Gold stars line the wall at the front desk at Hawaiian Falls in Roanoke, where visitors and employees contributed hundreds of dollars towards the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. Nicholas Sakelaris Special to the Star-Telegram

Gold stars line the wall at the front desk at Hawaiian Falls in Roanoke, where visitors and employees contributed hundreds of dollars towards the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. Nicholas Sakelaris Special to the Star-Telegram

Just before families took the plunge on the Rip Curl slide or surfed the waves at Breaker Bay at Hawaiian Falls in Roanoke, they would get a quick sales pitch at the front desk.

For a few dollars, they could have a gold star put up on the wall with the proceeds going to the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, which funds scholarships for children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.

Throughout July, the Hawaiian Falls locations in Roanoke, Mansfield, The Colony and Garland supported the program, raising more than $500.

“When our staff bought in and our staff started donating and as people started to see the stars and hear the mission and purpose behind it, our front gate has seen people very quick to respond,” said Ryan Forson, general manager of the Roanoke Hawaiian Falls. “Our park is already geared towards families with smaller children. For our guests, it’s very relative to their lives. They feel connected to that, desiring to see those kids go to school.”

Stars for Scholars partnered with water parks, amusement parks and other entertainment venues across the country this summer to raise money for scholarships. They partnered with 52 locations in 17 states.

The program got the attention of Dion Marketing, which handles public relations and marketing for Hawaiian Falls and got the water park involved. The Hawaiian Falls in Mansfield raised $427.

The program had special meaning for Jason Martin, a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours of duty as a medic in Iraq. Now, he’s the park director for the Hawaiian Falls in Mansfield.

“Unfortunately, I did lose friends as well and they have families,” Martin said. “I’m very passionate about it. I understand the sacrifices families make.”

The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation estimates that up to 20,000 children have lost a parent in service to our country over the last 35 years.

“The government is not tracking every child who has been left behind,” said Cheyenne Gagnon, a public relations specialist with Dion Marketing. “More could be done. Our goal is to make Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation a household name.”

The scholarship eases concerns about college costs and helps prevent these Gold Star children from going into debt. There’s no competition or prerequisites to earn the scholarship; those who qualify just need to fill out a simple application.

The foundation also helps pay for counseling, tutoring and other assistance to help the children through a difficult time.

Haley Hartwick was 10 years old when her father, Michael Hartwick, a chief warrant officer, had his Apache helicopter shot down by enemy fire on a combat mission in Iraq. He received the Air Force Good Conduct Medal and the Kosovo Campaign Medal during his lifetime. He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.

Through the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, Haley was able to honor her hero, her father, by going to Baylor University where she studied social work. Now, she volunteers for the foundation.

“As a Gold Star child myself, it’s amazing to see people come together to make a difference in the lives of so many Gold Star families while having fun,” Hartwick said. “Through past fundraisers, Stars for Scholars has been able to provide eight years of college for our Fallen Patriots scholars. To put it in perspective, that’s two Gold Star children attending the four-year university of their dreams — that’s simply amazing. I am so excited to see what’s this year’s campaign brings.”

She has also volunteered with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the Knights of Heroes and Freedom Alliance.

The North Texas Hawaiian Falls locations will likely participate in the program next year, too, Forson said.

“With DFW being the fifth largest market in the country, the exposure to thousands of families visiting Hawaiian Falls in July who saw the materials and were exposed to the fundraiser will help them identify more military children of the fallen for a scholarship, one of the best ways they feel they can honor fallen service men and women,” said Julie Dion, president of Dion Marketing.

To make a donation, go to www.fallenpatriots.org/starsforscholars

 Customers enjoy the ride at Hawaiian Falls in Roanoke. The water park in July helped raise money for the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, which funds scholarships for children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. Hawaiian Falls Courtesy

Customers enjoy the ride at Hawaiian Falls in Roanoke. The water park in July helped raise money for the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, which funds scholarships for children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. Hawaiian Falls Courtesy