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UMGC Global Media Center  Kahlert Foundation Gift Expands Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program

Mary Dempsey
By Mary Dempsey
Rich Blewitt established the Pillars of Strength Scholarships 10 years ago.

Pillars of Strength Scholarship recipients at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) compare their lives to juggling acts. They are military wives caring for husbands with debilitating war wounds—sometimes physical, sometimes mental, sometimes both. They are teenagers who delayed their college journey to assist parents disabled in combat. They are men who have set aside their career plans to care for military spouses who are struggling with injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

They are people whose lives have been disrupted in far-reaching ways.

Since its inception in 2013, the program—which covers full tuition, fees and required course  materials—has named 69 caregivers of servicemembers and veterans as Pillars of Strength Scholarship recipients. A new $100,000 grant from The Kahlert Foundation makes it possible for a greater number of scholarships to be awarded each year.

“Pillars of Strength Scholarships bring together two issues with which The Kahlert Foundation is deeply engaged: military veterans and education,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “This wonderful gift will allow more caregivers to pursue degrees that match their career aspirations and fulfill their passions.

“By investing in the academic journeys of remarkable caregivers, the foundation is transforming lives and forging stronger futures for our military families,” he added.

Academic degrees can be essential in underpinning the financial security of a military family.  An injury can derail a military career, and the G.I. Bill does not provide specific educational benefits for caregivers. Pillars of Strength is designed to fill that gap.

UMGC launched Pillars of Strength with initial funding from The Blewitt Foundation and support of the National Military Family Association. In addition, the Yellow Ribbon Fund sponsored the program from 2013 through 2017. When it began, the hope was that outside funding would gradually enable an increase in the number of scholarships offered annually.  

“Caregivers are a population of the military community that are sometimes forgotten, and we are thrilled to be able to help make it easier for them to earn a degree, have a career and live a fulfilling life,” said Ellen Finnerty Myers, executive director of The Kahlert Foundation in Maryland. The foundation also has operations in Utah.

Pillars of Strength Scholarships are competitive, and each applicant must be a spouse, parent, stepparent, sibling, step sibling, fiancé, child, stepchild or friend of a servicemember or veteran who was wounded, injured or became ill in the line-of-duty after Sept. 11, 2001. UMGC’s fully online degree programs allows family members who serve as caregivers the flexibility they need to earn college credit on their own schedules.

Pillars of Strength Scholarship recipients often take classes at UMGC while continuing their caregiver responsibilities.

Since the program started, 26 recipients have completed degrees; another 28 are currently pursuing degrees.

The Kahlert Foundation was created in 1991 to provide grants to nonprofit organizations that improve the quality of life and well-being of the community through work related to health care, education, youth programs, veteran organizations and human services. Originally focused on Maryland, where it is one of the state’s largest private foundations, The Kahlert Foundation expanded to Utah in 2015.

The education of servicemembers is a core component of UMGC’s mission. Pillars of Strength Scholarships recognize that the spouses, children and other members of each military family also make sacrifices for the nation.

“We’re grateful for this generous gift from The Kahlert Foundation,” says UMGC Vice President of Institutional Advancement Cathy Sweet. “It will help us put education within the reach of many deserving caregivers.”