Kelli Campbell has had her fair share of sleepless nights. Her husband, Marine Maj. Shawn Campbell, had deployed to the Middle East three times in his Marine Corps career, but on an ordinary Thursday night at his home station two years ago, there was little reason to doubt he’d return home safely.
Shawn left home in the late afternoon on Jan. 14, 2016, for a routine night training mission flying his beloved CH-53E near Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
But training turned to tragedy when, just before midnight, Shawn’s helicopter collided with another CH-53E near the North Shore of Oahu. Twelve Marines were killed. The Campbell family was broken.
“It knocked the ground out from under us,” Kelli Campbell recalled.
Immediately, the family fell back on the plan Kelli and her husband had established long ago — if anything were to ever happen to Shawn, the family would head to Kansas City, Missouri, where Kelli’s parents lived.
So Kelli and her four children picked up and left Hawaii, leaving behind the military and church communities they called home.
Several months passed and Kelli decided in March it was time for her four children, who had all been homeschooled, to resume their education.
“As a homeschooler, it was all on my shoulders and I had to keep schooling them, but I didn’t know how,” Kelli said.
“I just didn’t know where to start. Here I was, a Marine’s wife without a Marine, a homeschooling mom without a home, so I was lost.”
The same day Kelli prayed for help, she received a call from a friend who was also a Marine wife. The friend recommended the Campbell children pick up the rest of the semester at Whitefield Academy, a privately run Christian school in Kansas City.
The school ended up being a perfect fit, and thanks to a military survivors nonprofit called Folds of Honor, the Campbell kids have been there ever since.
Folds of Honor, an Oklahoma-based charity, provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled service members. Founded by Maj. Dan Rooney, a former Air Force F-16 fighter pilot with three combat tours in Iraq, the organization has awarded more than 16,000 scholarships in all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“Our mantra is to honor the sacrifice and educate the legacy of the families of our fallen and disabled veterans,” Rooney said.
“Education is the ultimate force multiplier in your life, whether you’re in the military or not. From that perspective, I think education is the most powerful resource that we can provide to these families that have been impacted by their service.”
Folds of Honor has two scholarship programs ― one for students enrolled in grades K-12 and another for military survivors pursuing an undergraduate degree. Each scholarship is worth $5,000. Recipients can re-apply each year, and Rooney says Folds will often support survivors throughout the course of their education.
One of Folds of Honor’s biggest financial backers is Budweiser. This year for Memorial Day, the beer maker will continue raising money for the veterans group by rolling out a beer — Freedom Reserve Red Lager — that was inspired by a handwritten recipe found in George Washington’s military journal. The company will donate proceeds from the new beer to support Folds of Honor.
Come July, Folds of Honor will have given out more than $100 million in scholarship funds throughout its 11 years of service. Rooney said Folds is now receiving more scholarship applications than it can support, but the organization is committed to growing until it can provide educational assistance to all those military survivors who need it.
“We want to get to a place where we’re not sending out rejection letters,” Rooney said. “Our commitment to leave no family behind on the field of battle is what wakes us up every day and we’ll keep fighting the good fight and we’ll see where God takes us.”
Scholarships from Folds of Honor have allowed Kelli’s three oldest children ― Tristan, 14, Kenna, 11, and Kate, 9 ― to continue attending Whitefield Academy, where they are provided with the educational, extracurricular and personal support they need.
“It’s more than school for them ― it’s their counseling, and their friends, and it’s just been everything,” Kelli said. “The teachers really care about their hearts, and not just their grades. They are grieving, and they have time and space to give them that, to slow down and just sit with them, if that’s what they need. You wouldn’t find that just anywhere.”
The youngest Campbell, Donovan, will join his siblings at Whitefield when he turns 5 next year. Kelli said one of the greatest blessings of the Folds of Honor scholarships is that they have allowed her children to stay together at a time when they need each other most.
“I don’t know if I would be struggling to figure out how to continue homeschooling or if they would all be at four separate public schools, which to me would have just been devastating, to go from being such a close family unit and doing everything together,” Kelli said.
“We just wanted them to have consistency, we wanted them to be together, so because of Folds I’ve been able to continue that, and that would have been one more thing they would have lost.”