RALEIGH, N.C. — In 2001, the Hertford County Schools in northeastern North Carolina lost just over one of every three of its teachers, the highest teacher turnover rate in the state, and typically began the school year without a certified teacher in every classroom.
A big reason for the teacher shortage, school officials in the rural county found, was a lack of affordable housing near the schools, with some teachers commuting as much as 65 miles to their jobs each day from nearby counties.
That has changed, thanks to a $2.25 million grant from the SECU Foundation that financed construction of Hertford Pointe, a complex of 24 two-bedroom apartments for teachers located in Ahoskie next to the county’s only high school and across the street from its biggest elementary school.
“It has made a remarkable difference as far as recruiting and retention of teachers and the high caliber of teachers,” says Betty Pugh, executive director for human resources for the Hertford County Schools. “Teachers not only have a safe place to live in a good location, but also have networking opportunities with other teachers.”
Education has been a big focus of the Raleigh-based SECU Foundation, the charitable arm of the 1.5 million-member, $18 billion-asset State Employees Credit Union.
The foundation, which started making grants in 2004, gets all its funds, or roughly $8 million a year, through a $1 monthly fee charged for all members who have checking accounts.
“We take no other contributions,” says Mark Twisdale, executive director of the foundation and senior vice president of human resources for the State Employees Credit Union. “We want to keep that membership-focused and the purity of the foundation to align with what the foundation stands for.”
The foundation aims to make grants for projects in the areas of housing, education, health care and human services that will have a big impact and are statewide or can be replicated.
Building on the impact of the Hertford County grant, for example, the foundation made a grant to build an apartment complex for teachers in rural Dare County.
Initially, the foundation launched two scholarship programs.
Since 2004, the foundation has awarded a $10,000 scholarship every year at each of the roughly 360 traditional public high schools in the state, or roughly $3.5 million a year.
Each scholarship funds tuition for eight straight semesters at one of the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system.
Also since 2004, the foundation has awarded two $5,000 scholarships at each of the 58 community colleges in the state, or $580,000 a year.
Each scholarship funds tuition for two years.
And since 2004, the foundation has made a series of high-impact grants for other projects.
The first was a $2 million challenge grant for a new facility to provide lodging for patients at UNC Hospitals and their families.
Launched in 2001, the campaign to raise $5 million for the facility had raised only $1 million, “lacked focus and had hit a rough patch,” says Greg Kirkpatrick, executive director of SECU Family House.
The group met the challenge and the drive went on to raise a total of $8.1 million.
“The SECU Foundation gift was the complete touchstone of the entire project,” he says. “Family House wouldn’t exist without the SECU Foundation stepping up to the plate and claiming it.”
The foundation also has made big grants to Hospice facilities in Goldsboro and in Johnston, Rutherford and Wake counties.
“It’s the State Employees Credit Union members’ money that is invested in these projects,” Twisdale says, “so we want to make the members proud.”