Pillars of Strength Program logo

The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program honors the exceptional sacrifices of the volunteer caregivers of our nation's injured servicemembers. Because this extraordinary commitment often causes caregivers to delay their personal pursuits, the fund was established to assist them in achieving their educational goals. The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program is managed by University of Maryland University College and The Blewitt Foundation in association with the National Military Family Association.

The program kicked off in April 2013 with the awarding of UMUC scholarships to three dedicated caregivers. In April 2015, June 2016, and June 2017, additional caregivers were awarded scholarships for their service to injured family members. Read the inspiring story of 2017 recipient Cara Novas.


Video published on July 12, 2013.

How You Can Help

Your gift to the Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program can help make a positive impact in the lives of family members and friends who serve our country by serving their military loved ones. Up to five scholarships—covering full tuition, fees, and books—will be awarded each academic year to eligible candidates. Consider making a gift today.

Watch Keynote Speeches from Award Ceremonies

Video of Cara Novas's Keynote Speech

Cara Novas inspires other caregivers with her commitment to support her fellow Marines and the families who sacrifice for servicemembers: "I am thankful for the struggle because, without it, I would not have found my strength." Video published on August 28, 2017.

Video of Sandralee Jensen's Speech

Sandralee Jensen advises other caregivers who want to pursue their education to "take a step or leap of faith, and trust that there are going to be others that will be there to help you." Video published on July 21, 2016.

Vanessa Engelhardt video

Vanessa Engelhardt shares her story "to help other caregivers and wounded veterans know there is hope for a different tomorrow." Video published on June 22, 2015.


Watch More Videos

Secret Brutley video

Secret Brutley says the Pillars of Strength scholarship shows her children that "things come up but you just have to overcome those roadblocks and find ways to go around them." Video published on August 17, 2017.

Noelle Savage video

Scholarship recipient Noelle Savage is looking forward to getting her master's degree and pursuing "a job that I really enjoy that involves helping other people." Video published on August 17, 2017.

Hilda Buah-Mensah video

Hilda Buah-Mensah says the scholarship will turn her family's lives around. "With this opportunity, I'll be able to learn a new trade in information systems. . . . I'll be able to support my family." Video published on October 2, 2017.

Jessica Brewer video

Jessica Brewer knew that a "brick and mortar school wouldn't have been an option" and applied for the Pillars of Strength scholarship just hours before the deadline. Video published on June 22, 2016.

Valerie Gray video

Valerie Gray was hesitant at first to apply for the scholarship. "It's hard to think about yourself when your family is going through hardships. You always put others before yourself. Sometimes you have to put yourself first so that you can take better care of your family." Video published on June 22, 2016.

Terri Jo Yarnell video

Terri Jo Yarnell says the Pillars of Strength scholarship gives her the opportunity to show her children that "you can always go back and change and follow your dream." Video published on June 22, 2016.

Sandralee and Chris Jensen video

Sandralee Jensen, a stay-at-home mom for 28 years, was terrified of going back to school and deleted the scholarship application three times. Husband Chris Jensen encouraged her to apply. "She has given her life to the military, she's given her life to other soldiers, she's given her life to her children, and she's certainly given her life to me." Video published on June 22, 2016.

Michelle Yi video

Michelle Yi says the Pillars of Strength scholarship "gives me hope and strength for the future." Video published on June 22, 2015.

Kimberly Dozier video

CNN's Kimberly Dozier, who was herself severely injured covering the war in Iraq in 2006, salutes volunteer caregivers. "By what they do every day, they teach us how to be better Americans and better people." Video published on June 22, 2015.

Vanessa and Eric Engelhardt video

Vanessa Engelhardt says the Pillars of Strength scholarship gives her a "huge opportunity." Her husband Eric Engelhardt agrees, "It's her time—she's earned it." Video published on June 22, 2015.




NMFA is a nonprofit dedicated to serving the families who stand behind the uniform. Since 1969, NMFA has worked to strengthen and protect millions of families through its advocacy and programs.


Please note that the Yellow Ribbon Fund sponsored the Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program from its inception in 2013 through 2017.

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Photo Gallery: Supporting Volunteer Caregivers of Injured Service Members

Caregivers receive Pillars of Strength Scholarships

On June 28, 2017, five caregivers—Cara Novas, Secret Brutley, Noelle Savage, Hilda Buah-Mensah, and Rachel Williams—were awarded Pillars of Strength Scholarships in a special ceremony at MGM National Harbor. (L to R): John Adams, Yellow Ribbon Fund executive director; Cara Novas;  Hilda Buah-Mensah; Noelle Savage; Richard F. Blewitt, The Blewitt Foundation president; Secret Brutley; Javier Miyares, UMUC president. View more photos.

Caregivers Awarded Pillars of Strength Scholarships

On June 8, 2016, five caregivers—Jessica Brewer, Valerie Gray, Sandralee Jensen, Maril Jakubisin, and Terri Jo Yarnell—were awarded Pillars of Strength Scholarships in a ceremony at UMUC headquarters in Adelphi. (L to R): Jessica Brewer; Richard F. Blewitt; Sandralee Jensen; Javier Miyares; Terri Jo Yarnell; Dave Tarantino, Chairman of the Board, Yellow Ribbon Fund; and Valerie Gray. View more photos.

2015 Pillars of Strength Recipients

On April 25, 2015, two more caregivers—Vanessa Engelhardt and Michelle Li—were honored at a special ceremony at the National Press Club and awarded Pillars of Strength Scholarships. (L to R): Mark Robbins, executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund; Vanessa Engelhardt, scholarship recipient; Kimberly Dozier, CNN global affairs analyst and keynote speaker; Michelle Yi, scholarship recipient; Javier Miyares; and Richard F. Blewitt. View more photos.

2013 Pillars of Strength Recipients

Meet the original three recipients of the Pillars of Strength Scholarship and the soldiers they care for: (L to R) Jessie Fletcher, Emily Ball, Beverly Poyer, Danielle Kelly, and Taylor Morris. Poyer's daughter, Brianna, is front and center. View more photos.