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Wounded veterans' partners get scholarships to UMUC

First Pillars of Strength scholarships awarded for distance learning programs

By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

10:10 AM EDT, April 26, 2013

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Two weeks after Beverly Poyer married her husband in 2007, he was deployed to Afghanistan. When he came home a year later, she was thrust into a role she hadn't expected: caregiver.

Army Spc. Max Poyer, exposed to frequent mortar blasts in Afghanistan, suffered brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now the life the Southern Maryland couple had planned — to finish college, buy a house and have more children — had to be redefined.

That's when Beverly Poyer, 32, found a new calling: helping military families overcome emotional battle scars and transition back to civilian life.

Poyer is one of three recipients of a new scholarship at University of Maryland University College for partners of injured service members. She plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in military-family social work.

"It's an amazing blessing," said Poyer, who was honored with the other two Pillars of Strength scholars during a ceremony last week at UMUC in Adelphi. "It's a game changer for us."

Also selected were Emily Ball of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Danielle Kelly of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Both relocated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda after their partners were wounded.

The scholarship strengthens the long relationship between UMUC and the military, school spokesman Bob Ludwig said. UMUC, founded in 1947, provides online courses, distance learning and remote classes to some 93,000 nontraditional students.

As a contractor to the Defense Department for more than 60 years, UMUC has offered on-site instruction to United States service members in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and beyond.

"Serving active-duty military is in our DNA," Ludwig said. Providing opportunities for military families, he said, was a natural extension of UMUC's work.

"Clearly, we see the support of caregivers as extremely important," he said. "These are folks who often have to interrupt their education to provide the care to an injured service member."

Poyer left her career as a photographer to care for her husband and their daughter. She plans to enroll at UMUC this fall.

The full scholarship will cover the cost of the credits she needs to complete her degree — in Poyer's case, about $10,000.

"When I became a caregiver, everything was poured into the well-being of my injured soldier — every decision, action, and part of our lives has revolved around my husband," she wrote in an application essay.

"During this journey, I've found that I've lost who I was before the injury and sometimes feel I am defined simply as a caregiver to a wounded warrior. Completing my degree would give me a sense of pride and accomplishment independent of my role as a wife and caregiver."

Bell and Kelly plan to use their scholarships to pursue master's degrees in business administration.

Bell was working in business development at a law firm in 2011 when her fiance, a Marine, lost both of his legs and several fingers in Afghanistan. She moved to Walter Reed to help care for him.

"I most likely will become the 'bread-winner' of the family now and would like to further my education to gain an executive level position one day, a goal I had always wanted for my personal benefit, but one I feel like I need now," Ball wrote in her essay. "Being able to provide for the two of us is important to me and I wanted to do it well and not worry about scraping by or having to live minimally."

Kelly dreamed of becoming a real estate mogul before her partner, a sailor, lost both legs and portions of his arms.

"I was scared of the moment I would see Taylor for the first time," she wrote. "I didn't know if I would want to run, break down and cry, get sick or how I would react. But honestly, when I saw him I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.

"I knew everything would be okay."

Kelly said she wants to start and run a nonprofit that would help those who have "hit rock bottom."

The scholarships were sponsored by the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a Bethesda-based organization that provides housing and transportation to military families while service members are recovering at Walter Reed or Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and the Blewitt Foundation, which also serves wounded service members.

"It's a great way for us to say, 'Thank you,' for the sacrifice that not only the service member has given to us and our country, but recognizing the family," said Mark Robbins, executive director of the Yellow Ribbon Fund. "Their lives have also changed, and for many of them, it's been turned upside down."

Blewitt Foundation President Rich Blewitt said the scholarships "both recognize and serve a group that is so critical to the aide and recovery of our injured warriors."

"The lifetime benefit of a college degree can be great, and it's the least we can do for all those who sacrifice so much," Blewitt said.

Beverly Poyer said her Christian faith taught her to believe that "there's got to be a reason for everything." But when her husband was wounded, she struggled for perspective.

She said supporting other military families after she earns her degree will help her find purpose in her own struggles.

"I don't want another spouse to go through what I went through," she said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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