His act of service has enabled hundreds of Gold Star children to attend college. But with a recent prestigious recognition, David Kim expects to help thousands more.
Kim, 56, who lives in Miami Beach and New York, received the “Veteran of the Year” award during the annual Military Times Service Members of the Year award ceremony on July 12 for the support his organization, Children of Fallen Patriots, provides to kids who have lost a parent in the line of duty.
So far, the nonprofit charity organization has provided scholarships to more than 2,300 military children, with seven students from South Florida schools, including the College of the Florida Keys, Florida International University and the University of Miami. Kim expects the recognition from the award to bring more awareness to his organization and help it reach out to the estimated 686 military students living in Florida who could benefit from his group’s support.
Kim and his wife, Cynthia, co-founded CFP in 2002 to honor parents’ sacrifice from all military branches.
“Our view is that their parents would have wanted them to achieve their dreams,” Kim told the Miami Herald. “We want to help them.”
The Veteran of the Year award was established in 2018 to recognize veterans who go above and beyond with their actions after service.
Kim went into the Army after graduating from West Point in 1988. He was deployed in Panama in 1989 and left the service in 1991.
The death of Sgt. William Delaney Gibbs during “Operation Just Cause” — the invasion of Panama in December 1989 to capture Manuel Noriega — was the catalyst that moved Kim to create CFP. It stuck with him, Kim said, because Gibbs, 21, was the only member of the battalion who was killed, leaving behind a young wife who was pregnant with their daughter.
“I just always had this thought in my mind of what was going to happen to that little girl and who’s going to take care of her and the thousands of kids out there,” Kim said.
Combining his military experience and MBA from Harvard Business School, Kim said he conducted a “classic” case study to analyze and determine the market’s needs.
“We decided on college scholarships first because it’s just the most powerful lever there is to improve someone’s life and their prospects in the future,” he said.
Although many military children receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, notably through the Fry Scholarship and Dependents Education Assistance, CFP bridges the remaining gap for those students by providing up to $6,250 in scholarship assistance per academic year.
“CFP and David Kim stood out because he created a very high watermark for others to meet,” said Kelly Facer, the Military Times’ senior vice president. “Kim and CFP always say their work, unfortunately, will never be done, but they will continue to bring a little bit of comfort to military-connected families that have lost a parent.” Since its creation, CFP has provided nearly $55 million in total support. Kim said that more than 1,200 students have graduated, some debt-free.
“It goes beyond that,” said Hollister Petraeus, a member of CFP’s Advisory Board. “They’re a friendly voice that tells these kids, ‘We don’t just give you money and walk away. We are invested in your success.’ And I think that emotional component is very important.”
Recipients are students under age 35 enrolled in any field of post-secondary education. The scholarship does not apply to graduate school, and no formal application is required to receive funds. However, the students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.
Kim’s wife, Cynthia, oversees the programs. Aside from college scholarships, CFP provides educational counseling and helps pay for SAT and ACT preparation courses and college application fees for high school students.
CFP brings college students to career seminars hosted by their sponsors, where they can learn about unfamiliar career fields. CFP helps them secure summer internships and full-time job opportunities upon graduation.
“Of course, we’re not able to do that for everybody, but we certainly try to help as many as we can,” Kim said.
Bailey Donahue, one of the scholarship recipients, connected with CFP when she was 18 years old and a college freshman. She is the daughter of Army Maj. Michael Donahue, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2014. With the help of the organization, Donahue graduated debt free in 2020. Donahue later joined CFP as a scholarship administrator.
“I knew how much they impacted me personally,” Donahue said. “So I wanted to provide the same for other survivors.”
CFP estimates that approximately 25,000 kids lost a parent in the line of duty over the past 35 years.
Out of the 25,000 Gold Star children, CFP has found 11,000 students, ranging from newborns to people in their 30s, Kim said.
Thanks to collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other military organizations, CFP sometimes manages to identify children as soon as a new death occurs.
Throughout the years, CFP has kept track of the children to help them apply for college when needed.
“Identifying all 25,000 is incredibly important to us because we want to be able to help them access other sources of aid for things that we’re not doing, but other charities are,” Kim said.
Kim said he runs CFP like a business. The organization received a four-star rating by Charity Navigator — the highest rating a nonprofit organization can receive — for its leadership capacity, strategic thinking and planning.
Data from the U.S. Department of Defense show the U.S suffered 4,418 total deaths during Operation Iraqi Freedom between March 2003 and August 2010 and 2,218 total casualties during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan between October 2001 and December 2014. Although the U.S. combat mission ended in 2014, a limited U.S. troop presence remained in Afghanistan until last August.
The financial and emotional necessity is just now becoming apparent because the children of victims of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are getting old enough to go to college, Kim said. Training accidents, death by suicide and from illnesses will continue to create a need.
The State of Florida has the third-largest veteran population in the nation, with more than 1,492,000 veteran residents, according to the 2021 Veterans Affairs report. These families can help CFP find more children.
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