Gates County Community Partnership's “The Access Initiative” Helps Bridge the Digital Divide

In an initiative to help bridge the significant digital divide prevalent in rural America, Gates County Community Partnership (GCCP) has relaunched “The Access Initiative.” This program aims to provide laptops to eligible students at Central Middle School and Gates County High School, fostering improved educational outcomes and empowering the next generation.

The digital divide refers to the inequality in access to technology and online resources, creating barriers for students in rural areas. Recognizing the urgency of addressing this disparity, Gates County Community Partnership has taken proactive steps to equip local students with the essential tools they need to succeed academically and beyond.

To qualify for “The Access Initiative,” students must be currently enrolled at Central Middle School or Gates County High School and eligible for free or reduced lunch. By targeting those who demonstrate financial need, the program ensures laptops are distributed to those who will benefit the most.

“The importance of technology in homes cannot be overstated. It has become an integral part of our education system, enabling students to access information, engage in online learning platforms, and develop critical digital literacy skills,” emphasized Gates County Community Partnership Director, Chante Jordan. "The Access Initiative aims to level the playing field for our students, ensuring they have the necessary technology to succeed academically. By providing laptops, we are striving to close the digital gap and empower our students to meet their full potential."

Through this initiative, students will have the ability to conduct research, complete assignments, and collaborate on projects using online resources, creating a more interactive and engaging learning environment. By breaking down the barriers caused by the digital divide, Gates County Community Partnership is fostering equity in education and promoting exceptional academic outcomes for all students.

Applications can be found at and can be submitted to ga[email protected]. The deadline is Friday, November 3, 2023.

For more information on “The Access Initiative,” please contact Gates County Community Partnership at 252-220-5051 or email [email protected].


Gates County Community Partnership Supports Navy National Defense Cadet Corps

Gates County Community Partnership has stepped up to offer unwavering support to Gates County High School’s Navy National Defense Cadet Corps (NNDCC) with a donation of $1,000. This contribution will play a crucial role in assisting the cadets by covering expenses for various activities that enhance their overall experience.

Unlike many similar programs across the nation, the NNDCC receives no financial assistance from the US Navy. As a result, it must actively engage in fundraising efforts and rely on the support of the local community to provide the resources necessary for the success and development of the program.

When asked about the donation, Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr., President of the Gates County Community Partnership, emphasized the organization's commitment to supporting local educational initiatives, stating, "We firmly believe in investing in our youth and providing them with opportunities to explore the Armed Forces. The Navy National Defense Cadet Corps is an exceptional program, and we are proud to assist them in achieving their goals."

The NNDCC program aims to cultivate leadership skills while fostering a sense of discipline among its cadets, all within the context of national defense. Students who participate in the program learn teamwork, responsibility, and citizenship skills. By exposing cadets to diverse aspects of the military, the program provides them with valuable experiences that will significantly impact their future.

The Navy National Defense Cadet Corps expresses its deep gratitude to Gates County Community Partnership for their dedication to the program's mission. The NNDCC encourages more organizations and community members to follow the example, ensuring the long-term success and stability of the program for years to come. Together, Gates County can empower and inspire future leaders.

For those interested in supporting the Navy National Defense Cadet Corps, donations can be made by contacting Gates County High School directly at 252-357-0720. Every contribution, regardless of its size, will be of great value to the growth and success of this essential educational initiative.

Gates County Community Partnership Receives Burroughs Wellcome Fund Grant

Gates County Community Partnership recently received a $5,000 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund to support youth enrichment initiatives in Gates County.

"We would like to thank the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for Investing in youth development in Gates County, as it is not only an investment in the future but it creates a brighter present," stated Sandra Jordan Branch, Director, Gates County Community Partnership. "Empowering young minds and providing them with opportunities and mentorship enables them to reach their full potential and become the change-makers our world needs."

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund serves and strengthens society by nurturing a diverse group of leaders in biomedical sciences to improve human health through education and powering discovery in frontiers of greatest need.

More information on the Burroughs Wellcome Fund can be found at:




Athletic Training Facility Opens

September 27, 2022  by Cal Bryant, Roanoke Chowan News Herald

GATESVILLE – What’s old is new at Gates County High School.

Thanks to grant funding from several sources plus the vision of local education officials and community organizations, the school’s old gym has been transformed into a state-of-the-art fitness facility.

After years of planning and several rounds of applying for the needed grant funding, school system officials and invited guests took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 16 to formally open the Gates County Schools Athletic Training Facility.

In addition to the new weight-lifting devices and exercise equipment is an “indoor field”, a smaller version of the outdoor stadium, complete with synthetic turf, that can be used by athletic teams to practice in case of inclement weather.

“What a great day it is for fitness,” stated Gates County Schools Superintendent Dr. Barry Williams to kick off the ribbon cutting ceremony who then recognized the county’s board of education members present. Ray Felton, chair of that board, also gave remarks.

“The fitness facility was truly a collaborative effort of many individuals and groups providing the vision, design, construction and funding to make our fitness facility come to fruition.” Dr. Williams stated, “I want to thank so many people, because it takes a team to make things happen and your efforts are appreciated.”

