PepsiCo’s “Rolling Remembrance” tour rolls into Purchase, supports Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation
An American flag once flown by the U.S. military in Afghanistan completed a 10,000 mile journey Tuesday when it made its final stop on the “Rolling Remembrance” tour at PepsiCo headquarters in Purchase, New York. The fundraiser, now in its seventh year, raises awareness and funds for Children of Fallen Patriots, a nonprofit that works to provide college scholarships and educational counseling to children who lost a parent in the line of duty.
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Chris Heffernan, president of Children of Fallen Patriots, said that the organization aims to provide every child who lost a parent in the line of duty with the opportunity to gain a no-cost post-secondary education. “We will cover everything,” Heffernan said. “Computers, living expenses…everything that goes into college. Our goal is to make sure they graduate debt-free.”
There is no central source that tracks the number of children left behind by military members who died in the line of duty. “No one has a great database, not even the U.S. government,” Heffernan said. Children of Fallen Patriots has sought to fill the gap, working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and individual branches of the U.S. military to identify eligible students.
Alexa Fairis is one of the 2,200 students whose education Children of Fallen Patriots has funded since David and Cynthia Kim founded the organization in 2002. Fairis graduated from Shenandoah University last December with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Fairis was 15 years old when she lost her dad, Brian, a 21-year army veteran, to cancer. “I was really super close to my dad,” Fairis said. “Growing up I played soccer so I spent a lot of time traveling to and from soccer games with him, just jamming out and listening to music.”
Fairis’ dad’s passing left her mother a single parent to four children. Children of Fallen Patriots will cover the costs of post-secondary education for each of the Fairis siblings. “This takes a bad situation and turns it into something good,” Fairis said.
Dependent children of fallen soldiers are eligible for Veterans Affairs benefits, but Heffernan said that those benefits often don’t cover the full cost of college. “We find there’s about a $25,000 shortfall between VA benefits and what it will ultimately cost,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure they graduate debt-free.”
Fairis now works as a scholarship administrator for Children of Fallen Patriots, helping other Gold Star children access the same program she benefited from. The organization hires its college graduate beneficiaries to work as scholarship administrators, connecting with eligible children in their junior year of high school. “What we’re finding is there’s a little bit of magic there because most of these kids have never run into another Gold Star child,” Heffernan said. “Having someone call you who’s on the back side of college, who has made it from where you are, who you’ll talk with every semester…there’s a little bit of counseling that happens there.”
Children of Fallen Patriots quick facts:
- 52% of families earn less than $50K per year
- 33% of families are minorities
- 38% of scholars are first-generation college students
Fairis, Heffernan and their Children of Fallen Patriots colleagues have their work cut out for them. The organization believes there are about 25,000 children who have lost an active duty military parent in the last 35 years. To date, Children of Fallen Patriots has identified around 11,000 of them. “We’re radically short,” Heffernan said.
PepsiCo’s Rolling Remembrance tour aims to close the gap on those two figures, raising awareness for the nonprofit as PepsiCo employees who are U.S. military veterans relay an American flag from coast to coast, making stops at PepsiCo hubs along the way.
"Each leg of this journey has meaning, to the driver, the community and the families of fallen patriots that Rolling Remembrance honors," said Jim Farrell, senior vice president of operations, PepsiCo Beverages North America Central Division and executive sponsor of PepsiCo Valor employee resource group. "By honoring the sacrifices of these military heroes, supporting their families through Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, and recognizing our own military veterans at PepsiCo, we celebrate the important role of veterans in our country and in our company."
For Heffernan, himself a navy veteran, each stop on the 53-stop Rolling Remembrance tour is a chance to change the fates of more military families.
“We just want the kids to dream big,” Heffernan said.