspective. I have had Marines who have been discharged with injuries and it’s hard on them and their families. My husband has helped them by talking to them about his experiences.”
As a communications officer, Novas hopes to use her scholarship to earn a master’s degree in Cybersecurity Management and Policy. “This degree will give me an option to continue to serve in the Marine Corps or pursue a meaningful career in the civilian world,” Novas said.
Noelle Savage, whose husband planned to make the military his career, until a diagnosis of bipolar depression after a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan and his brother’s sudden accidental death, which deepened his depression, conspired to destroy those dreams and threaten his life. He continues to struggle with severe PTS and bipolar depression, and also is now recovering from two hip surgeries related to injuries suffered during his military service.
The couple, who reside in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, have one daughter, and Savage is balancing her obligations as a wife, mother, caregiver, and full-time student. She graduated this spring with a degree in Health Care Administration from Liberty University and with the Pillars of Strength scholarship plans to pursue a master’s degree in the same field.
Savage’s experience with her husband has inspired her to help other servicemembers. “I want to work with the military to help make it easier to get the care they need,” she said. “By seeing things firsthand, I can be in a better position to help.”
The daughter of Rachel Williams suffered an injury during basic training, but was not properly diagnosed and treated until she was stationed in Germany. Williams, who has been her daughter’s primary caregiver, said recovery has been a long road for her daughter, who has undergone more than seven surgeries and has developed a neurological disorder that doctors believe was triggered by the anesthesia.
Williams, who has four other children, spent 2 ½ years with her daughter at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but is now home with her in Merrimac, Massachusetts. “My five children are grown and once my daughter’s situation is more stable, I would like to pursue my master’s degree in the field of psychology,” Williams said. “The scholarship will help me earn a degree that can also help my daughter. I also would like to give back by helping wounded warriors or staying involved with caregiver groups.”
About The Blewitt Foundation
The Blewitt Foundation supports military families experiencing severe injuries, and invites financial support to assist the foundation in carrying out its mission for special men and women who are suffering—and who, with their families, have sacrificed so much for all of us. Our mission is based on the belief that military family members serve, as well.
About the Yellow Ribbon Fund
Since 2005, the Yellow Ribbon Fund has provided practical support for injured service members and their families while they are recovering in the Washington, D.C., area and after they return to their hometowns. The Bethesda, Maryland, based nonprofit offers free rental cars, cab rides, hotels, career and educational mentoring, massages for family caregivers, family-friendly outings, and more.
About University of Maryland University College
A pioneer in distance education since 1947, University of Maryland University College is a world leader in innovative education models, with award-winning online programs in workforce-relevant areas such as cybersecurity, biotechnology, data analytics, and information technology. Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, UMUC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of adult students whose responsibilities often include jobs, families, and military service. Today, UMUC is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver high quality education that is accessible, affordable, and valued. UMUC is a constituent institution of the University System of Maryland (USM) and governed by the USM Board of Regents.
About MGM Resorts International
MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) is among the world’s leading entertainment companies. With national and international locations featuring best-in-class hotels and casinos, state-of-the-art meetings and conference spaces, incredible live and theatrical entertainment experiences, and an inspired array of restaurant and retail offerings, MGM Resorts creates immersive, iconic experiences through its suite of Las Vegas-inspired brands. The MGM Resorts portfolio includes 15 of the most recognizable hospitality and resort brands throughout 27 locations. The company is expanding throughout the U.S. and around the world, recently opening MGM National Harbor in Maryland and very soon, MGM Springfield in Massachusetts and MGM COTAI in Asia. The 77,000 global employees of MGM Resorts are proud to be recognized as one of FORTUNE® Magazine’s World’s Most Admired Companies®. For more information visit us at www.mgmresorts.com.