Nighttime view of New York City skyline (© Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)
The annual Tribute in Light illuminates the New York City skyline on the anniversary of 9/11. (© Gary Hershorn/Getty Images)

Within days of the September 11 attacks, people all over the world offered help to the children of its victims. Now, thanks to that generosity, those children are grown up and pursuing higher education and successful career paths.

The Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund is covering college tuition for financially needy dependents of those killed or permanently disabled in the attacks or their aftermath. Governments, corporations, foundations and individuals have donated to the fund, which is administered by a Minnesota-based nonprofit group called Scholarship America.

Joe Palombo, 29, is one beneficiary. His father was a New York City firefighter who rushed to the Twin Towers wreckage on 9/11 to save others. His bravery caused him to lose his own life.

Palombo was 12 years old when his father died. He was the third of 10 children, who ranged in age from 11 months to 15 years. For a time, he struggled academically after losing his dad, he says. But today, he’s a 2013 graduate of New York’s Pace University, with a master’s degree in business administration, working as an accountant at a New Jersey analytics firm.

Palombo cites his supportive family as “an integral part” of his success but says the scholarship helped him build on the foundation his family provided. Donors “were investing in me, so I felt it was my duty to do well in school,” he says.

The scholarship allowed him to concentrate on academics, rather than take a job during college. “And I graduated without student debt,” he says.

Man giving thumbs up next to mascot (Courtesy of Joe Palombo)
Joe Palombo (Courtesy photo)

As an undergraduate, Palombo spent two weeks in China to learn about Chinese business culture — a valuable experience in preparing for a career that typically involves international travel. He was hired shortly after completing his master’s degree and has traveled to Argentina, where his firm has clients and he is able to put his fluent Spanish to use.

To date, the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund has distributed $152.4 million to 3,500 students. The fund will operate through the year 2030, when the last of the 9/11 children will have completed college.