There are currently about one million dependents in the USA who have had a relative killed or disabled in the line of duty. Eighty five percent of those dependents do not receive federal aid or assistance. Through the kind-hearted efforts of passionate people, the Folds of Honor foundation was established to provide college scholarships to assist those aspiring students suddenly facing an uncertain future.
Sarah White lost her father in 1995 when his F-15 fighter plane crashed during a routine training exercise while the family was on vacation celebrating Easter. After the accident, White recalled that someone told her mother that she wouldn’t have to worry about paying for her two children’s higher education as a single mother. “We weren’t able to find much financial aid that was for military families in our situation,” White said during our phone conversation following her speech at SHOT Show. During the show, Bushnell donated $200,000 to the Folds of Honor scholarship.
White was fortunate to have found the scholarship through search engines online, but five years ago, a scholarship like this was unheard of. It all goes back to one fateful flight, a fighter pilot returning from duty and golfers. When Major Dan Rooney landed in Michigan as he was flying back from duty in Afghanistan, an announcement came on the loudspeaker for passengers to remain seated until Corporal Brock Bucklin exited the aircraft.
Major Rooney watched the casket being lowered with Bucklin’s remains to meet his waiting wife and young son on the platform. In that moment he had an epiphany as he thought of the fate of his own wife and child contrasted with that of the Bucklins. And so, to provide an educational opportunity for fallen or disabled soldiers’ families, Major Rooney spawned an effort called Patriot Golf Day that would later fund the newly established Folds of Honor Foundation, of which Jacob Green, Corporal Bucklin’s son, was the first recipient.
“When you reach out to help someone in need, you’re actually the one being helped,” said Major Rooney. That was the fuel for the foundation which began with golfers in Grand Haven, Michigan who donated their spare change during a tournament and raised $8,000 on their first attempt before the foundation was officially established. To date, the Folds of Honor Foundation has raised more than $10 million in scholarships to more than 2,650 recipients. Through the help of ongoing donations from golfers, and big businesses like Bushnell, Budweiser, Ralph Lauren and more, Major Rooney hopes to award 1,000 scholarships in 2012.
“We are a small organization that’s very proud of just getting the dollars out the door,” said Major Rooney. Big corporation involvement like Bushnell’s helps the foundation fund-raise effectively and it also spreads awareness of the foundation which is one of Major Rooney’s primary goals. “If we can make Folds of Honor a household name and articulate that mission, at that point, everything will take care of itself. Because the cause is so good, it’s so right, that people are going to want to donate.”
Yet again, golf served to bring together two great organizations by synchronicity, a term often used by Major Rooney that refers to “chance with a purpose.” When a manager at Bushnell met Major Rooney on the golf course, the company knew it found the charitable partner it was looking for. CEO Blake Lipham says “this partnership is an excellent example of synchronicity.”
Lipham is happy to work with a national organization that fits so well with his company’s culture and products that it was a no-brainer to partner up, especially because in his eye, this is a non-controversial foundation, so it was easy for the corporation to foster a partnership.
“We’re very fortunate and in many ways, privileged, to have found a partnership with an organization like Folds that is undeniably doing a fantastic thing for the families who have given so much for our freedom…It absolutely fits the culture of not only our employees, but our consumers and our customers. So it really is just a great confluence of positives that allows Bushnell to do this proudly.”
In the works is a Patriot Shooting Day, similar to Patriot Golf Day, where Major Rooney hopes to get the hunters and shooters involved. “Nothing has been formalized on that, but we’re working to have those around the country so stay tuned for that,” forecasts Major Rooney.
If you would like to get involved, there is a program that allows those interested to become a “wingman” for a small annual gift. For more information, stories and links, visit the Folds of Honor website.
Photos courtesy of those pictured