By MICHELLE R. SMITH
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) â¿¿ Months after they were sentenced for a 2003 fire at their Rhode Island nightclub that killed 100 people, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian set up a charity to help educate the dozens of children who lost one or both parents in the blaze.
They held fundraisers for the Station Education Fund and persuaded several colleges to promise scholarships. Today, more than five years after it was established, the fund boasts on its website that it has secured $12.8 million in pledged scholarships and programs for 76 children.
As the 10th anniversary of the tragedy approaches on Feb. 20, an Associated Press review of the charity's accomplishments finds the reality is more modest.The maximum potential value of the scholarships is closer to $4.5 million, according to a college president who helped line up the pledges, and that assumes the unlikely scenario that all 76 children will go on to four years of college. Also, only three students have attended college with tuition help from the program since it started in 2007, with scholarships so far valued at just under $70,000. And one of those students withdrew after less than a semester, saying she couldn't afford to continue. A separate program run by the charity, paid for by fundraisers organized by the Derderians, has given out nearly $18,000 to the children for miscellaneous items such as textbooks, school clothes and computers, according to figures provided by the fund and papers filed with the state. The Derderians declined requests for interviews and referred questions to Jody King, a friend who founded the fund with them and whose brother was killed in the fire. King says that he considers the charity a success and that they've tried their hardest. "We helped one child, we did our job," King says. "I think we've done a really good job."