There’s nothing unusual about Tessa Fulmer’s military life. Her husband, Derek, is in the Air Force, and in the seven years they’ve been married, they have had kids, navigated geo-baching, her family has PCS’d five times, and Tessa has held down the homefront. With each move, she’s created a stable, happy life for her family, while also reinventing her career. She’s a teacher by training, and she’s passionate about leadership and instruction — but she’s worked far beyond that calling. She’s taught first and second grade, run a childcare from her home, and even worked for the government. She’s adapted in every way the military has asked her to.
But she also never forgot her dreams.
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a military spouse in my education journey is that I put the Air Force and my family first,” Tessa told us. Tessa dreamed of going to graduate school, and she was accepted into the Master of Education program at Clemson in her home state of South Carolina. She applied for one of NMFA’s military spouse scholarships, given in increments of $500 and $1000, hoping she could temper the expenses of her graduate degree while investing in her own future.
“I’ve wanted to complete my Master’s in Education for years and am finally determined to make it happen,” Tessa said. “I’m ambitious.”
While the National Military Family Association is normally only able to give small-amount scholarships that help get military spouses across the finish line with their education, cover certificate programs or registrations, or buffer business start-up costs, every once in a while, a special donor comes along ready to do something extraordinary.
That’s where Traveling Vineyard comes in. A direct sales wine company that empowers its sales people as Wine Guides, Traveling Vineyard approached NMFA about making a difference in the life of one deserving military spouse with a $10,000 scholarship.
At their recent annual Harvest (think: your industry’s biggest conference plus a dance party on par with prom plus a big reveal for a new wine you’ve been waiting all year to learn about and now you get to do it with several hundred of your closest friends), Traveling Vineyard asked everyone in the room to stand if they had served or were currently serving. A dozen people stood up. They then asked for every military spouse in the room to stand — 75% of the room stood tall. Once they asked everyone with a child in the military to stand, nearly the entire room was on their feet.
Traveling Vineyard knows military life.
So when they came to us and asked what they could do to make a difference — a real difference — in the life of a military family, we knew right away: Traveling Vineyard could sponsor a scholarship and change the life of a military spouse. When you invest in a military spouse, you invest in the entire military family. Traveling Vineyard stepped forward to fund a $10,000 scholarship for one deserving military spouse. We knew someone’s life was about to change in a huge way, so we got right to work to find the right recipient.
We get thousands of applications for our scholarship applications, so we conducted a nationwide search to find a candidate who wouldn’t just change his or her own life and that of his or her family, but a candidate who would change the community as a whole.
Tessa’s story jumped out at us. Coming off a very hard year personally, Tessa was more committed than ever to changing the lives around her. Her story inspired us, and once we reached out to her directly, we were sure she was the right person. One thing stood out in Tessa’s story, though: All of her schooling could be paid for with $14,000. Traveling Vineyard had promised $10,000, but could we find an additional $4,000 and fully cover her degree?
We did the only thing we could think of: We told Traveling Vineyard the math and asked if they’d consider funding Tessa’s degree in full. “It’s a no brainer,” Rick Libby, Traveling Vineyards CEO, said immediately.
We managed to keep all of this a surprise for Tessa — she had no idea she was up for an exceptionally generous scholarship, and she had no idea she was about to win it. The surprise was no easy feat, but it was completely worth it. On stage at the 2019 Harvest in Las Vegas, Rick presented Tessa with a $10,000 check — and then another $4,000 check to cover her education in full.
Tessa cried. The audience cried. On stage, representatives from NMFA cried. We knew what a big deal this was — not just for Tessa, but for her family, and every community she touches as an educator going forward. The only people not crying were her immediate family — and their pride was clear. They’ve long known what Tessa is capable of; now, they get to see it in action.
“Everything’s finally coming together,” Tessa told us after the scholarship award was announced. We are so excited to see what’s next for Tessa, and all of our scholarship recipients.
NMFA is now accepting military spouse scholarship applications all year long. Learn more and apply now. If you’re interested in learning more about Traveling Vineyard, buying Sky Blossom, or hosting a wine tasting with a Traveling Vineyard Wine Guide, visit their website; Want to become a Wine Guide? Here’s more information.
By Raleigh Duttweiler, Public Relations Senior Manager