Survivors Speak

Our Stories. Your Event.

Our survivors have incredible and uplifting stories to share. Survivors Speak aims to get the word out. Our Survivors Speak program provides public audiences a glimmer of insight into what children and spouses who lost a parent in the line of duty face in order to bring awareness to Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. 

Fallen Patriots alums hailing from all different branches of the military are available share their inspirational stories of loss and perseverance.

“It felt like a dream – it felt like I was just going to wake up and he was going to be home,” said Kenzi Merck of her father’s passing. Kenzi went on to graduate from Georgia Regents University in the spring of 2013 with a scholarship from Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation and today she works as a Fallen Patriots program administrator.

Kenzi and our team of survivors are available to speak at your business, school, or organization. Survivors can speak anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, tailoring the presentation to your audience.

Requests must be submitted 30 days prior to the event. Please note that patriotic holidays, such as Memorial Day and Veterans Day tend to fill up fast. 

 

Request an appearance

 

Karen Burris

Karen Burris
Mother of Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

My name is Karen Burris and I am a military widow. My husband was Major Andrew Scott Burris. He was a proud paratrooper in the elite 82nd Airborne Division and a Desert Storm veteran. Tragically, he was killed in a training accident in 1997 when our daughter Allison was just three years old. 

When Allison was born we set up a college fund. We did not want her saddled with student loans upon graduation. However, moving every two to three years for my husband’s military career did not allow me to build a career of my own, and now, as a single parent, I was unable to contribute to that fund. 

I started researching college scholarships and while reading a TAPS newsletter discovered Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation.  I called them immediately to make sure Allison qualified and was amazed at the generosity of Children of Fallen Patriots.  My daughter is going to graduate from college debt free.

I now have the privilege of being a part of this great team. I am the Program Officer at Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation and my job is to find the children and families who are eligible for this scholarship. After the death of a spouse, families tend to move away and are no longer a part of the military community. I, like many widows, fell through the cracks and was unaware of this scholarship.  Survivors Speak allows me to create awareness and reach out to the military widows and widowers.  We want to take the financial burden off of their shoulders and carry on the legacy of these soldiers through education. We owe it to our fallen. Thank you. 

Kenzi Vizzari

Kenzi Vizzari
Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

I was fifteen years old when I lost my dad, Army SSG Dennis P. Merck. He was serving overseas in Baghdad, Iraq for only a couple months when my family received the life-changing knock on our door by two men in uniform on October 20, 2005. His death was deemed suicide; a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.

Growing up, I did not realize the impact that my dad’s military service and frequent deployments had on his psychological state. He was so passionate about the Army and serving his country that he never revealed the emotional vulnerability that came along with his job. My family and I never truly understood how deep some of his wounds were until he decided he couldn't live with them anymore. As a teenager I struggled with a whirlwind of emotions: anger, resentment, shame, denial, grief beyond measure, and beating myself up over questions that I knew I’d never receive answers to. It wasn't until I started studying Psychology in college that I realized my dad had suffered from severe PTSD - something he had never talked about with us. It helped me to understand that this illness really exists and is an ongoing epidemic for our nation's veterans.

While earning my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, I finally came to terms with my dad’s death after years of grief. I found emotional healing through art; most specifically, drawing, painting, and photography. My dream is to one day work as a counselor with surviving military children/spouses, using art as a form of therapy to help them heal and express their emotions.

Sarah Cramer

Sarah Cramer
Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

My father, Paul Enno Cramer, died on March 3rd, 2001 in a training accident. I was 10 years old. He had left from Virginia to go to Florida for a two week training course with the Air National Guard. While flying back to Virginia, the plane, carrying 21 men, ended up tragically crashing to the ground in Unadilla, Georgia. There were no survivors. 

I will never forget the night that two men dressed in uniform showed up at my house to tell my family and I about the death of my father.  Not a day goes by that I do not think about my dad, but it is through the healing hand of God and the strength and encouragement of my family and friends that I have been able to move forward from this life-shattering day.

Eventually, I began to attend college at Liberty University, but was overwhelmed with the price of school. I still remember the day I found out about Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation. It is because of Fallen Patriots that I was able to graduate from college debt free. I am forever grateful to Children Fallen Patriots for the indescribable support they have been to me, and am proud to honor my father by giving back and serving alongside this incredible foundation.  

