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Vera Jackson Scholarship recipients enroll in UNG

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Gladys Alondra Padilla, a dual-enrolled at UNG in spring 2018, was one of three high school students to earn the annual Vera Jackson Scholarship this year. The 18-year-old from Dahlonega, Georgia, decided to enroll in UNG in fall 2018 because of its proximity to her home and experience as a dual-enrolled student.

While 17 high school seniors from four different high schools in northeast Georgia vied for the annual Vera Jackson Scholarship, this year three winners enrolled in the University of North Georgia (UNG).

The three recipients were Gladys Alondra Padilla from Lumpkin County, Laycee Queen from Fannin County and Mercedes Eller from Towns County.

"I was so happy," Padilla said. "My parents were really happy."

Padilla, who was dual-enrolled at UNG in spring 2018, knew if she wanted to attend college, she would need financial help. The Vera Jackson Scholarship along with other scholarships will allow her to be a full-time student.

"I will be one of the first in my family to go to college," Padilla said, adding she plans to major in early childhood education at UNG.

The 18-year-old from Dahlonega, Georgia, said she picked UNG because of its proximity to her home and experience as a dual-enrolled student.

"I like the environment and it is a really good school," Padilla said.

Terry Hartman, director of the Vera Jackson Scholarship program, said she is not surprised by recipients deciding to attend UNG.

"UNG has been attracting more and more students, because it is a great school and has great programs," she said. "Plus, it's a natural way for them to leave home and not go too far away."

The Vera Jackson Scholarship is geared toward students with a B average living in Fannin, Union, Towns, and Lumpkin counties who face financial need, Hartman said. She explained that while the candidates must be eligible for the HOPE Scholarship, the HOPE amount alone is not enough for them to attend college.

"Vera Jackson's objective was to break the cycle of poverty through education," Hartman said. "This scholarship pays for room and board for four years. A lot of students would not have been able to make it through college without the Vera Jackson Scholarship."

Potential scholarship recipients are identified by their high school counselor. Then students fill out an eight-question application followed by an interview.

"We are looking for students with leadership skills and activities through their high school career," Hartman said.

Jackson set up the scholarship endowment to be implemented upon her death, which was in 1996. Jackson, who was named in 2007 by Points North magazine as "Georgia's First Lady of Philanthropy," left $1.2 million to the Georgia Community Foundation for exclusive use in this scholarship program.

"I feel so honored because I consider myself a messenger of her wishes," Hartman said.

Since 1997, the scholarship program has provided 130 students with scholarships valued at approximately $20,000 per student over four years. Hartman said many scholarship recipients have returned to their home counties and given back to the community.

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UNG alumna Avery Parker Rice was one of the first students to receive the scholarship in 1997. The Dahlonega native also was the first in her family to attend college. She said the scholarship helped her graduate from UNG with a bachelor's degree and graduate debt free.

UNG alumna Avery Parker Rice is a prime example. The Dahlonega native was one of the first students to receive the scholarship in 1997. She also was the first in her family to attend college.

"One of the greatest things about receiving the Vera Jackson Scholarship was that I graduated from UNG with a bachelor's degree in social science education," Rice said. "And I graduated debt free. I wasn't beginning my adult life burdened with student loans. Being in that positon allowed me to eventually return to school to pursue a master's degree in business at Brenau University."

Now, the Alpharetta, Georgia, resident works for the Georgia Community Foundation, which manages scholarship foundations including the Vera Jackson Program and became the impetus for its sister-foundation, The Georgia Goal Scholarship Program.

"(The Vera Jackson Scholarship) changed the course of my life … and I've come full circle," Rice said. "These programs offer children educational opportunities so that they may fulfill their dreams, and I'm proud to be part of that. I could not do that if the opportunity had never been provided to me."

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