Noticing Neighbors Folds of Honor
“Honor their sacrifice. Educate their legacy.” This is the tagline for Folds of Honor, a charitable organization that provides hope to those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. They provide educational scholarships to the families of fallen or disabled military, and provide a bright path for the future. Kelli Campbell-Goodnow has received scholarships for her children, and stepped into leadership by fundraising for the program. She shares all about her experience with the Kansas City Chapter.
Hayley: When was Folds of Honor started?
Kelli: It was founded in 2007 and they have provided over 29,000 scholarships since then. That's 45 million dollars in aid, which is phenomenal! Hayley: Wow. Kelli: Last year in our Kansas City Chapter, we had 90 recipients of scholarships! So, yeah, it's a huge deal.
I bet those scholarships completely change lives. Kelli:
I know they do. I have four children that have received scholarships. They're what's called Gold Star Kids. Gold Star Family means we've lost a loved one in military service.
My husband was killed five years ago in a helicopter crash, and it helped me put my kids in school and start over when I didn't know what we were going to do. It has made all the difference. So just take my story, and then multiply it by 29 thousand. That's Folds of Honor.
First off, thank you for your service. I think sometimes when we talk about being in service, it's not understood that the whole family is in service. Do you know what I mean? That’s the real reach of it. So thank you for that, and also for sharing your story. Kelli:
Hayley: Are there any people you’ve met through Folds of Honor that really stick out to you, and are special to your heart?
My gosh, yeah. There's so many honestly. I'd have to say the most amazing thing to come of it has been all the people in the Chapter. As a military spouse, losing my husband meant I lost my military community. And I have friends literally around the globe. But we had to move away from the base, and we'd always lived near a base before that. We'd always lived near the beach, for that matter.
Now we're in the Midwest. There was a lot to lose. It’s not completely losing your identity, but also, it’s definitely losing your identity in a way.
Our family had been really centered on the military for 15 years. We were a military family. You take all that away and what do you have? It’s a big ask. So by being able to connect with the Folds of Honor, I get to know other Gold Star families like ours. I'd have to say the friendships mean the most. I’ve met other wives like me that have similar stories, and now have the same passion about passing on the same hope we were given. That's what we do together.
So how did you meet them?
Good question, because I didn't know about Folds of Honor as a military spouse. I didn't know about it until I needed it. It was a friend of mine, a military wife, who found it and told me about it.
Hayley: How did that shift affect their education? Kelli: I had been homeschooling my children up until everything changed for us. At the time they were 12, 9, 7 and 2. So we're in the midst of elementary school and one's in diapers. Then all of a sudden, I can't homeschool them anymore. Hayley: What a huge shift to make.
What do I do, you know? On the same day as meeting them, I had a Folds of Honor scholarship for a private school just handed to me, like: Here's an option, what do you think? And I said yes, please! It was the ideal school for my kids at the time. I could not afford it on my own, but Folds of Honor made it possible by doing that. Hayley: I am so glad it was there for you when you needed it. Kelli: Thank you, I think you do become a victim of your circumstance. Riding these waves of grief and loss and everything changes—it's really out of your control. In that moment, I was handed the option to control something, and was able to make a choice for my kids that I knew was the best one. It really has had a ripple effect on our lives, and I say that all the time.
Hayley: Who in your life has helped you along the way? Who would you like to give a shout out to?
So our friend Christy was that person. She's a fellow Marines wife, and she's the one that found Folds of Honor for me. People only hear about it through the community, and through word of mouth. We don't buy advertising time on TV, or even put ads in newspapers. You just have to count on the community to spread the word and so my part of my mission is to raise those funds for scholarships for families, but it’s also for personal outreach and to make sure people know they're eligible. Hayley: What a gift that is, to make sure it gets to the right people. Kelli:
I still meet disabled veterans who don't know they're eligible. They don't know that their kids have this option when they go to college, and they should know that. I am able to reach out to other people going through what I went through and tell them: I've been where you are. I know what they’re facing, and share what’s helped me. Hayley:
Who else has impacted you? Kelli:
Well at Folds of Honor, the first person I talked to in the organization as we were first applying was Dayna Dunn, sweet Dayna. She has been the champion in the scholarship office since it began and she’s the one who has all those scholarship applications come across her desk.