Williams noted that the funding for the fitness facility came from grants earmarked specifically for athletic facilities. The sources of the grants were the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI)-Athletics and grants through private organizations specifically written and approved for health and wellness.

He added that because the decision was made to transform the old gym into the fitness facility, savings were realized due to the fact that a new building was not needed.

“A lot of time and effort was put into writing grants to fund this much needed facility,” Dr. Williams remarked. “We are very appreciative for the funding and know that many will benefit from this project.”

Noted contributors to the project include the Gates County Board of Education, Benjamin Saunders – President of Gates County Community Partnership – the Obici Healthcare Foundation, The Blocker Foundation, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Jeremy Wright – District Athletic Director / Director of Student Services – GCHS Principal Jonathan Hayes, GCHS Athletic Director Jacob Harrell, GCHS head football coach Matt Biggy, Johnny Greene – Director of Maintenance, and the Maintenance Crew – Bracey Perry, Ken Cowper, Randy Lowe, Jesse Matthews, Rowdy Harrell, Carlton White and Lynne Rountree.

He credited Wright, Harrell and Coach Biggy for assisting in the designing/planning stage of the facility. The Gates County Maintenance Department was given high praise for their work in making all the plans into a reality.

“It’s been about two years in the making,” said Dr. Williams. “At first we talked about doing a metal building. It kept blossoming and blossoming into what you see right here. We converted the old high school gym into an amazing fitness facility that is one of the best high school facilities in the state.”

Williams continued, “Most importantly, this is a true example of a variety of groups working together to achieve something great. We are going to continue to be champions, not only for our students but for our staff and community as well to provide a space for a healthier lifestyle.”

The new space, with its increased square footage over the old weight room, will allow more students to participate in fitness routines.

“This facility will allow us to double maybe even triple the number of students we are able to safely put in our weightlifting classes,” said Hayes. “Several of our staff members have already asked for a tutorial on how to use the equipment. The facility will help our students and staff create a healthy lifestyle.”

“I am extremely grateful for the amount of support on this project that will benefit our students, athletic programs, and Gates County community. We set out to build one of the nicest facilities in North Carolina and I believe we have achieved that,” noted Harrell.

As mentioned earlier, the facility would not have been possible without the assistance of community organizations such as the Gates County Community Partnership. Along with Saunders, other members of the group attending last week’s ribbon cutting were Brian Rountree, Sherley Jones, Jr., Sandra Jordan Branch, and Chante Jordan.

Saunders said he reached out to Dr. Williams to share information about the Obici Healthcare Foundation in an effort to see if that organization would financially support the new fitness center.

Saunders said he toured the old weight room at the high school.

“The equipment looked like what we had 30 years ago when I was here and is not conducive to athletic performance. Our students deserve better. We will never be great if we don’t figure something out,” Saunders said.

Despite the first grant proposal being rejected by the Obici Healthcare Foundation, a second effort was made.

“We had in-depth conversations with Obici and Coach Biggy, Mr. Hayes, working with Mr. Harrell and Mr. Greene, and others in Gates County Schools,” Saunders said. “Dr. Williams worked his magic and in January 2022 dreams became reality. Obici Healthcare Foundation agreed to provide the seed funding for the Gates County Schools Athletic Training Facility This space will be a catalyst for improved health outcomes for our citizens and students. It will also advance the level of performance of our athletes with equipment specifically designed for that purpose.”

Saunders stressed that the Gates County Community Partnership is all about unity and prioritizes courtesy and respect.

“We don’t focus on changing viewpoints; we focus on bonding on a human level,” he said. “A community that works together, in love and with good intentions, can do big things. A community that is objective, gives each other the benefit of the doubt, understands that each of us is inherently good; a community that is civil and strives to understand and befriend those deemed different. Nothing is more honorable. Let’s be eager to find opportunities to serve, without condition or expectation.”

My Student Experience: Reading Program Started By Lisa Wilkins ’22MED Connects Gates County Students With Mentors

September 22, 2022  

On a Friday afternoon at T.S. Cooper Elementary School in Sunbury, North Carolina, almost 40 fourth- and fifth-grade boys sat down with male mentors from across the Gates County community and cracked open the first page of Dwayne Reed’s Simon B. Rhymin’.

For the rest of March and April, the Mentors Empowering Our Wildcats (MEOW) Groups continued to meet. Each Friday, they read another chapter. Since T.S. Cooper Elementary had only one male teacher, members of the Gates County Community Partnership, as well Gates County principals, high school teachers and even the county superintendent, Barry Williams, stepped in to serve as the students’ mentors.

“It was all about how it is really cool for men to read, to build those relationships, and every male mentor shared their story,” said Lisa Wilkins ’22MED, a teacher and instructional support coach at T.S. Cooper who earned her Master of Education in New Literacies and Global Learning – Reading Education last semester.

Wilkins started the mentorship program after inspiration struck while taking ECI 508: Teachers As Leaders with Associate Professor Jill Grifenhagen.

Wilkins had spent more than two decades teaching classics like Charlotte’s Web, but despite her love for those books, Grifenhagen’s class made her want to try something different. When she noticed Simon B. Rhymin available on Scholastic’s website for $1 a copy, she bought 42 of them. Then, she reached out to the Gates County Community Partnership, as well as other male mentors in the school district, to get the mentorship program underway.

