Program reaches out to rural N.C. girls
Emily Hadley, a rising senior at Duke University, grew up in rural New Hampshire.
Back home, she took advantage of a Dartmouth University program that let her glimpse opportunities beyond her small world.
“It encouraged me to think about being a female leader,” she said. “It seems like a small thing, but it was important to me.”
Now, she’s working with adjunct research professor Deborah Hicks on a summer program in rural Madison County in western North Carolina, trying to share similar knowledge with middle school girls with limited career options.
Hicks, founder and director of a program called Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education, this year launched a pilot project called Education and Rural Entrepreneurship in Appalachia (EREA).
Funded by the Bass family, it’s meant to explore needs, challenges and opportunities in North Carolina’s mountain communities, and teams Duke faculty, researchers and students with town leaders and educators in places like Hot Springs and Laurel.
“We take a team of Duke University students for nine weeks and live out here in the beautiful North Carolina mountains and serve as mentors and teachers and tutors and role models for girls growing up in low-income mountain communities,” Hicks said.
Madison County continues to struggle, even with the Great Recession largely behind it.
“One of the problems we have here in Madison is the loss of jobs,” Hicks said. “There’s just no big industries or blue-collar jobs. But one option is for people to become entrepreneurs and create their own jobs.”
The girls in the program are learning about local food resources, which can provide opportunities for entrepreneurship, such as fruit baking.
“They’re also learning financial literacy, business planning, marketing and launching their own small-business project,” Hicks said. “We’re hoping they can start to envision new kinds of futures for themselves.”
Tabitha Gouge, a Hot Springs native and a teacher at Brush Creek Elementary School, helps with EREA.
“I don’t want to say girls are sheltered here,” she said, “but there’s not many opportunities like this to learn about getting out of town or doing stuff on your own. I hope they take away life-changing goals from this.”
Hadley wants to give Appalachian girls the tools they need to make their own way in the world.
“We want the girls to finish this program and understand what it takes to run a business.”
“It’s hard to keep up with a 21st century modern world when you don’t have 21st century opportunities.”