Freedom Alliance hosts an annual summer retreat to Washington, D.C., for the students we support with scholarships.
The Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund is available to the children of parents who have been killed or disabled during military service. Because many of our scholarship recipients have parents buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a visit to our “nation’s most hallowed ground” is the focus of the retreat.
This year we hosted 12 students, half of whom had been on previous years’ retreats.
“I love this retreat and look forward to coming back,” said Shelby, whose father, Sergeant First Class Severin W. Summers died serving our country.
What makes it so special is the immediate bond that forms between retreat participants. Most of these young people do not encounter peers with a similar background, and so, to finally connect and spend time with others who have lost a parent in wartime is kind of a relief.
When asked what he liked most about the weekend, Jacob Rangel said, “It’s nice to meet others who know how you feel.”
Samantha Walters, who came with her sister Breanna, said, “I loved being able to meet other students who have lost a parent.”
Samantha and Breanna hadn’t been to their father’s gravesite since his funeral 13 years ago. Freedom Alliance provided each student with some flowers, a small wreath, and a flag to lay on the headstones.
Samantha said she knew that moment would be emotional, but she hadn’t realized just how hard it would be. She and her sister clung to each other, and their friend Mitchell, whose father is also buried in Arlington Cemetery, offered his support as well.
Adrianne, who attended last year’s retreat, visited the burial site of a friend’s father. Overcome with emotion, she ached for her friend and remembered her father, Staff Sergeant Edward C. Reynolds, killed in Iraq ten years ago.
The whole group together left Section 60 to visit the grave marker of Sergeant First Class and Medal of Honor recipient Paul Smith. Paul’s son David was surprised and pleased to have the company of his peers in Section MD.
Brandi, daughter of Petty Officer Second Class Michael Anderson, asked to visit the nearby National Seabee Memorial. Michael, a Navy Seabee, was killed in 2004 while deployed in Iraq. The monument was engraved with these fitting words: “With compassion for others, we build, we fight for peace with freedom.”
Freedom Alliance packs in as much fun as possible for the students on retreat when they are not at Arlington Cemetery. In addition to top-notch accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton, we arranged special meals and meetings with Freedom Alliance staff and supporters, including our president, Tom Kilgannon, and Alan Kelly, program advisor for the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, which sponsors this retreat.
One morning included a visit to the Capitol Building. Interns from the office of Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr gave a fascinating tour, even leading the students through tunnels that run underground between buildings on Capitol Hill.
The students rode to the top of the Washington Monument to bask in the glorious view from the tallest building in D.C. Then, some walked around the Mall, while others looked in on the National Museum of Natural History.
Texas de Brazil provided a complimentary dinner one evening for our special guests, and on another day we lunched with longtime supporter Tillie Smithers at the Washington Golf and Country Club. Two Marines, one of whom has participated in Freedom Alliance events, hosted a dinner for the students at the Fish Market in Alexandria.
Furthermore, there was shopping, silliness, and a trip to the Escape Room, which is an interactive indoor game that uses wits and teamwork to solve puzzles.
The end result: new and deeper friendships, moving and happy memories, and the backing of Freedom Alliance and its supporters.
Brandi said, “This retreat was really special since, once we turn 18, we are almost forgotten by all the other programs and lose the connections.”
Samantha told Freedom Alliance, “Thank you all for your continuous love and support.”
It is most important to us that these young people know we remember their fathers’ service and their families’ sacrifice. We help with the cost of their education, because their parents paid the ultimate price. But we also want to be there for them in a special way. Their loss demands it. Ours is a friendly, first-name, face-to-face relationship, and that is what your donations enable us to do.
As Adrianne and David both said, “I love my Freedom Alliance family!”