WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — The daughter of a fallen Fort Drum soldier is working to support Gold Star families across the country.

On May 14, 2015, Joelle Leek and her family’s lives changed forever when her father, Staff Sergeant Bryce Leek, was killed in the line of duty in a Humvee accident in New Jersey.

SSG Leek was an active-duty infantryman serving in the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment at Fort Drum, which was his second enlistment. He had also previously served in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Joelle was 15 years old at the time of her father’s sudden death and was finishing her freshman year of high school.

“At that age, it’s a very uncertain time thinking about where you’re going to college, if you’re going to college, and then the grief added on top of that just made things much more complicated for me,” she shared.

Although the Leeks received tremendous support from veterans programs and various organizations, there were still many financial uncertainties for Joelle, her mother and her two brothers.

“My father was the provider for our family and that gave my mom the opportunity to stay home with us kids,” Joelle said. After the loss of her father, there were concerns about if her mother would be able to be as present, especially as three children were preparing for higher education.

This was when Children of Fallen Patriots stepped in. The organization provides college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.

“Children of Fallen Patriots honors the sacrifices of those fallen heroes by supporting the academic success of their children,” Senior Director of Marketing Bana Miller explained.

The organization supports all branches of the military regardless of the nature of death. According to Miller, the organization has provided nearly $60 million in support to over 2,000 children since 2002.

Coming full circle, Joelle recently graduated from the University of Alabama in the spring of 2022 and she now works for Children of Fallen Patriots as a scholarship administrator.

She explained that supporting Gold Star families remains a top priority as she understands their sacrifices after she experienced her father serving two enlistments and several deployments.

“There was a point in my life where my dad was deployed every other year for a year,” Joelle said. “We didn’t ask for that, we didn’t sign up for that. But we were there supporting our person, and now they’re gone. We need that community to step in and support us. I’m really proud to be a part of this mission.”

More information on how to support Gold Star families through the organization can be found on the Children of Fallen Patriots website.