Two Stanly County students receive Golden LEAF scholarships

STANLY COUNTY — A pair of Stanly County students have been selected to receive a share of up to $14,000 in collegiate scholarships, according to an official announcement from the Golden LEAF Foundation on June 22.  

Yeika Mercado-Lopez of Stanly Early College High School and Jameel Shaheed of South Stanly High School were two of the 215 students in North Carolina that were honored with the scholarship funding; Mercado-Lopez will attend UNC-Wilmington, while Shaheed is headed to East Carolina University. 

“We are proud to award scholarships to hardworking and bright students with deep roots in their rural communities,” said Scott T. Hamilton, Golden LEAF Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer. “These students were selected out of a pool of more than 1,700 applicants. We look forward to the future success of these scholarship recipients as they follow their education pursuits and develop into North Carolina’s next generation of rural leaders.” 

Per Golden LEAF guidelines, high school seniors entering college as first-year students are eligible for a $3,500 annual scholarship for up to four years of undergraduate study at a participating four-year NC college or university.  

Additionally, community college transfer students are eligible for $3,500 a year for up to three years of undergraduate study. 

The foundation selects recipients from rural or economically distressed counties on an aggregated criteria “based on need, future career goals, and an expressed intent to contribute to the state’s rural communities upon graduation from college.” 

In accordance with a 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies, the Golden LEAF Foundation was created to limit the blowback from tobacco-related job loss since the crop had been a major part of the local economy for generations. The nonprofit collaborates with government and educational institutions in the state to help transition the economy.  

“The Golden LEAF Foundation established the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program to broaden educational opportunities and provide support to students from rural counties with the goal that after graduation recipients will return and contribute back to rural communities,” the foundation said in a press release. “The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA) administers the program and selects students for awards.” 

Students receiving the funds are allowed to use the money to cover costs associated with their education, such as tuition, books, transportation, childcare, fees and supplies; funds can be applied to any semester of the school year. 

To date, Golden LEAF has provided 6,251 scholarships totaling more than $42 million to students from rural communities attending statewide colleges and universities. 

Scholarship recipients can also apply for the Golden LEAF Rural Internship Initiative, an internship program that provides Golden LEAF Scholars with professional work experience related to their career field. Approved interns can earn $15 an hour for up to 400 hours of work over the course of eight to 10 weeks between June and August.