“I was just thinking that Gold Star kids have lost a parent, and that can make it hard for them to do what they want to do,” the 17-year-old said.
With support from a couple of corporate donors and a few people in the community, Leighanne has raised more than $5,000 in cash and pledges to kickstart her (501c3) nonprofit, Gold Star Kids Support Services.
She hopes to soon be doling out grants. Applicants only have to prove they are members of a Gold Star family and have lost a parent in military combat, said Jim Bryant, Leighanne’s father.
Lisa Jenkins, president of the Georgia chapter of America Gold Star Mothers, said she’s “blown away” by Leighanne’s efforts.
“For this young lady at 17 years old to have that much empathy and to be cognizant of what children go through when they lose a parent is just extraordinary,” said Jenkins, a mother of six and the mother of a Gold Star soldier. “I think there are a lot of families that will take advantage of this.”
Some programs exist to help the Gold Star families. For instance, the Home Depot Foundation and the Georgia Aquarium put on an event for them at the aquarium three times a year. But Leighanne’s nonprofit is the first Jenkins says she’s heard of that’s dedicated to helping Gold Star children.
Jim Bryant has been active in the Georgia State Defense Force and Georgia National Guard for years and has involved his children in “Yellow Ribbon” events, marking either the deployment or return of Georgia troops. Bryant’s children often participated in the events by painting the military children’s faces. Leighanne also has put on cheerleading clinics for them.
“That’s what established [Leighanne’s] desire for wanting to support the military families,” he said.
Leighanne is doing this in conjunction with her pursuit of the Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve and one that less than 6% of qualifying Scouts earn. To obtain a Gold Award, a Scout must create a project that has measurable results, is sustainable, and benefits others.
Leighanne has been a Girl Scout since the second grade.
While in high school, she is holding down two part-time jobs.
In the new school year, she’ll be president of her school’s student body. She’ll also be cheering for the school’s varsity basketball and football teams, taking honors and AP classes, and anchoring the news during the school’s morning announcements.
“I make sure I get all my schoolwork done during the day,” she said.
Leighanne hopes to attend either the University of Tennessee or the University of Georgia with the goal of being a physical therapist.
“I am fascinated with anatomy,” she said. “I love it all.”
To donate to her nonprofit or make an application for funds, go to www.GoldStarKSS.org.
ABOUT THE GOLD STAR
The Gold Star has a long legacy. It can be traced back to World War I when Americans hung a blue star in their window or on their front doors to represent their immediate family members who were serving in the military. If the family member died in action, the blue star would be replaced with a gold one, according to Arlington National Cemetery’s website. In 1928, 25 women banded together to create American Gold Star Mothers Inc., a group that still exists today. Its purpose is to honor slain members of the military and allow their families to come together for healing and in support of veterans and the country.