The group later secured college scholarships, paid for and administered by the schools, after Jeffrey Derderian and King turned to Johnson & Wales University President John Bowen for help. Bowen says he was moved by something Jeffrey told him.
"I still remember it. He said, 'Unfortunately, this is going to go ahead and define me, but what I wanted to do, I want to turn this tragedy into something positive, and I want to focus on the children. And that's how I want to spend the rest of my life, is to help them,'" Bowen recalls.
Bowen pledged annual scholarships of up to $15,000 at his school and approached the heads of Rhode Island's six other private colleges and universities for help. Some promised tuition aid to those who qualified; others promised pre-college assistance. The scholarships run through 2024 to cover the youngest children.
The charity's claim of lining up over $12.8 million in pledges was determined by assuming all 76 children would redeem every possible scholarship at multiple schools simultaneously until 2024, according to calculations King provided to the AP. Bowen says there's "no way" the value of the scholarships is close to that amount.The three recipients of scholarships so far include a student at Roger Williams University, who has received $30,000. That could grow to $60,000 if the student completes a degree in two years, a university spokesman says. Johnson & Wales says it has given $32,500 in scholarships to one student. New England Tech awarded a $2,300 scholarship to Savannah Pimentel in January 2012, but she dropped out the same semester. Pimentel's father, Carlos Pimentel Sr., died in the fire, leaving a wife and four children. Savannah, now 25, is the oldest. Pimentel says King helped negotiate a scholarship for her and installed some programs on her computer. But she says she thought the fund would give her an additional $2,300 to match her scholarship. She says it was hard to get in touch with the fund because its phone was disconnected.