"He was extremely smart, extremely talented. He was a young pilot, and you think about all that potential, and you look at that life and think, where could he be right now," she said Monday morning as she reflected on losing him three years after being married and 11 short months after her father died on his Army convoy home from Baghdad.
Her grief is one lived out through hope, she said. That's why she felt "blessed" to take part in a news conference at which Stamford-based Cengage Learning announced it would partner with the Children of Fallen Patriot's Foundation to establish a scholarship that would aid college students who had a military parent die in the line of duty.
"It's estimated that more than 15,000 children have lost a parent to combat or accidents over the last 25 years. Thirty-five-hundred of those stemming from the war on terror," Cengage Learning Executive Chairman Ron Dunn said.
To date, the Greenwich-based Children of Fallen Patriot's Foundation has given out $3.8 million in scholarship funding for 272 college-aged children, Dunn said.
Cengage's additional funding will provide the foundation with enough money to award scholarships to about four new students each year, said the foundation's co-founder Cynthia Kim. With an average need of about $5,000 a year, the students usually receive between $25,000 and $26,000 throughout the course of their college careers, and the funding can be applied to any of the costs of college, including room and board, books or tuition.
It might seem like a small bit of help in a world where the void of a parent is felt constantly for the young college students. But eliminating the need to take on debt for college is "incredibly meaningful," Kim said.
"This changes their lives, and their parents were willing to do whatever they could to give them a better life. They took on a very dangerous job, and we just want to step in and secure a great future for them that their lost loved ones wanted to give them," she said just before the announcement.
During the morning news conference at UConn Stamford, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who has donated to the foundation, spoke about the importance of providing the financial aid for the students.
"For those who have already benefitted, the transformation of their lives goes way beyond the statistics and beyond the money," Blumenthal said. "It's easy in a world of billions and trillions of dollars to focus on the dollar signs, but what we have here is really human potential that will be enhanced as a result of this very, very important program that keeps faith with young men and women who sacrificed and served to keep us free and who are models of service and sacrifice for all of us."
After the conference, he spoke in more personal terms.
"As a parent, I know that my deepest love and concern is with my own children and their future. If men and women in uniform know that their children will be assisted in education it will really give them a lot of peace of mind. In other words, it really is one of the most meaningful things that we can do for fallen warriors -- to make sure that their children are provided for in education," said Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate's Committee on Armed Services.
For youths, the loss of a parent at a young age can create chaos, turning previously laid plans into a series of question marks. But Bonilla said she hopes the students who benefit from the new scholarships will find knowledge, peace and happiness in the future their parents sacrificed their lives to guarantee.
"When you go through something, you do what you have to do. And I think everybody has that in them. To do what they have to do," she said. "And grieving is hard, and you should allow yourself to fall apart. And you should allow yourself what you need to get through your process. But at the end of the day, you're going to find the inner strength and inner beauty."
And for those who earn the scholarship, they'll also find new potential and possibilities, she said.
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