Joining Forces
An endowment from local family law attorney Kevin Zlock aims to honor and support military veterans studying at Bucks County Community College
by Bill Donahue


Jamaica Sunshine Cleary is something of an anomaly. A single mother of two young children, Cleary recently entered her second year at Newtown’s Bucks County Community College and is working her way toward a dream she has been cultivating for decades. At Bucks, Cleary is pursuing an associate’s degree in biology. Once she has completed that task, Cleary hopes to earn a degree in veterinary medicine, become a large-animal surgeon, open her own farm and provide rehabilitation services for horses that otherwise would be put down.


Reaching her ultimate goal will be a smooth ride compared to the challenges Cleary endured in the past seven years, while serving in the Marine Corps and recovering from her service. In 2004 and 2005, Cleary spent six months in Fallujah, Iraq, encountering perils such as incoming fire and IEDs left by enemy forces. In 2007, once back in the United States, Cleary sustained severe physical injuries, including a broken back and lingering nerve damage, in “a freak accident” that effectively ended her three-year tenure with the Marine Corps. Even though Cleary has been back in the United States for years, she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the events she experienced during her tour of duty in the Middle East. 


“I wanted to be a career Marine, and I was upset when I knew that was not going to be a possibility,” she says. “It’s hard to be in school and be a single mom and work. The G.I. Bill income has been a blessing, but the money for school could be a little more.”


Someone has been listening to the concerns of veterans like Cleary.


Cleary is among the locally based military veterans who stand to benefit from the Kevin Zlock Veterans Family Endowment Fund at Bucks County Community College. The fund, the proceeds of which will provide tuition assistance and other resources for veterans of the U.S. armed forces and their families who have enrolled at the college, grew from the seed of a $100,000 donation by Kevin Zlock, founder and managing partner of Kevin Zlock P.C., a firm skilled in the areas of family law and criminal law, with offices in Doylestown and Langhorne.


“My wife, Sima, and I are very staunch patriots. We care very much about honoring the soldiers who defend our freedom,” says Zlock. “We wanted to do something that could help soldiers who were overseas and coming back, because whatever resources are available to them are somewhat limited. Soldiers and their families can use this money to supplement whatever benefits they receive from the government.”


Although Zlock is not a veteran himself, his family has a storied tradition of defending the nation’s freedom, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Most recently, Zlock’s father, who also had a penchant for helping others in need, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. “My dad was very much into philanthropy, though he didn’t have the means that Sima and I have now,” Zlock says.

“You see how devastating the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are and how they affect [soldiers] mentally, physically, financially and from a family standpoint. We have an opportunity to help them directly and assist them in accomplishing the things they want to accomplish upon their return.”


Joe Runewicz can appreciate the sentiment, having served the country in the U.S. Air Force. He is now taking courses in organic chemistry at Bucks County Community College as he works toward a graduate degree in environmental health. “I think it’s great that certain people take the time or share their money or anything in between to assist those who have defended the country,” says Runewicz. “Because of what’s happening with budget cuts in Congress, a lot of veterans are finding that the benefits and other things they were promised are not there for them when they come home. So when someone takes the time to support veterans in something as noble as the quest for knowledge and education, I think it’s admirable and it’s certainly appreciated.”


Changing Lives

Sima Zlock, a Russian immigrant who moved to the United States at the age of 31, with only $534 in her pocket and the faintest grasp of the English language, wanted to be part of something that could have a positive effect on the lives of people who have sacrificed so much of themselves in the name of American freedom.


“Looking at the young men and women going off to war and coming back, sometimes with nothing, it makes you so sad—but just being sad doesn’t help anybody,” she says. “We wanted to do something constructive that would also benefit the area where we live, and where the firm is based. … The idea was to support those people who maybe cannot afford to get an education and to make sure they have equal opportunities.”


Bucks County Community College was the natural choice for the Zlocks, considering their close personal ties to the area. The Zlocks also respected the college’s tradition of helping local military veterans improve their lives through education. For example, some of the 350 veterans currently enrolled at Bucks are receiving job training in the sustainability field at the college’s Green Jobs Academy. Student veterans also have the Stars and Stripes Lounge, a welcoming space that enables them to study, relax and network with their colleagues in the campus’ Student Life Center.


“We are particularly appreciative of folks in the community like the Zlocks, who have seen a community college like ours as a place that can make a difference in supporting this special population,” says James Linksz, president of Bucks County Community College. “They could have made the gift to La Salle or Holy Family, but this seemed to them like the best place to [establish the fund] in order to help veterans and their families.”


It is a rare occurrence when individuals establish such a sizeable fund for a specific population, according to Tobi Bruhn, executive director of the Bucks County Community College Foundation, the college’s nonprofit educational trust, which will be responsible for administering the fund’s proceeds to student veterans. So far, the fund has accrued more than nine months of interest earnings, and it will continue to grow in perpetuity.


“A lot of times endowments are generic in nature or for a certain department,” says Bruhn. “Now we finally have a dedicated fund to put to use that can improve the education and experience of veterans while they’re at Bucks, but also to put them on the right path for whatever they want to do. And that’s what we think the endowment will do for us for the long term.”


For veterans such as Cleary, it is exactly the kind of assistance and helping hand she needs.  “I moved here as a single mom with two kids, and going back to school was what I decided because finding a job was impossible, even with all the experience I had,” she says. “The G.I. Bill has been helpful in paying the bills, but it’s never quite enough. … It’s wonderful when you have people [like the Zlocks] who understand what you’ve done and want to help out.”


For more information on Kevin Zlock P.C. and the Kevin Zlock Veterans Family Endowment Fund at Bucks County Community College, visit or call 215-968-1800.


Kim Billingsley is a freelance photographer based in Doylestown.