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When family illness strikes, a little means a lot

Brandon Jeralds

Brandon Jeralds

Tuition, food, a place to sleep, books, incidentals, gas and pocket money—from the big expenses to the little ones, higher education takes planning. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can be upset in the blink of an eye, as Brandon Jeralds can attest.

Brandon transferred to Illinois State during his sophomore year to study environmental health. The Eagle Scout knew he’d made the right choice in his major and in the school he chose.

“I liked it right away. I realized how broad the major itself is,” said Brandon, now a senior. “Whether you want to go into public health, environmental health, or industrial hygiene, you are not just tied down to one area. You can take classes in multiple areas and find out what you want to do.”

 Brandon excelled in his studies, while also serving as president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association and as a member of Student Environmental Health Association. He purposefully tackled an ambitious course load and leadership roles to ensure he would stand out from other job-seeking students following graduation.

While the semester was going well, there was trouble at home. Richard Jeralds, Brandon’s father, had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer seven years earlier. Richard overcame the illness after intensive radiation therapy, but passed away in March from a combination of lung cancer, pneumonia, and radiation-induced osteosarcomas.

In addition to the grief, Richard’s death meant the family struggled to cover medical bills and tuition costs for Brandon’s senior year. Finding additional work outside of class was not an option for Brandon, who already held jobs at the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, Sonic, and as an umpire.

Wanting to make sure her son made it through his final year at Illinois State, Brandon’s mother, Vicki, suggested that he seek aid from the Red and White Scholarship. Financial Aid uses the scholarship to provide assistance when students face bills that go beyond what is covered by federal, state, or university sources.

Vicki learned about the scholarship when a student Telefund worker called her years ago to ask for a donation. The fund immediately struck Vicki as one that could provide a great impact, which motivated her to make an investment. She had no idea the same fund would one day provide the financial assistance Brandon needed to finish his degree.

“I thought it was absolutely wonderful,” Vicki said. “It was a weird twist of fate. The only reason we knew about that scholarship fund was because we donated to it. It was one of those weird things that happened.”

Jana Albrecht, director of Financial Aid, knows all too well how jarring unexpected crises can be to students.

“Families come to us for help who have had a death in the family or serious medical conditions,” Jana said. “We try to help by going for a state or federal grant, but there are a significant number of instances where we can’t do it. You’re wanting to cry with the families, but you’re unable to help them.”

The Red and White Scholarship gives Financial Aid counselors a way to give students assistance in extreme circumstances. The fund supports costs such as books, a train ticket home, and has helped a disabled veteran purchase a computer for an upcoming semester. It has also provided support for students such as Brandon, who experience a major loss while at Illinois State.

“There are a significant number of students who lose their parents when they’re here,” Jana said. “This fund is just a little bit of light that comes through in a difficult situation.”

Thanks to the Red and White Scholarship Fund, Brandon will be able to finish his time at Illinois State without burdening himself with more private loans—guaranteeing that he can focus on his studies and that his family can focus on healing from their loss.

 

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