The North Carolina Community Foundation is so pleased to announce the first recipients of the new NCCF Disaster Relief & Resilience Scholarship, according to Leslie Ann Jackson, director of grants and scholarships. The scholarship was initially established to support students affected by Hurricane Matthew.
Malik Cooper of Lumberton and Alexis Harper of Princeville were named inaugural recipients of the NCCF scholarship, each receiving awards of $5,000. Their selection was based in part on the severity of the impact of Hurricane Matthew on their lives, their demonstrated resilience as well as school performance and community involvement.
Cooper, who is a second-semester freshman at UNC-Charlotte, recalled Matthew’s impact on his family. Despite losing his Robeson County home and most of his possessions, he considered himself “one of the lucky ones.” He noted that he only had to stay in a shelter for a few hours as his family was able to move in with an aunt for a couple of months. Many of his friends and acquaintances had nowhere to go. “I was very lucky I didn’t have to lay my head down next to a stranger,” he said.
Cooper played football at Lumberton High School, where he also volunteered at King’s Learning Center and worked with other disaster victims in Robeson County shelters. Despite the upheaval caused by Matthew, he was able to maintain a stellar grade-point average. This was due, in part, to lessons learned from his mother. “My mom always says, ‘when life gives you something negative, think of every reason to remain positive,’” he said. “That’s what we did.”
Cooper is thrilled to be attending UNC-Charlotte. “I always wanted to go to school in a big city,” he said. He is planning to major in biology or chemistry in preparation for a degree in pharmacy.
Robeson County was hit hard again after Hurricane Florence, which also caused dramatic floods. Cooper said his family did not suffer any loss from this year’s storm, but he, sadly, has friends who are again dealing with extreme recovery issues.
Harper attends Bennett College in Greensboro, also as a second-semester freshman. She and her family lost nearly everything to the devastating flooding that swallowed Princeville after Hurricane Matthew. Her family was displaced to a hotel, which meant she had a lengthy commute to Tarboro High School. She was determined not to let the trauma of Matthew get in the way of her goals. “I decided that I wouldn’t let the storm negatively impact my future,” she said. “I had to focus on the present because the world didn’t stop when I lost everything.”
Harper was extremely involved in high school extracurricular activities, including serving as yearbook editor, captain of the soccer team and as a member of the tennis team. Her number-one goal was to be inducted into the National Honor Society, which she achieved. “Realizing this goal strengthened my belief that anything is possible when you have determination and take action,” she said.
Bennett College was a natural selection for Harper because she valued the “sisterhood” provided by a woman’s college. She is studying political science in preparation for law school.
Choosing the recipients of the NCCF Disaster Relief & Resilience Scholarship was a challenge for the selection committee, according to Sybil Bowick, grants and scholarships specialist. “The committee said there were so many impressive applicants who had lost so much in the storm, yet prevailed in extraordinary circumstances because of hard work and great attitudes,” she said.
The scholarship is another tangible way that NCCF is demonstrating our long-term support after disasters, according to Jackson. “These scholarships were offered in April 2018, which was 18 months after Matthew and the flooding that ravaged the eastern part of our state,” she said. “We all know that these communities are still rebuilding, and some again suffered severe setbacks with Hurricane Florence.”
By Noel McLaughlin