In 2010, when Maria was in 8th grade her father, Stephen Carney, passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease only two years after he was diagnosed. Her father served in the United States Coast Guard for 21 years, and retired as a Senior Chief. Many of those years, he proudly served as a fire chief where he was exposed to and inhaled different chemicals, and his disease and eventual death was ruled in the line of duty.

Processing paperwork took several years, but Maria’s family was told that her full college tuition would be taken care of, and then during the end of her senior year of high school she was told she’d only receive a certain amount each month. At this point, the VA told her about Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. She called the organization, and they have stepped in to fill the gap between her benefits and the cost of attending New Mexico State University.

“My father's diagnosis had been one of the most difficult things in life for me. My family and I had watched helplessly as one of the strongest and most caring individuals deteriorated in front of us. Not only was he a father but he was also one of my best friends. He taught me so much. From playing catch with me in the yard, to helping me with my homework, he was always there for me. It was extremely difficult after the diagnosis because we realized he wouldn't be able to experience my upcoming life events; but he also made it clear that in life I need to accomplish my dreams and push myself to my full potential. If it wasn’t for Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, I would be unable to attend New Mexico State University, and would have done a few years at community college and then stayed in-state. I’m so grateful for their help, and that they are taking away what would have been a large financial burden.”

As a teenager, she helped her mother care for her father, which spawned her dream of wanting to become a Nurse Practitioner. She claims some of the best advice she had received from her father is to do what it takes to get an education and always remember to follow her dreams.