Church support provides resources for youth-related education goals
by Eva Stimson | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Laura Sheldon was on her way to psychology class at North Carolina State University when her phone rang. It was Marvin Dickerson, a member of her church — Clemmons Presbyterian — calling with exciting news.
She was the first recipient of a $3,000 scholarship awarded by the recently created Clemmons Presbyterian Youth Endowment, a permanent fund managed by the Presbyterian Foundation.
“I was pretty much floored when I got the phone call,” says Sheldon, whose post-graduation goal is to teach language arts and social studies in middle school. “I’m very grateful.”
Dickerson and his wife, Mary V., established the endowment to further the education and spiritual life of youth who are active in Clemmons Presbyterian Church, a 600-member congregation about 10 miles southwest of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The endowment will fund scholarships and enhance the congregation’s youth program.
“We like to see young people get ahead and have opportunities, and to help them get started in their careers,” Dickerson says. The Dickersons also believe that supporting the church’s youth will ultimately strengthen the church.
“They believe it is an investment in the future,” says Anita Clemons, Vice President and Managing Director of Investments for the Foundation, who helped the Dickersons set up the endowment. As she and Marvin discussed plans for the fund, she says, “we started talking about how the Foundation has a long-term perspective — it’s not just about mission today. He got excited about that.”
The youth endowment is one of more than 7,000 permanent funds managed by the Foundation, with assets totaling approximately $700 million. The oldest fund — created in 1821 to pay for religious reading material — is still distributing funds for that purpose, Clemons says.
“Permanent” funds cannot be cashed in by their donors but support mission in perpetuity, Clemons explains. “Through world wars, depressions, recessions, bull and bear markets, they continue to provide sustainability for the work of the church.”
The Dickersons had already established four education-related endowments before working with the Foundation on the Clemmons Presbyterian Youth Endowment. Their commitment to education grows out of their background — Mary V. as a college professor, and Marvin as a researcher in meteorology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
They joined Clemmons Presbyterian Church eight years ago, after moving to North Carolina. “One thing that led us to the church was the youth program,” Dickerson says.
A five-member board of trustees oversees the Clemmons Presbyterian Youth Endowment and awards scholarships. The church’s website encourages donations to the fund, and Dickerson says a couple of members already have expressed interest in contributing.
Guidelines for the endowment state that the funds are intended to provide scholarships and to supplement — but not substitute for — routine support of youth activities by members of the congregation. Endowment funds could support a project, such as a youth-led community garden, or pay expenses for a special youth program or retreat that the congregation could not otherwise afford.
Awarding the endowment’s first scholarship to former youth group member Laura Sheldon was “a joy,” Dickerson says.
Sheldon says involvement in the Clemmons Presbyterian youth program since eighth grade helped her grow in her faith and develop leadership skills. She represented the congregation on her presbytery’s youth council and served as a counselor at Massanetta Springs, a Presbyterian conference center near Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Sheldon has been active in campus ministry at NC State. In her scholarship application, she wrote: “My faith and my education have been closely intertwined this year as I learn how to be the most effective teacher that I can be.”
Learning about multiculturalism and diversity has stretched her faith, she said. “My church family , as well as my campus ministry, ave helped me to see the benefit of a church that can grow and adapt to the changing reality, while still staying true to what we know and believe.”
As a teacher, Sheldon hopes to “share the light of Jesus” and to make an impact by “modeling God’s grace, love, and acceptance to my students.”
The scholarship money will help move her closer to her goals. But even more important, she says, “it makes me feel very supported by my church.”
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