Baby Brody Pendill Scholarship – Family Turning Tragedy into Blessings
Written By: Robin Reid, Storyteller/Content Manager
Although a child’s life may be brief on earth, they can still have a long-term impact that helps people, especially other children, become healthy and productive adults. Just ask BJ Pendill and his wife, Kristina. They continue to honor the memory of their son, Brody, by helping families send their kids to pre-school.
In its 2018 Annual Report, Early Learning Indiana (ELI) indicated the average annual cost of a high-quality preschool statewide was $9,304 and $7,583 in Morgan County. In 2017, Indiana ranked 43 of 44 states offering state-funded pre-K programs. Over 27,000 4-year-olds in Indiana were not enrolled in preschool due to affordability, according to ELI, the state’s largest and oldest child education nonprofit.
The Baby Brody Pendill Scholarship was established at the Community Foundation of Morgan County (CFMC) five years ago after Brody died due to a chromosome abnormality called Nonsyndromic Holoprosencephaly. Instead of asking people to send flowers for the funeral, BJ and Kristina wanted to give Brody a legacy that continues today as children in need have the opportunity for an early education.
“You have two paths to choose. You can either become bitter or better and we chose better,” Kristina said when talking about the loss of a child. “The better has changed so many lives, so I’m happy to share about Brody to help people.”
A former first grade and kindergarten teacher, Kristina saw many children lacking the “basics” in learning because they either had not gone to preschool or were not taught (i.e. how to hold a crayon) at home.
“I was familiar with CFMC’s work and knew they could help us set up Brody’s fund. We saw there were many scholarships for high school students, so we wanted to help younger kids have a strong start in their early education,” said BJ. “If they don’t have a good foundation at an early age, they’re going to struggle through school and we’ve seen it happen.”
An Edward Jones Financial Advisor since 2002, BJ helps individuals and families understand how to make wise investments that can produce positive, long-term gains. He uses that knowledge to ensure his son’s legacy continues impacting lives for generations to come.
“I’m naturally a math guy, so I know 1+1=2, but it’s the plus part I focus on. If we just keep adding one and one, it (dollars) becomes more significant,” he added. “Everyone can do something and with the work of CFMC and the many other caring individuals in our community, our impact together can be greater.”
High school sweethearts and married for 14 years, BJ and Kristina are blessed with four children: Paisley (age 6), Brody (he would be 5 this year), Audrey (age 4 ½), and Micah (age 2 ½). Paisley arrived after eight years into their marriage and being told they may not be able to have children. Paisley was one year old when they learned another baby was on the way.
About 15-20 weeks into the pregnancy, BJ and Kristina received the devastating news that Brody would not survive, either before or after birth. “Of course, we were shocked and scared, but we put it all in God’s hands and were thankful Brody was still with us,” the Pendills said. “We spent the next 20 weeks before he was born doing the things we had planned for him, like going to a baseball game or having fun during Halloween.”
It’s their strong faith in God and being surrounded by loving family, friends, church (Mt. Gilead in Mooresville) and community that’s carried BJ and Kristina through the last five years. Brody was born and lived a life just shy of seven hours in father’s arms, with family all around him. “Kristina carried Brody into the world and I carried him out,” added BJ.
One year and three days after Brody’s death, BJ and Kristina welcomed their second daughter, Audrey, into the world. Half way into this pregnancy, they were informed that Audrey had the same abnormality as Brody. However, Audrey’s prognosis was a better one because her “brain split”. During early development, the baby’s brain divides into two halves (right and left hemispheres). However, other factors of this condition remained, and Audrey was born visually impaired, had difficulties swallowing, and more.
“Audrey lights up a room wherever she goes. There is never a bad day because she is here with us,” Kristina said. “She has quality of life, something Brody would never have, and we are blessed.”
According to Kristina, Audrey has a feeding tube to supply necessary nourishment, has some vision in one of her eyes, and is learning to talk thanks to her younger brother, Micah. Almost three years old, Micah was adopted by the Pendills and is a perfect fit for their family.
BJ and Kristina have turned their tragedy into blessings by helping young, disadvantaged children attend preschool and get a strong start in their education. Through the tears and pain, they love sharing their memories and stories about Brody with hope others will be encouraged and will help people in need.
“I believe you have to struggle in order to grow,” said Kristina. “It’s important to remain positive and surround yourself with people who care,” said BJ, when asked what they would say to someone who’s going through a difficult time.
CFMC supports the work of BJ and Kristina and believes every child deserves a quality education, including preschool. CFMC’s mission is to connect donors and their charitable giving with our evolving community needs in order to enhance the quality of life for current and future generations through impact grant making.