PINEHURST, N.C. – Six-year-old Ellie Bauguess is the only one in her class with a college scholarship.
Both Ellie and her 8-year-old sister, Ryann, received partial scholarships to attend the universities of their choice when they graduate from high school.
The Pinehurst, N.C.-based Patriot Foundation awarded the scholarships in memory of the girls’ father, Maj. Larry Bauguess of the 82nd Airborne Division, who was killed in May 2007 in Pakistan.
Maj. Bauguess, who was stationed in Afghanistan at the time, had been participating in a peace meeting when Pakistani security forces opened fire, says his wife, Wesley Bauguess of Fort Bragg.
“The Patriot Foundation hasn’t forgotten,” she says. “They have such a genuine interest in our fallen soldiers and the families that are left behind.”
The foundation provides scholarships for the children of current, retired and former Army Special Operations soldiers, as well as children of soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division who were killed while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Since its inception in 2003, the foundation has provided a total of $220,000 to about 175 children.
In 2008, the foundation was able to donate $100,000, which it divided equally between the Unit Scholarship Fund, for children of army special operations soldiers, and the All American Strategic Response Force, for children whose fathers died in Iraq or Afghanistan while serving in the 82nd Airborne Division.
This year, the foundation hopes to double this gift with the help of its corporate sponsors, including BB&T, Wal-Mart, Restaurant Management Group, Shell Oil and Prism Medical Ltd.
Little Caesar’s, Boddie Noell and TD Ameritrade are expected to come on board in 2009.
Chuck Deleot, executive director of the Patriot Foundation and a retired Naval Reserve captain, launched the effort five years ago with several friends to pay tribute to the men and women serving in the armed forces.
“When the country has a problem, these are the guys that end up being tasked to take care of it,” he says. “This is the least we can do.”
More than 200 children a year are eligible to receive scholarships from the foundation.
However, only half of these children are able to get assistance.
Ultimately, Deleot says, the foundation aims to provide enough money to send all eligible children to North Carolina public universities, or the equivalent in their state, for four years.
“I liken this to getting a flywheel moving,” Deleot says. “It takes a while to get it going, but once you do, you can take advantage of the momentum.”
Though the foundation was able to start an endowment of more than $18,000, it devotes nearly all of the funds it raises to the children of service members.
“Current need is so compelling that we’re driven to put most of what we bring in into the scholarships,” Deleot says.
Every year in October, the foundation holds the National Patriot Senior Invitational Charity Pro-Am, a golf tournament attended by many professional senior players.
In 2008, the event raised nearly $13,000 for college scholarships.
On the first day of each tournament, the foundation holds a dinner honoring troops and Gold Star mothers, whose children receive the scholarships.
The foundation currently has Gold Star mothers in 23 states and one U.S. territory.
At the 2008 dinner, Wesley Bauguess received the Patriot honoree award for her work with the Wounded Warrior Committee, which she founded in September 2007 to deliver comfort items to wounded soldiers in several army medical centers throughout the U.S.
Every fleece, rain jacket and pair of shorts the committee gives to a wounded soldier is emblazoned with the logo of the 82nd Airborne Division.
“Sometimes they feel disconnected, and we try to make them feel like they’re not forgotten,” she says.
The Patriot Foundation has done the same for her by honoring her husband, whom she met while they served in ROTC at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.
“Just to remember is the greatest gift that anyone can give,” she says.
Though she says Ryann and Ellie might not fully grasp the magnitude of the gift they received from the foundation, they love college football and are starting to talk about their futures in college.
“They are stronger than I give them credit for sometimes,” Bauguess says. “And they are so proud of their daddy.”