GREENVILLE (February 23, 2022) – At the outset in 2004, Eddie Smith thought his family’s support might help four or five students at Pitt Community College.
It’s since helped more than 1,200.
The family foundation run by Smith, the owner and CEO of Grady-White Boats in Greenville, has poured more than $4 million into VISIONS, a program that reaches out to at-risk high-school students, mentors them and provides financial and technical support for them to get a degree or certificate at Pitt Community College.
PCC President Lawrence Rouse explains how VISIONS identifies students in high school and offers a summer bridge program to help them get comfortable with the idea of college. Rouse notes that the program has a high graduation rate – even for students who weren’t expected to finish high school.
“There’s a lot of support for them to be successful,” he says.
Smith says he initially thought VISIONS might help four or five students prepare for college, a career and a better life.
“I would have never dreamed that VISIONS would have grown to where it is today,” he says.
Rebecca Warren, Director of VISIONS, says the root of the program is a personal relationship with each and every student. Counselors share their cell-phone numbers with students to call any time they need help – sometimes in the middle of the night. If the students have a high school football game or play, their VISIONS counselors are in the audience.
“That’s going to let them know we’re there for them to succeed,” Warren says.
A highlight is a visit to Grady-White Boats, where some students see what their relatives do to earn a living, hear from the company president and get a sense of what it means to work in a thriving local industry.
Warren notes that the program includes scholarship help of $500 a semester – and 98% of its graduates graduate without any student debt. But the goal isn’t simply to get students into college – it’s to get them through college and into a profession.
Robynique Willis-Brown discusses how VISIONS gave her financial help she needed and helped her understand “how to go to college and be an adult.”
Willis-Brown recounts how she graduated from high school in 2012, then from PCC, then earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from nearby East Carolina University. She now works as an oncology case manager at Vidant Health.
Warren also describes the fruit of the VISIONS vine: Graduates who join the military. A student in law school. Teachers. Social workers.
“A career that they would have never thought about until they got into VISIONS, and they saw some of what we did through VISIONS and they thought, ‘Oh, I really want to help people,’” she says.
Some of those graduates come back to share with VISIONS students.
“They come back and share with our students because they know how much VISIONS meant to them,” Warren says. “They want students to see the success.”
“We know that we’re making an impact on these students,” she says. “But the greatest part of that is that they’re now making an impact on the community that they came from.”