The Golden LEAF Foundation is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year as is one of its flagship programs, the Golden LEAF Scholarship program. As part of the Foundation’s mission to increase economic opportunity, the Foundation has awarded hundreds of scholarships over the course of 20 years to North Carolina students, many of whom have in turn started careers in rural North Carolina and provided support for North Carolina’s rural communities.
This year, 215 rural students have been selected to receive a Golden LEAF Scholarship to attend a four-year NC college or university for the 2019-2020 school year. The scholarship winners, chosen from more than 2,000 applicants, hail from 59 rural North Carolina counties from Cherokee County in the west to Dare County in the east. Most have lived in rural North Carolina all their lives.
Golden LEAF Scholarship recipients will receive $3,000 a year for up to four years to attend the four-year NC college or university of their choice. The Golden LEAF scholarship program has the goal of helping rural students build their knowledge and skills with the hope that these students will return to live and work in rural communities.
In addition to the financial award, scholarship recipients can participate in the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program. This optional program provides scholars leadership training through the Center for Creative Leadership and paid summer internship opportunities in rural North Carolina communities.
Golden LEAF scholars are residents of rural NC, but their experiences and career interests vary.
Margaret Bentley, Nash County
Margaret Bentley of Rocky Mount is a community college transfer student, transferring from Nash Community College to North Carolina Wesleyan College in the fall. She will major in Special Education and Psychology. After college, Bentley plans to become a teacher.
“I plan to begin working in my community as a teacher at the middle or high school level while pursuing a master’s degree,” said Bentley. “This will allow me to teach at the community college level. As a special education major, I hope to help many exceptional young people reach their own educational goals.”
While attending Nash Community College, Bentley maintained a 4.0 GPA and was a two-time recipient of the NCC Board of Trustees Scholarship, a Nash Notables Award Recipient, an ambassador and leader in the honor society, and a part of the National Society of Leadership and Success (Sigma Alpha Pi).
Nia Brown, Columbus County
East Columbus High School graduate, Nia Brown, is a longtime resident of Columbus County. She will attend the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the fall and will major in social work.
Brown was an honors graduate and one of the top students in her class. She was also a part of the BETA Club, Helping Hands, Student Council, FBLA, and Mock Trial club. She also worked part time at a grocery store and volunteered at her local town hall.
“I plan to become a mental health counselor after completing college,” said Brown. “My career goal is what motivated me to attend a four-year university. I knew in order to be a mental health counselor I have to meet certain requirements.”
Brown plans to work in a rural area upon graduation.
“I decided on mental health counseling because it’s something that I feel is not taken seriously, especially in rural areas,” said Brown. “I want to work specially with children who have incarcerated parents.”
Alonso Hernandez, Wilson County
A recent graduate of Greenfield School, Alonso Hernandez was born and raised in Wilson, NC. He will attend Wingate College in the fall, majoring in pre-physical therapy.
“I’m a first-generation college student looking to provide a better future for my family and me,” said Hernandez. “A four-year college will lead me in the path to achieving my goal of becoming a physical therapist.”
While at Greenfield School, Hernandez won a State Championship in soccer, was nominated to represent his school in the YMCA Young Leaders Institute and served as the president of the Spanish Club.
“Being a Golden LEAF Scholarship recipient has opened many doors for me,” said Hernandez. “My plan is to open my own practice in my own home county or a surrounding rural county. I would love to bring a change and provide better opportunities to those who could use it.”