How the Brave of Heart Scholarship allowed one woman to honor her late husband and the nurses who cared for him in his fight against COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic was a life-changing event for all of us, but the impact was particularly profound for the community of healthcare workers who put their lives at risk to care for those in need.

Some suffered acute stress and burnout. Others were infected themselves. And still others made the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in the heroic fight against the pandemic.

In 2020, the Brave of Heart Fund was established in partnership with the Foundations of New York Life and Cigna to support the families of healthcare workers lost to the pandemic. In the initial grant cycle, we awarded nearly $32 million to support healthcare worker families as they attempted to rebuild their lives. We also learned a lot about them and their needs.

Over one-third of Brave of Heart grant recipients did not have life insurance benefits of any kind (either employer provided or private policies) when they lost their loved ones. Among the families of the grantees, close to 80% of healthcare workers and volunteers lost to the pandemic were the sole or primary household earner. After the loss of their loved ones, most households now earn incomes of $50,000 or less. And for over a third, the Brave of Heart funding was the only financial support they received after the loss of their loved one.

At the same time, nearly half (49%) of grantees under 50 years of age reported that they were worried about their child’s tuition or education expenses, compared to just 29% of grantees 50 and older. And nearly 1 in 5 (19%) of grantees under 50 years of age  said they were worried about their own tuition or education expenses, compared to just 4% of grantees 50 and older.

Given all of this, we knew the work of the Brave of Heart Fund needed to continue, and it has, evolving to provide ongoing support these families in a variety of ways, including scholarships.

The Brave of Heart Scholarship provides scholarship funding for the spouses, domestic partners and children of healthcare workers who lost their lives to the pandemic. These scholarships honor the hard work and sacrifice of their loved ones as their families adjust to reality without them.

In this work, we have the privilege of hearing from individuals who have received our scholarship support to understand how these funds have impacted their lives. One of those stories comes from a woman named Krista, whose husband was a physical therapist and died during the pandemic.

While Krista’s husband was in the hospital battling COVID-19, she found herself amazed by his nurses. The care they showed her husband was nothing short of remarkable, and after he passed, she made a decision to pursue a career in nursing so she could provide others with the gift she was given during her time of need.

“I want to spend the working years I have left giving families the care they deserve when they are not well and in pain. I’ll even get to do my clinicals at the hospital where my husband was treated,” Krista said.

The Brave of Heart Scholarship made this dream possible, allowing her to cut back on her work hours and focus on her studies. Now, she is well on her way to realizing her dream and honoring the work of the brave nurses who cared for her husband at the end of his life.

This is one story of many we have heard since the Brave of Heart Fund began offering scholarships. In our first year, more than 100 individuals received funding through the Brave of Heart Scholarship, and we awarded more than $2.2 million to support their educational efforts. They range in age from 18 to 76 and stretch across 25 states. Among them, 51% are pursuing studies in healthcare-related fields, like Krista. 13% are spouses or domestic partners of deceased healthcare workers, and 71% are people of color, allowing us to support the diversification of the workforce in a powerful way.

While the Brave of Heart Scholarship has already had a meaningful impact, our work is not finished. Applications for our next round of scholarship awards are expected to open in February of 2024, and if you or someone you love is eligible, we encourage you to apply. You can find our eligibility requirements below:

  • Applicants must be a spouse, domestic partner, or child of a healthcare worker, volunteer, or support staff whose life was lost in the fight against the pandemic.
  • Applicants need to have plans to enroll in an accredited program at a vocational and technical school, community college, 4-year college or university, or graduate school (if pursuing healthcare studies).
  • Individuals enrolled in part-time coursework, returning to school for continuing education or exploring a new field of study are eligible.
  • Individuals do not have to be previous recipients of Brave of Heart Fund grants; previous recipients of Brave of Heart Fund grants are eligible.
For more information about the Brave of Heart Scholarship, to be notified when future cycles open or to apply, visit the Scholarship America website.