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R.I. colleges pledge aid to fire victims' children

WARWICK, R.I. - Seven Rhode Island colleges and universities have pledged to provide scholarships or other aid to the 76 children who lost parents in a 2003 nightclub fire, one of the club owners announced yesterday.

Brown University, Johnson & Wales, and Providence College are among the schools promising help through The Station Education Fund, said Jeffrey Derderian, who established the charity with his brother, Michael.

The Derderians owned The Station nightclub, where a 2003 fire triggered by a rock band's pyrotechnics killed 100 people.

Jeffrey Derderian said yesterday that the fund, which raises money for education-related costs, has already secured $12.8 million in scholarship pledges, far more than is needed.

The four other participating schools are the New England Institute of Technology, Bryant University, Roger Williams University, and Salve Regina. Though the fund facilitated the scholarships pledges, the schools will be responsible for setting up their own scholarship programs, Derderian said.

Derderian said he hoped to involve Rhode Island's public colleges and eventually colleges in Massachusetts, where many fire victims lived.

"It wasn't about dollars and cents for us," said Johnson & Wales president John Bowen, who contacted other presidents of Rhode Island colleges and universities to encourage them to get involved. "This was a horrible tragedy; this is a way to redefine it and move on."

The scholarship offers extend until 2024 to accommodate the youngest child, who is now 4.

The schools are offering differing commitments. Johnson & Wales, for instance, will allow all 76 children to be eligible for a $15,000 scholarship, while Brown University will open its summer college preparatory program to any child who lost a parent in the fire. Providence College is establishing a scholarship fund named after fire victim Rebecca Shaw, a former student and the daughter of a longtime faculty member.

The Derderians pleaded no contest in September 2006 to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter for installing flammable soundproofing around the stage. Michael Derderian was sentenced to four years in prison, while Jeffrey was given probation and 500 hours of community service.

The Station Education Fund raised nearly $10,000 in its first fund-raising event, a Sept. 30 motorcycle ride from Warwick to Connecticut, said Rich Lang, one of the fund's directors.

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