This Nonprofit Hands Out Grants to Kids in Often-Overlooked Military Families

A member of the Air National Guard hugs his son at homecoming.
U.S. Air Force personnel recently deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, return home July 18, 2021 to the 169th Fighter Wing at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina. (Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Megan Floyd)

The Scott children are new to military life -- so new that when their father, Army National Guard Spc. Mike Scott, attended his first drill weekend, the family learned he would also be deploying overseas.

With combined training and mission time, the family faced a yearlong separation. The trio, 14, 9, and 5, would not only be without dad at their side, but faced the possible loss of their favorite activities.

Mike's deployment meant a pay loss for the family, said Whitney Scott, and extracurricular activities would have been some of the first things to go.

Then she heard about Our Military Kids, a program that funds scholarships to Reserve and National Guard families, allowing children to participate in an activity of their choice.

"They love these programs and it's a great way to keep a sense of normalcy while their dad is gone," Whitney said.

For the children, that meant soccer, guitar and ballet. For the parents, it meant providing a distraction, without stressing over the bill.

"It really helped because we didn't know how we were going to be able to continue to afford them," she said. "It's definitely a distraction; helps to take the focus off of him being gone, and to pass the time."

Our Military Kids bridges the gap

The Scotts are just one military family whose lives were changed with a deployment. But unlike members of active duty, they don't have an on-site support system -- access to a military base and its resources.

Which is exactly why Our Military Kids was created. Severely injured veterans' family members have also been added to that list. (Criteria for eligible disabilities are listed on their website.)

Since 2004, they have helped bridge the gap between service members and families who don't necessarily live in military communities, providing eligible families grants for children to partake in a program that interests them.

Grants are awarded at $300 each, with funds going directly to the institution providing the activities. Families with a parent deployed for more than 180 days are able to earn a second grant, for $600 per child. (Those with a severely injured service member are eligible for five total grants per child, redeemable six months a part.)

"We're trying to make sure that these kids are covered and there's someone looking out for them," said Michelle Criqui, marketing and communications manager at Our Military Kids.

"We're giving them a chance to relieve some stress, connect to their communities, get out to the house, make friends," she said. "It helps spouse relieve stress for the parents too -- helps deployed members know that someone is looking for their kids."

Criqui, who was an Our Military Kids recipient herself in high school, said children also get a welcome packet, which is a big hit.

The packet includes items like bracelets, a grant certificate with their name, dog tags and an OMK morale patch, among other goodies.

"They were so excited to open them," Whitney said of her children. "They just ripped them open. The first things they wanted was the bracelets."

In addition to doing what they love, Criqui said, the children are recognized for being in a military family.

"It's just amazing to see the impact that these grants continue to have," Criqui said.

[Deployment] affects everyone so differently. All these families are in very different situations, to some it's a huge gift, and others, it's just the recognition that helps them feel seen. The gratitude from these families, it's incredible."

For more information, visit the Our Military Kids website.

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