Dancing with Stars funds result in 12 scholarships
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 29, 2011 1:46 PM
Dr. Ed Wilson, chairman of the Wayne Education Network, welcomes the audience to the group's scholarship presentation at Wayne County Chamber of Commerce. More than $11,000 in scholarship money was given to 12 recipients.
Stephanie Webber was one of 12 teacher assistants in the program to be awarded a portion of $11,000 in scholarship funds raising from the March Dancing Stars of Wayne County event.
Dr. Debbie Grady, director of the Dancing Stars of Wayne County Fundraiser, looks at one of the scholarship recipients with pride during the ceremony Thursday.
Stephanie Webber can't imagine not being in a classroom.
The instructional assistant has been working diligently toward her teaching degree, through the Wachovia Partnership East program at Wayne Community College.
And yet, several months ago she was at a crossroads, weighing whether that would ever happen.
"I was contemplating putting my education on hold. I had financial responsibilities that I thought I couldn't handle without help," she said. "I had purchased a house in September, got married in January -- January 1 -- and being married is expensive."
The dilemma proved exhausting, as the questions tumbled through her mind, she said.
"How am I going to do this? Three years of education, this is the last stretch," she said. "Am I really going to call it quits? Am I going to seek help? What am I going to do?"
When she learned about a scholarship opportunity through Wayne Education Network and the Wayne County Chamber -- and the splashy spring fundraiser Dancing Stars of Wayne County -- hope began to resurface.
"It's made me want to continue my education," she said. "I have worked with a school for about three years now. All the experiences that I gained as a teacher assistant, I would give anything to keep adding to those memories."
On Thursday afternoon, she joined 11 other instructional assistants in the program, awarded scholarship money to help push them toward the finish line.
"I believe this is really an investment and we really thank you," Mrs. Webber said at the ceremony.
Sonja DeBois shared a similar story of nearly having her dreams of teaching derailed.
An instructional assistant for seven years, she said it's been a "calling" but not necessarily an easy one to achieve.
"It's been a dream of mine, a goal since I was 14, to be a teacher," she said.
She recalled Wachovia Partnership East being introduced in 2004, as an option for those interested in pursuing a teaching degree without having to travel to Greenville every day. Courses could be taken online and at WCC to satisfy the requirements.
"It opened a door for me -- (and those) who wanted to go back to school who were full-time and working adults who couldn't stop working," she said. "And we had families. Being able to do our classes online was very helpful."
And yet, life has a way of interrupting plans. Juggling the daily responsibilities of work and her own family, including the loss of two relatives in the midst of her studies, delayed some of the progress.
"I took a year off, got back in the program and now will be graduating in December," she said.
She was able to overcome the final hurdle when she learned of the possible financial aid.
"When I found out about this scholarship, it was a blessing to me," she said. "This money gave us the opportunity to continue our education and meet our goals of graduating."
At the presentation ceremony, she thanked the benefactors -- not just for the money but for believing in the potential educators enough to take a chance on them.
Dr. Debbie Grady, director of the Dancing Stars event, said the 12 recipients all work full-time and go to school. They have been together in the education cohort for more than three years.
"They have been really busy," she said. "They have families, most of them have children, lots of responsibility other than school.
"The (grade-point average) in this group is very high and they have just done a wonderful job."
While they are all currently employed, when it comes time to do their internships, that will change,.
"When they do their student teaching, this fall or spring semester, they must leave their job," she explained, noting that meant loss of income and insurance. "So it really is a difficult challenge for them and that's why these scholarships are so dear to my heart."
Each recipient of an $850 check is "amazing," said Laura Bilbro-Berry, assistant director of teacher education at East Carolina University.
"They put their kids to bed, put in a load of laundry and do their coursework at night," she said. "All of this work, all of that sweat, all of those hours is a commitment to the community."
But it demonstrates the caliber of educator they will become.
"You'll make sure to give back to Wayne County by being the very best educator that you can be," she told the group, before turning her remarks to those responsible for the dance event. "All the fancy footwork really helped pay it forward."
Remaining scholarship recipients included Barri-Ann Wiggins, Kasey Powell, Gabriela Lamm, Ivy Heath, Kelly Herring, Tracy Cruze, Deborah Bass, Jessica Smith, Monica Bourdon and Deborah Parrott.
Another $1,000 scholarship was presented to a high school senior, in honor of Dr. Charles and Melissa Zwerling, co-producers of the first annual fundraiser, who also provided access to their business, Top Hat Ballroom Dance Studio, as well as instructors.
Austin Eslyn, 18, received the performing arts award. Home-schooled, he will be a freshman at Mount Olive College this fall.
Proficient on the piano, guitar and cello, he fronts a Christian band, "Awaken," and aspires to become a church worship leader.
Dr. Ed Wilson, chairman of the Wayne Education Network, praised the progress of the countywide initiative he founded in 2009 through the Chamber.
He said WEN was formed to create stronger partnerships between the education and business communities, and that entities like Partnership East only build upon that.
"This project, Dancing Stars of Wayne County, has enabled us to fund activities and provide scholarships," Wilson said.
The first event was a proven success, added Ben Seegars, chair of Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.
"(It) netted over $57,000," he said, providing "the ability to create these awards we're presenting this afternoon."
Plans for the second annual event are already under way, Mrs. Grady said.
"We have been meeting for a few months," she said. "We have recruited 12 stars, 12 more we're working on. ... March 24 will be the second annual fundraiser. We have already booked Walnut Creek."