Investing in Education

by | Apr 20, 2020 | Business, Education, Pender County

Pender Education Partnership, a nonprofit educational foundation, works to support students, teachers and schools in Pender County.

An investment in education is an investment in the future. This belief led to the formation of the first and only nonprofit educational foundation in Pender County in May 2015.

The Pender Education Partnership (PEP) has as its core mission enhancing “innovative education opportunities for students in Pender County Schools by supporting students and educators through collaboration with educators, parents, businesses and other interested community partners.”

PEP Board President Dave Stipe, a former classroom teacher and school administrator, was one of the founding members of the organization. Along with several others in education and in the community, Stipes saw a need to help teachers buy supplies and fund classroom projects. A forming board of directors, which included current Board Vice President Tammy Proctor, developed the concept for PEP based on similar foundations such as the one in Proctor’s home state of Ohio.

Today PEP hosts fundraisers and encourages employer partnerships to fund mini grants for teachers as well as scholarships for students. Board Member Tammie Parris emphasizes that the foundation’s work toward providing meaningful scholarships for Pender County rising seniors can make the difference in that student being able to afford textbooks or tuition. Students who are planning to continue their education in the areas of trade certifications, community colleges or four-year institutions of higher learning in North Carolina can apply for the scholarships.


Board Member Shannon Grable says the scholarships make “huge impacts” for students. She cites the example of a scholarship recipient who is finishing up her degree in early childhood education at Cape Fear Community College (CFCC).

“The scholarship money took care of some of her tuition and she was just so thrilled to receive it,” Grable says, adding that particularly since this student supports herself while she is going to school, “it really made a positive impact on her.”

Parris, director of continuing education at CFCC, says that any donation to PEP is an investment in the students who will come full circle to businesses and to the community. Providing better opportunities for students can impact those students’ decisions as to whether they return to the county after graduating. An investment in their education is an investment in responsible community members and in future employees for businesses in the county, she says.

Mini grant applications are submitted by teachers and are funded by PEP business partners. Teacher mini grants help fund innovative ideas in the classroom and beyond. Recent mini grant projects have included a life-size chess board, a climbing wall and books for a classroom’s reading libraries. Some teachers have even used a mini grant to help with outside landscaping as part of their continuing Hurricane Florence recovery efforts.


The school budget is set by the state of North Carolina, and local boards of education are not able to raise money for classroom needs. The PEP mini grants are designed to “support teachers’ efforts to explore new technologies, experiments and projects in their classroom,” and the funding “can have significant impact on student learning.”

As Proctor, who is tourism director for Pender County, explains, “It doesn’t matter where you teach, teachers never have enough money for supplies.”

PEP also supports teachers through educator recognitions. The Teacher of the Year and the Principal of the Year receive monetary awards as well as an acknowledgment of their work in their schools. Grable, career development coordinator for Pender Early College, says that “any recognition teachers can get, especially with a financial reward, is appreciated.” She points out that veteran teachers especially have seen very little in the way of raises through the years.

“To have a group like PEP appreciate and understand that and support educators in that way is so appreciated and makes a huge impact,” Grable says.

PEP has also been integral in helping teachers and students recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Florence. In the fall of 2018, Project HOPE – Helping Our Pender Educators – raised money for the 43 teachers and staff members who were displaced from their homes during the storm. PEP raised more than $12,000 in just a few weeks, collaborating with Topsail Chamber of Commerce members, service clubs and others in the community. As a result of the intense fundraising efforts, Pender County School Superintendent Dr. Steven Hill was able to hand each of those teachers a check at Christmas.

The work that PEP does in the Pender County Schools, for teachers and for students, is substantial. Likewise, their financial need is considerable. PEP depends on contributions from individuals and business partners to fund their initiatives. They hold fundraising events and have set up an account with Amazon Smile so that shoppers can easily donate by simply selecting the Pender Education Partnership as their charity.

Events held throughout the year to raise money for mini grants, scholarships and educator recognitions include the Annual State of Education and Economy each fall. In 2019 the Second Annual State of Education and Economy was hosted by PEP business partner Wilmington Box in Burgaw. Superintendent Hill and County Manager Chad McEwen spoke at the event. Designed to inform participants of the challenges and successes faced by the county and the school district, the event has been well attended and will be held again in the fall of 2020.

PEP’s annual Spelling Bee – for adults – is a fun and exciting way for members of the community and local businesses to support the foundation. The Bee will be held on April 23, 2020, at Heide Trask High School from 6 to 8 pm. Teams of four to six adults pay $100 each to compete. Aramark provides food for the event, which is growing in popularity. There were 26 teams participating in 2019, and PEP hopes to see even more join the fun at the 2020 spelling bee. The money raised from the event goes directly to those scholarships PEP awards to rising Pender County high school seniors.


There is a growing need in Pender County for the type of awards and scholarships that PEP provides to teachers and students in the school system. Pender is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and that continues to put a stress on the school system, Proctor emphasizes. Stipe adds that schools are growing so rapidly that a lot of people just don’t realize the impact.

PEP board members stress that donations of any size are appreciated and make a difference.

“If we had more, we could do more,” Parris says.

Become a PEP Business Partner
Pender Education Partnership encourages local businesses to become partners with the organization. The school district is educating the workforce of tomorrow, board members say, and the teachers within the district need the help that PEP is able to offer, with support from the community. There are many businesses in Pender County that could make a huge difference by donating and by becoming long-term partners. To learn more about becoming a business partner, visit PEP’s website at

Join the PEP Spelling Bee
Thursday, April 23, 2020, 6 to 8 p.m.
Heide Trask High School, 14328 N.C. Highway 210, Rocky Point
Teams of four to six adults pay $100 each to compete. Prizes are awarded for best costumes, best cheering section and best team name. All funds raised at the event go directly to PEP scholarship awards. Go to for more information.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to COVID-19 please check with Pender County Education Partnership regarding the April 23rd spelling bee.

About the author

Pat Fontana

Pat Fontana

I am a business writer and communications workshop leader. My business, WordsWorking, and my recently published book, Talk to Me Like I’m a Human, focus on improving workplace communications, concentrating on the fundamentals of human interactions. I developed, write about and train on the concept of REAL Communications, encouraging others to communicate with Respect and Empathy, paying close Attention and Listening with intent. I can be reached at