UMUC awards scholarships to caregivers of wounded warriors


7 caregivers whose lives are forever changed thanks to UMUC

July 11, 2019 - 4:54 pm

Each year, University of Maryland University College hands out full scholarships to volunteer caregivers of recovering servicemembers and veterans through the Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program.

These amazing seven caregivers are the recipients of the 2019 Pillars of Strength Scholarships.


Sonia Yulfo

“The last thing I thought I was gonna get was a phone call at like nine o’clock saying ‘you’re getting a scholarship.’”

Sonia cares for her father, Luciano Yulfo, SFC, retired, a 36-year Army veteran who was injured while overseas in 2014. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, and limited vision. As the only child, Sonia doesn’t even view herself as a caregiver but rather “his daughter taking care of him.” With a full-ride from UMUC, Sonia plans to earn a degree in psychology so she can work with other disabled veterans and their families. “I know what it means to not have any sleep; I know what it means to help someone not commit suicide.”

UMUC 2019 Pillars of Strength Scholarship
Photo courtesy of Kaylah Jackson

Corie Bellucci

“He’s my husband, he’s my best friend… this is what we were handed and it’s my life…it’s nothing I wouldn’t do without a title.”

Corie, an Army veteran, was graduating with her associate's degree when she found out she received the Pillars of Strength Scholarship. She 's been married for almost 19 years to her husband Gregg, a Marine veteran who was injured by an IED that hit his Humvee while deployed. As a result, he suffers from blackouts, seizures and memory loss. Balancing 14 deployments, raising six children, and surviving breast cancer, Corie says this scholarship will allow her to once again have something for herself. She wants to study criminal justice and become a victim advocate.


UMUC 2019 Pillars of Strength Scholarship
Photo courtesy of Kaylah Jackson


Deborah Elliot

“He’s always sick, he’s always tired, he has chronic pain and I want to be in a position where I can be the earner of the house and support the family like he’s done for all these years.”

Deborah’s husband Tommy returned from a 9-month deployment looking, she says, “sickly.” After a chance visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the couple later found out he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. She hasn't been able to secure a stable full-time job while caring for her husband and their two children, but she's hoping an advanced degree could soon change that.

Deborah hopes to follow up her bachelor's in biology with a master's degree in biotechnology from UMUC with her Pillars of Strength Scholarship. 


UMUC 2019 Pillars of Strength Scholarship
Photo courtesy of Kaylah


Natasha Pickard

“Once he retired, we had our own set of struggles, like not having money because the VA hadn’t kicked in and his retirement hadn’t kicked in. I was more being his confidant trying to get through the VA system.”

Natasha’s husband Jeff served as a military policeman in both the Army and Navy for 15 and a half years. In 2010, he was shot by a sniper in Iraq , leaving him with no movement in his left arm—his dominant hand.

After moving to Texas from California, the couple now has a fresh start and are opening up a chapter for a local wounded veteran’s scuba diving organization, called WAVES.

Now with a bit more stability and independence, Natasha can focus on going back to school. Volunteering for their nonprofit and studying health sciences with a minor in social work, she wants to make a difference for veteran families like hers.


Jessica Bitsui

"I have to take a step back and say 'that's not him ignoring me, that's him because of his issues and his inability to remember things long term.'"

Jessica's husband Nathaniel - who was medically retired after 10 years - experiences post-traumatic stress and memory loss from his service. Together, they have a family of five children, three of whom have special needs, which doesn't leave Jessica with much time for herself. In between taking care of her husband, like taking him to appointments, and focusing on her children, one of whom suffers from PTS as well, she had to put her own education on hold.

Jessica has had the opportunity to go to school but has never been able to complete her education due to her caretaking duties. Jessica wants to pursue a degree in legal studies at UMUC, eventually becoming an attorney to advocate for families like her own who've had challenges navigating services.

UMUC Pillars of Strength 2019 caregiver recipients
Photo courtesy of Jessica Bitsui


Allison Lambert

"I feel like this scholarship will help give me back a sense of purpose. I lost a lot of what made me 'me' when I became a caregiver, as I had to give up a life that was fully mine."

Allison's husband, Bryan, an Air Force veteran suffers from various mental health issues including agoraphobia, depression and panic disorder. Because of this, she's often balancing between both of their needs. She has helped him relearn even the most basic tasks like showering. Allison loves being a caregiver and because of that, the scholarship from UMUC will enable her to go back to school and earn an undergraduate degree in a science field. Bryan wants her to have a fulfilling life where she can accomplish her own personal and professional goals. Thanks to the Pillars of Strength program, Allison can now do that.


Denise Naugler

"It was hard realizing that my role has shifted from managing life with my husband to managing my husband, and trying to be sensitive to his pride and sense of direction in life."

After serving 12 years in the Navy, Denise's husband Scott came home with service-related post-traumatic stress and physical injuries. In 2016, a ruptured aortic aneurysm almost cost him his life. As a Marine veteran herself, Denise understands the value in caring for wounded warriors. Between homeschooling their three children and being by Scott's side she's had to postpone her aspirations on pursuing a degree in graphic design. Being able to go to school free-of-charge will relieve some of the day-to-day stress that comes with caregiving and will allow her to re-establish a career and pursue a passion.


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