Jacob Centeno Healy

Jacob Centeno Healy
Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

I am the gold star son of Senior Chief Navy SEAL Daniel Richard Healy. I lost my father June 28th, 2005 when his helicopter was shot down during a rescue attempt in the Kunar Province of the Hindu Kush Mountains. 11 Navy SEALs and 8 Army Night Stalkers in total were lost that day, making it the largest loss of special operations personnel since WWII. Only Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class SEAL Marcus Luttrell would survive. Known as Operation Red Wings, the story has since been told in the book and film Lone Survivor.

My father's 13 years of SEAL service took him all over the United States and to many places overseas. From training in Virginia with SEAL team 10 to studying Russian at the Defense Language Institute in California and time in Russia itself, my father spent a lot of time away from home. Though my father's service meant spending great amounts of time away from his family, he made the most of, and cherished, every moment he had with us. More importantly, he was able to convey early on what any father would want for their children - he taught us good manners, values, virtues and many life lessons. Although I will always wish I had more time with my dad, I am grateful for the time I did have and I know he is still watching over me from above.

When I lost my dad, I lost my hero. All the support, encouragement and ambition I always had was suddenly gone. The largest trial for me would become, and still is, searching for and discovering my identity. Fortunately, through the grace and support of people and organizations everywhere, I was given hope. From graduating with my BA in Architecture from the University of San Diego to being enabled to help and serve other Gold Star families, I have gained a greater sense of hope for the future and am really looking forward making a difference in the lives of others as so many have done for me.

Drew Kleppe

Drew Kleppe
Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

Drew graduated from the University of Vermont in 2010 and is currently living in Hoboken, New Jersey.  He works in Manhattan for a Digital Marketing company called Situation Interactive as a Search Engine Marketing Analyst, concentrating on marketing for top Broadway theater productions.  Outside of the workplace he plays a variety of sports including ice hockey, roller hockey, and baseball.

“I am so thankful to Fallen Patriots for helping me and my family and allowing me to begin a new chapter of my life in the New York area to reach my goals.” His father, Lieutenant Edward Andrew Kleppe, was a Navy pilot killed during a training mission in 1990 when Drew was only two years old.  Drew continues to lead a life that makes his family proud and believes, “While many of my biggest feats are still ahead of me, I will continue to live my life in a way that my father would be proud to say I am his son.”

Evan Kleppe

Evan Kleppe
Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

Evan graduated from Lehigh University in May of 2012 majoring in Finance with a minor in Real Estate. He currently works in Saddle Brook, New Jersey at CBRE, a global commercial real estate services firm as an Analyst in the Capital Markets: Debt and Equity Finance Division. He has also obtained a real estate salesperson license and would love to travel across the world in his current line of work.

Like his brother Drew, Evan is very active outside of the workplace. He participates on two basketball teams, one of which has named Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation the charity recipient of any winning prizes. Evan’s father, Lieutenant Edward Andrew Kleppe, was killed during a training mission seven months before Evan was born. Evan believes his father would be extremely proud of him and his brother, “I feel that I have grown up to be the type of brother, son and overall person that he would have hoped I would become. Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation allowed me to take extra real estate courses, work on my broker’s license, and start my career debt free, all things that advance my career and give me a life my father would have wanted me to have.”

Ebony Rose Sherrill

Ebony Rose Sherrill
Fallen Patriots Scholarship Recipient

My dad, Major Geoffrey Sherrill was killed in a training accident in 1996. I was only 3 at the time so my memory of him is very short. He was a family practice doctor in the US Army and I remember education being extremely important to him.

With assistance from Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation I was able to graduate from Stevenson University with a B.S. In Film/Video and Theatre. I have a twin brother, Martin Sherrill and an older sister, Monica Long. Currently, I work in Washington, D.C. at Lululemon Athletica Georgetown. I am in the process of preparing for the Miss Maryland Scholarship Pageant in hopes to fulfill one of my childhood dreams of becoming Miss America.

In my free time, I love to read and be in nature. I have a passion for fitness and personal train part-time. In the future I plan to start a video and audio recording company with my brother.

Click here to watch Ebony Sherrill speak at the Red, White, & Blue Gala.
 

If you would like for us to arrange for a survivor to speak in your area, please reach out to Fallen Patriots by phone at 866-917-2373 or by email at contact@fallenpatriots.org.

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