Two Pinecrest Graduates Receive Major Scholarships
A pair of Pinecrest High School graduates received a huge financial windfall after each winning scholarship worth $50,000 toward college expenses for the fall.
The awards came thanks to Our Family for Families First, a private charitable foundation founded by John G. Picerne, president and CEO of Picerne Military Housing. The organization was founded to support the spouses and children of active-duty service members assigned to Picerne housing installations at Fort Bragg and at other bases in the East and Southeast.
Audrey O'Maille, who served as Pinecrest's 2011 Homecoming Queen, and fellow graduate Karl Gerdes are the two recipients.
O'Maille plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Pembroke to pursue a degree in nursing, and will continue her studies to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. Her father is Lt. Col. Patrick S. O'Maille, an airman with the Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg.
"I felt both overwhelmed and grateful when I learned I had won the scholarship," O'Maille said. "I hadn't heard anything for about two months, and it kind of slipped my mind. I assumed that I was not one of the recipients, but then my mom texted me with the news and my reaction was, 'Are you serious?' I was very excited to win."
Audrey's mother, Lori O'Maille, said she was thrilled that her daughter received the award.
"It's just awesome," she said. "When we received the news, the first thing I did was start crying. Then I started dancing with joy. I'm sure that the other parents who've received this scholarship must have had the same reaction."
As a Pinecrest student, Gerdes was a member of the National Honor Society, the French Club, the Teen Court, and multiple science and philosophy clubs.
An Eagle Scout, Gerdes plans to attend N.C. State this fall to pursue a five-year dual bachelor's and master's degree in nuclear engineering. His father is Master Sgt. Ian F. Gerdes, a soldier with the U.S. Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg.
"It is incredible to know that I have college paid for without loans," Karl Gerdes said. "Our Family for Families First Foundation is very generous in not only awarding me the largest scholarship I received, but also for the trip to Boston (for orientation). I'm very proud of my dad and his military service, which qualified me for the scholarship. He has really opened many financial doors for me in regard to education."
Scholarship recipients must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to continue to receive the $12,500 in scholarship money awarded each year. Recipients must be high school students with an active-duty parent, and they must attend a four-year university and live on campus to be eligible.
"I plan on majoring in nuclear engineering and to someday work in the nuclear power industry or in the government," Gerdes said. "I hope to increase the use of nuclear power as it is the most efficient source of energy and will be necessary to power America's future."
Scholarship winners and their families attended a three-day program in Boston last month that included classes, luncheons and awards ceremonies. Orientation topics were designed to help the students "smoothly transition to college life" and included subjects such as financial independence, health and nutrition, professionalism, leadership, dorm life, time management, and academic advising. Special lessons were also held to teach the students about resources and programs available to them as military families.
"We wanted to do more than just provide scholarships," said Foundation Executive Director Maria Montalvo. "Most people don't think about it, but when the child of an active-duty service member goes to college, the family faces additional stress. There is the typical anxiety associated with a child being on their own for the first time, and also the added emotional and financial stresses caused by military moves and deployments."
The parents of O'Maille and Gerdes said that the adults also bonded with one another during sessions developed specifically for them.
"Military parents have been through a lot of the same stuff," Lori O'Maille said. "We move across the country, leave friends behind and are forced to make new relationships with people. But the Foundation is really there for us. As a military wife, I feel like I haven't lived around family for years. But thanks to them, I feel like we have a second family now."
Karl's mother, Linda, Gerdes agreed.
"This scholarship is a big deal," she said. "It makes a difference between going to college with loans and going to college without loans. Our son now has a support system outside of his family. They really care about his success in college and in life."
As part of the event, the scholarship recipients and their parents were invited to attend an evening game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Prior to the first pitch, the scholarship winners were invited onto the field where they were formally recognized by the announcer and featured on the stadium's Jumbotron. The group then watched the game from a private suite overlooking the on-field action.
Audrey O'Maille said the orientation and recognition at Fenway Park was impressive.
"It was probably the most amazing experience of my life. It felt like being on the field at homecoming, but 10 times better. I never thought that I would (ever) be able to do anything like that."
Linda Gerdes was pleased with the attention her son and other family members received from the Our Family for Families First organization.
"Most of the time, you get a scholarship check and that's the end of it," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the organization of Our Family for Families First and how invested they were. I did not realize that they were going to offer as much support and information to our family (as they did). They are investing a lot of confidence and trust into the students to ensure they become the kind of people that they believe they will be."
The Our Family for Families First foundation is the charitable affiliate of Picerne Military Housing, now a division of the Corvias Group, a privately owned real estate. Its website states that the organization "is committed to supporting military families in the pursuit of higher education, establishing a tradition of community service, and encouraging professional career paths through education, internships, and mentoring programs."
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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