Austin Gallant

By Brian Bowling | The Tribune-Review

Founded by an Army veteran and staffed mainly by veterans and Gold Star families, Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation is on a mission to provide college educations for people who lost a parent due to military service.

To accomplish that goal, the group needs money and it needs to find the people it wants to help, said Megumi Voight, the foundation's development coordinator.

“Anyone can help because we're trying to raise awareness as well as raise money, so something as simple as sharing on social media will help us,” she said.

A study the foundation commissioned a few years ago estimates that there are about 20,000 people who would qualify for the scholarship. The foundation has provided $21.4 million in scholarships to 1,024 students since being founded in 2002. The goal is to raise $500 million to cover all who are believed to qualify.

Charity Navigator gives the Reston, Va.-based nonprofit three out of four stars,

The foundation has been a “monumental” help, said Duquesne University student Austin Gallant of Rockport, Maine. Fallen Patriots has covered about half of his tuition so far, the sophomore said.

Without that help, he would have had to choose a different college or take on more debt than he could probably repay, he said.

“I know it would be hanging over my head for the rest of my life,” said Gallant, who is majoring in psychology and philosophy.

Shawne Allen Gallant, his father, joined the Navy when he was 17 and served on the USS Denver, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock. After he was honorably discharged, he earned a degree in economics from the University of Maine.

Austin Gallant was 2 when his father, at age 38, died of lung cancer that the Department of Veterans Affairs ruled was connected to his shipboard service.

When he and his mother started looking for ways to pay for college, they came across the Fallen Patriots website, he said. He filled out an application and provided documentation of his father's service and death and that was pretty much it, he said.

“I think they want to help as many people who qualify as possible,” he said.

That help includes people who already have gone to college, Voight said. If someone who qualifies for help took out student loans to go to college, the foundation will reimburse them, she said.

The amount the foundation pays depends on the student's need, but averages about $6,250 per year, she said.

That's the average gap between other funding students can get from federal and private student aid and the cost of going to college, Voight said.

The foundation bases eligibility on the VA's determination of whether a death is service-connected, Voight said. That obviously includes military members killed in combat or training exercises but includes others, like Gallant's father, who died of service-connected illnesses.

“Our mission is to provide college scholarship and educational counseling to all Gold Star children,” she said.

Brian Bowling is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1218, bbowling@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TribBrian