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Scholarship helps family members when soldiers die in war


Casey Duffy never pictured herself at the age of 28, raising a three-year-old son on her own and worrying about her family’s future. Then her husband Christopher Duffy, a 26-year-old National Guardsman, was killed in Baghdad when his convoy came under attack.

“I thought I would be home with my children and my husband would come back, and he would work,” said Duffy, a Bricktown resident. “That was the plan, but it didn’t work out that way.”

Duffy, who used to teach at a preschool before her husband was killed in June 2004, realized that job wouldn’t cover the bills. She needed to get her teaching certificate.

Now, thanks in part to a scholarship provided by the New Jersey League of Community Bankers, she can.

The organization, a trade association of community banks doing business in the state, has raised $250,000 to help dependents of troops who have died because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is reaching out to prospective applicants who may need their help.

The scholarship is open to spouses or children of deceased troops, said James Meredith, the league’s executive vice president.

According to a casualty count kept by The Associated Press, 64 servicemen and women with ties to New Jersey have been killed in connection with the war in Iraq and eight in connection with the war in Afghanistan.

However, more people could potentially be eligible for the scholarship since the only requirement is that the dead service member, their spouse or children must have some connection with the Garden State, such as being raised or stationed here.

Applicants can use the money for college or other types of education such as vocational school; applications are accepted throughout the year.

The scholarship was the brainchild of Robert Stilwell, President and CEO of Boiling Springs Savings Bank, in Rutherford, N.J. Stilwell said the idea came to him as he read about families whose loved ones died and wondered how they would cope in the future. Helping them continue with their education seemed like a good way to say thank you for their family’s sacrifice.

“You’re never going to replace the loss that these people have suffered,” Stilwell said. “But if in some way you can help them pull through…that’s all I guess we can hope for.”

About half of the League’s 71 members contributed to the fund, said Meredith.

So far, Casey Duffy is the only person to apply for the scholarship. Duffy, who now attends Georgian Court University in Lakewood, estimated that the organization contributed between $1,500 and $2,000 during this spring semester and last fall. The money was used to cover tuition and book costs that weren’t covered by benefits she received from the federal government as the widow of a soldier.

“It’s very expensive,” said Duffy, adding that without the scholarship money, she might have had to take out loans or work part-time while going to school. “It just allows me to concentrate on my schoolwork and my son.”

The League has been working with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to get the word out to families of deceased servicemen and women by contacting high schools and colleges across the state, and taking out advertisements in local newspapers.

Since many of the prospective recipients of the scholarship are still too young to even contemplate college, League officials said they are planning to have the scholarship around for a long time.

As for Casey Duffy, she is on track to graduate in about a year, and can apply for as much help as she needs from the League’s scholarship fund.

“We’re planning to see her through to the end,” Meredith said.

–Associated Press

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