I think about just how heavy that must be to carry the weight of that position and to have to turn people away. She was the one that, despite the heavy workload on her desk, was willing to talk to me on the phone and help me through the application process. I was like deer in the headlights because it had just been a couple of months, and it was all so new to me. Just with all that trauma and everything happening, she walked me right through it and ensured I got it done. Hayley: Wow, that really is awesome! Kelli: I always like to say she's my favorite, but we've been really well cared and provided for. I could list hundreds of people that are part of that.
Do you get to see people's reactions when they learn that this is a choice they get to make?
You know, that's a good question. I hadn't necessarily seen it firsthand until this past Christmas. So with Covid last year, we had a huge deficit in the number of scholarships we could give out and we were anticipating a big loss. So we gave out much fewer scholarships.
We were only able to get out 2,500 in June last year as opposed to 4,500 the year before. Well, Christmas came around and through cutbacks and some really generous new individual donors, we were able to put together 1,000 additional scholarships that were sent out as Christmas gifts. There’s a really cool video on this: where an older sibling got to tell their younger sibling, who was a first time applicant, that they were able to receive an award.
There's also a really precious video of a mom whose daughter handed her a scholarship and videoed her opening this envelope. It's just the coolest because they weren't expecting it, and we didn't know if we could do it!
Hayley: So the donors play a huge role, because that gives you the ability to give the scholarships. How do you go about raising funds?
Lots of ways. We’ve been heavily involved in golf. Our founder, Lieutenant Colonel Dan, is a fighter pilot and a PGA pro. I don't know if anybody else has had those two roles at the same time! He might be the only one that is currently in the active duty reserves and is a PGA professional.
He had an experience in 2007 that made him realize he wanted to do something for the military families, and so he brought the military community together and so he had a golf tournament that raised 1,000 dollars. And from that first golf tournament, it just grew and grew exponentially. So by today they've done 29,000 of those scholarships through the PGA of America and really got on board. We now have 30 chapters across the country, and our 30 chapters all have their own golf events to raise money, and then at the end of the year, it all goes into the pot to provide scholarships nationwide. Hayley: How else can people get involved? Kelli: One thing we have is the Squadron regular donation program where people can give at a minimum of $13 a month. It's the number 13 because it takes 13 folds to create the folded flag, and each one has a meaning. It's very significant.
Hayley: Is there any part of the story that people should learn about? Kelli:
It's unique because there are not a lot of programs out there for military families. You know, you hear about military support. There are lots of programs putting a band-aid on families' grief, but I feel like Folds is unique in that it really focuses on spouses and children who are most often the ones left behind. And like you said, the family serves, too. Not everyone really recognizes that. So it really is filling a need that no one else is filling, and it’s obvious, because we can't keep up with demand for aid.
What's the thing that keeps you motivated when you're doing the work? Because there’s a lot of fundraising, what gives you that boost when you think about it?
My own kids. I think of them thriving and just what a difference their school has made. I was able to keep them under the same roof, in the same school in a K through 12 school—and it's a great school. I've also seen them be cared for. It's not just about their education, but also their hearts. Like you said, there are ripple effects with being able to join the Folds community and choose where we were then able to find a home, church, and new sports teams. I mean, all of the ripple effects of these scholarships have made up our whole life. We came to Kansas City from Hawaii not knowing anyone but my parents, and I had to start from scratch. Now I can honestly say I absolutely love that I am from Kansas City. It is a great community. Everyone has embraced us and they embrace the military in general. This is such a generous and giving community here. I love getting to invite people into what Folds of Honor is doing, and this work is really special.
Hayley: What is next? Is there anything coming up?
Kelli: So our next big community event is going to be the Patriot’s Run on September 11. This year is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and there are so many families I know that signed up because of 9/11. It's starting in the morning with a 5K at the T-Mobile campus in Overland Park! Hopefully we’ll have some planes fly over, and then at noon they start a team challenge and all kinds of races. It's an all day event, so you can swing by and see some of the vendors like Chris’ Pancakes. Hayley: That’s a great family event!
Absolutely. Everyone is invited! And then our next big swanky fundraiser is our Gala in November. This year is the 10th anniversary of the Folds of Honor Kansas City Chapter, so we're having a big gala at Fiorella’s Event Center. Be sure to keep updated on our pages, that one's coming up on November 13th!
A big thank you to Kelli Campbell-Goodnow for sharing her story. We honor the service and sacrifice of her family, as well as the many others who share this experience. Follow Folds of Honor on Facebook, Instagram, and keep up with this Chapter on the website.