SUN CITY CENTER — What might the high school senior son of a U.S. Marine sergeant fallen in Afghanistan and a veteran of Viet Nam now unable to cover a utility bill and a National Guard officer blinded by an Iraqi IED have in common?
Each could be touched in a different way by a small band of individuals in South Hillsborough who, with little fanfare, work constantly at extending helping hands to their own.
From a small office on the fourth floor in Freedom Plaza, 13 trustees administer the Military Family Support Trust, a charitable fund capitalized in the seven figures. Among them are majors, colonels, even a Royal Marines brigadier general. And then, there’s the major domo of the trust, Administrative Assistant Bea Buchanan, who maintains calm control of the feverish action when grants are being prepared.
MFST was founded in 1991 by Luke Lloyd — the U.S Army formally recorded him as Luther Lloyd before he retired with the rank of colonel — using a grand total of $236 in seed money. It was Lloyd’s own cash and his aim was to create a little pot from which a few helping handouts could be distributed. Freedom Plaza, originally conceived of as a retirement center solely for ranking military, was gaining ground and it seemed to fit together. Lloyd dubbed the little not-for profit the Military Officers Benevolent Corporation and, while the working trust name later was devised, the MOBC remains the legal title in state documents and also centers the website address.
Knowledge of the fund spread throughout the local military retiree community, donations began to accumulate, sizeable endowments turned up and over the years Lloyd’s seed money grew. Judicious investment further enhanced the fund totals each year, abilities to grant financial help expanded, and ultimately the benevolent corporation became a functioning trust overseen by trustees.
Today, the MFST aims to channel grants in several directions: scholarships for military E-5 or higher, their immediate family members and dependants, as well as for federal employees designated GS-7 and up, and their families; financial assistance for needy individuals, and distributions to organizations that support the eligible individuals.
And this is the Trust’s busiest season of the year, said Don Schings, a marine who saw peace time duty at Camp Lejeune and in Washington, D.C., before postings to the U.S. Embassies in Moscow and Dublin, Ireland. Schings now is the Trust CEO and President, overseeing its day to day operations.
This year, he added, the trust plans to distribute $77,000 to graduating high school seniors as well as to college students currently under grants, representing in some cases a four-year commitment on the part of the trustees to continue helping fund the student as long the minimum grade point is maintained.
A total of 31 applications were received by the March 1 deadline, keeping her desk well used as she sorted, examined, tabulated and evaluated, Buchanan added. And the scholarship awards go to students across the country as well as locally, she said.
Another major interest of the trustees are JROTC members, both locally and nationally. Each year, cash awards are made to these youngsters with early military interests at four local high schools – East Bay, Riverview, Bloomingdale and Newsome, Schings said. The Trust’s JROTC grant program also is meant to encourage graduating cadets to continue some form of military service.
As conflicts involving U.S. military personnel have continued in the Middle East, with more seriously injured but surviving veterans returning home, the Trust has looked beyond its customary recipient base to extend help to them, indicated Colin Howgill, 31 years in Great Britain’s Royal Marines before retiring as Brigadier. He’s now trustee chairman. One means of aiding these veterans is through Paws for Patriots, the companion and visual assistance dogs trained by Southeastern Guide Dogs in Manatee County, noted Howgill, who last served as Chief of the Central Defense Staff at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The Trust will consider covering the costs involved during the adjustment period when a particular dog is chosen and matched with a specific veteran.
Then, there are the individual grants to military or family with a defined need, Schings said. ‘Sometimes, someone just needs a boost; help over the hurdle to keep going,” he added.
A couple of recent instances involved an officer’s widow who fell on hard times and another woman who needed assistance with a utility charge, Lloyd added.
On a more organizational level, the Trust contributes to two endeavors – Operation Warm Heart and Operation Helping Hand. OWH helps individuals acquire commissary vouchers for use at MacDill AFB during the Christmas season while OHH provides cash to assist wounded veterans and their families at the James A. Haley Spinal Care Clinic in Tampa.
Yet another Trust outreach is contributions to the Homeless Women Veterans organization and their children, both throughout the year and during the holiday season.
While Schings and Buchanan keep the Trust office humming on a daily basis, it takes a village or more to assure the Trust’s continued growth. That village is comprised of the many donors who remember the Trust and its charitable programs in their wills or who drop off a check to further the cause. From the Underwriters Circle giving $1,000 to the Benefactor’s Circle adding two more zeros to that figure, they are the solid foundation on which the Trust rests, Schings asserted.
And, he added, they are the means that help a deceased sergeant’s son get to college and let an older veteran settle a utility account and give a blind officer mobility again.
Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson