Foundation helps Gold Star children earn college degrees
RESTON, Va. — October 27, 2004 is a day that changed Jervon Lemon’s life forever. It’s the day she received news that her father, Staff Sgt. Jerome Lemon, had been killed in Iraq.
“That was very difficult for our family,“ Jervon said. “When that happened, my mind went blank and I was devastated.”
On that Wednesday morning in 2004, Staff Sgt. Lemon — a former South Carolina state trooper — was on his normal routine as a convoy commander with the Army National Guard’s Kingstree-based 1052nd Transportation Company. Jervon said the convoy was ambushed, and her father was killed in his Humvee by an improvised explosive device.
“My father was a jokester,” she said. “He loved to laugh and make others laugh.”
Two years later, Jervon received a phone call from Cynthia Kim, co-founder of Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, with an unexpected offer.
“She said, ‘We want to pay for your undergraduate education,’ ” said Jervon, who is now the mother of a 12-year-old girl. “I looked at the phone, and I’m like, this lady is crazy!
"So I whisper to my Mom, 'this lady says she wants to pay for my undergraduate education.' My Mom said 'you better talk to her now!'”
Children of Fallen Patriots is a charity that provides college scholarships to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. They have granted over $21 million in scholarship money to more than 1,000 students, and more than 400 recipients have graduated since 2002, according to Chris Petrakos, the foundation's development officer.
“The need is still great,” Petrakos said. “At this time, we are running a $32,000 gap in college for our Gold Star students.”
Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation operates from private donations and corporate sponsorship's from the likes of PepsiCo, Iron Mountain Inc. and IHOP restaurants. They estimate that more than 20,000 military children have lost a parent to combat or accidents over the last 35 years.
The success stories of the foundation are evident, when you look at Jervon Lemon. She graduated from South Carolina State University — debt free — with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in December 2010. Shortly after, she attended South University and received her master’s degree in professional counseling. She now enjoys a career working as the scholarship administrator at Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation.
“It’s full circle. It’s a blessing. It’s rewarding. It’s humbling,” she said. “Even though I call them my kids, these are like my sisters and brothers … because I have been (in their shoes), I’ve been where they actually are now.
"I’m able to let them know it’s going to be OK,” she continued. “It might be hard now, but trouble doesn’t last always. It does get better.”