Golden LEAF Celebrates 20 Years of Scholars at Leadership Conference

Graduates giving back - starting in their hometowns

One of the lasting legacies of the Golden LEAF Foundation is its 20-year-old scholarship program for rural North Carolina students. The Golden LEAF Scholarship program provides scholarships to 215 rural students attending NC colleges and universities annually. For almost two decades, the Foundation has awarded scholarships to students from rural communities who are graduating with the skills, passion, and leadership experiences to help their home communities.

As part of the experience, many students also participate in the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program (GLSLP), that offers paid internships in rural communities and leadership training from the world-renowned Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro for approximately 300 scholars each year. With decades of Golden LEAF scholars back in their home communities, it is fair to say their influence is helping rural North Carolina thrive.

Carley VanHoy attended all four years of the GLSLP. Her last internship at A Time for Science in Greenville helped her make the decision to attend graduate school for science education immediately following her graduation. VanHoy plans to teach at a local public school, while finishing her graduate degree at ECU.

Carley VanHoy – a Golden LEAF Scholarship recipient and graduate of the GLSLP – is obtaining her degree from the Honors College at East Carolina University this May nearly debt free. The Mount Airy native plans to enter graduate school in June to earn a master’s degree in science education so that she can return home to serve her community in a much-needed field teaching STEM.

VanHoy said the Golden LEAF program prepared her for teaching and serving in a diverse community. “We were all individuals of different backgrounds, cultures, and communities united by one very important thing: we all wanted to make this world a better place, starting with our community back home.”

A graduate of Anson County Schools, Gennifer Jones now teaches English at Anson County Early College High School. She was able to intern at the Anson County Board of Education while participating in the GLSLP.

Golden LEAF Scholarship alumna Gennifer Jones agreed with this sentiment. She said she is excited to be working at Anson Senior High School as an English teacher in her home county. She attended Wingate University with a Golden LEAF Scholarship and participated in the GLSLP, preparing her for her current role leading a classroom of future engineers, business leaders, and public servants.

“After graduating college, I immediately knew I would return home to Anson County to give back to my community,” said Jones. “I honestly decided to live and work in Anson County because it gave me my start. My return home is simply to inspire others that they too, can be great in whatever they set their hearts to do.”

Justin Jeffress is not only a Golden LEAF Scholarship recipient and GLSLP graduate, but also serves as a GLSLP coach. He also decided to live and work back home in Johnston County as a 7th grade middle school math teacher, basketball coach, and recently named athletic director at Benson Middle School.

Justin Jeffress was happy to return home to work in Johnston County after graduating from college. He appreciated his time with the GLSLP so much that he has become a coach for the next generation of scholar leaders.

“To me, the Golden LEAF Foundation is a family that I never imagined being a part of,” said Jeffress. “Just like a successful family,  the GLSLP provided: unconditional support and love at all times; opportunity for personal growth through GLSLP conference seminar sessions; opportunity for professional growth through summer internship opportunities; and service project opportunities to allow for us as young developing leaders to grasp the importance of leadership through service to our communities. My Golden LEAF family has played and continues to play a huge roll in my daily development as a leader within my personal life, professional life, and also within my community.”

GLSLP participants are able to earn up to $8,830 in stipends over four years of participation in the program. Not only will these scholars have a four-year degree upon completion of college, but they will also have up to three years of paid internship experience in their field of choice and leadership training from the Center for Creative Leadership.

“In fact, 43% of scholars who completed summer internships last year were offered permanent full or part-time employment as a result of their performance,” said Julie Griffin, Senior Director of the GLSLP. “100 percent of the scholars who participate for four years in the GLSLP finished school in 4.5 years.”

These rural North Carolinians have a positive outlook on the future of their communities.

“A strong 94% of scholars graduate from the program believing they can make a positive impact on rural North Carolina,” said Griffin. “They are more likely to see themselves as leaders, report social support, have greater career clarity, and perceive more opportunities to work in rural North Carolina.”

Giving students a set of leadership skills and experiences in this program composed of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, sets the scholarship program apart from most financial aid sources available. These students also applied as college freshmen to be a part of the GLSLP and attend the state’s public and private four-year colleges and universities.  Most importantly, they share a common thread – they are from rural North Carolina and expressed interest in living and working in their home county after graduation.

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