The goal of the program was to help the students build positive relationships with male mentors through reading, and to provide a welcoming environment where that could occur.

“It was all about building relationships,” Wilkin said. “It was never to put a student on the spot because we all know that we have students that are not as well developed readers as others, so if they felt like that, they didn’t have to read.”

At the final session, each student was given a kite, which they assembled and flew with the mentors.

“Some of them had never flown a kite before,” Wilkins said. “It was really, truly amazing.”

For the students, the mentorship program became a way for them to break up their normal routine with something new and exciting. It’s an impulse that Wilkins understands well, the same impulse that inspired her to pursue a graduate degree.

“Once you teach for a while, you’re like, ‘I need something to refresh that spirit,’” Wilkins said. “To refresh that spirit, I applied to NC State for the master’s degree program.”

In the program, Wilkins was exposed to new ideas that broadened her view of education.

“Sometimes you think that everybody teaches like you do and is in the same environment that you are,” Wilkins said. “Then when you get into a class where one of my colleagues that worked in the class said that her school had 60 different languages, I was sitting here thinking that I didn’t even know there were 60 languages.”

She also learned techniques that allowed her to increase the impact she can make on students.

“Everything just aligned and just meshed together, making you really understand how to help kids learn how to read,” Wilkins said.

Those techniques were useful when Wilkins, inspired again by her Teachers as Leaders course, decided to work with 12 students on a poetry activity. Those 12 students then submitted their poems to the Young Writers program, and each one of them is now a published author.

“We have one stoplight in our entire town, our entire county, so we’re very out there,” Wilkins said. “We’re like tractors and farmers and that kind of thing, and just for the kids to feel that they’re important, that was just super.”

The poetry activity, as well as the MEOW Groups mentorship program, were a way for Wilkins to use what she learned at the NC State College of Education to further inspire a love of literacy.

“I definitely think that spark is there now,” Wilkins said. “The [MEOW Groups students] begged the entire time, “Can I please take this book home?’”

Upon completion of the mentorship program, each student did receive their own copy of Simon B. Rhymin’, to read whenever they liked.

Youth Baseball / Softball Signup Underway at Community Center

Gates County Index

GATESVILLE – Youth baseball and softball are officially back at the Gates County Community Center.

With the assistance of Gates County local government, Gates County Schools, Gates County Community Partnership as well as an outpouring of support from private donors within the community and neighboring areas, the idea of restarting a youth baseball and softball program has become a reality.

The Community Center is currently taking registrations for boys and girls ages 7 through 12 until April 1. The fee is $40 per player.

The league, which begins in May, will be chartered as part of Tarheel Leagues, Inc. All home games will be housed at the Community Center, with the possibility of a few additional games against neighboring counties. There will also be an All-Star opportunity that will take place around the 4th of July at a site to be determined later.

If you have a baseball or softball player and would like to sign them up, contact the Community Center at 252-357-0677 for more information on how to register.

The Community Center is also playing host to Albemarle Senior Games on March 29.

Saunders Legacy Remains

By Cal Bryant

Editor, Gates County Index

GATESVILLE – As he did while still walking among us, Benjamin Saunders, Sr. is still making headlines.

Saunders, who spent 40 years in Gates County Public Schools – first as a science and math teacher, then as principal of T.S. Cooper Elementary School – has posthumously received the highest honor in North Carolina and is now an inductee of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society.

The honor was granted by Governor Roy Cooper in acknowledgement of Saunders’ contributions to the state and his community through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.

It was officially awarded on June 12 at an event held in his memory – Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr. Community Day – at Gates County High School. It’s in the field of education where his legacy remains alive and well.

In 2018, Saunders endorsed, and lent his name, to a collaborative partnership between Gates County Schools and Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in support of a new STEM enrichment program.

The Saunders Science Scholars program provides resources and events to the Gates County Schools community, in particular middle school students and their families, to explore science in a meaningful way. Each month, students and an adult from their household meet with a Morehead educator to do science activities, discuss ways to connect through science, participate in special events (like speaker engagements and field trips) and more.

His passion for education also lives on at his alma matter, Elizabeth City State University, where he and his wife endowed the “Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr. and Aileene M. Saunders Scholarship of Excellence.”

At the June 12 event, Dr. Crystal Harden, Director of Program and Inclusion Initiatives at Morehead, noted it was a “great way to honor a great man.”

“He loved his community,” she added. “We mourned his death in November (2020) but in June, we celebrate him.”

The Community Day event featured competitive games set within a learning environment. Prizes were awarded to the winners. Food trucks were on hand as were booths staffed by community partners.

Harden praised the Gates County community for coming together to sponsor the event. She thanked Gates County Schools, the exhibitors, and the Saunders Science Scholars volunteers.

She signaled out the core group of Saunders Science Scholars who started on the ground floor of the program upon entering the sixth grade at Central Middle School.

“Ya’ll are now rising ninth graders,” Harden noted. “We are so proud of what you have accomplished in three short years. We have high expectations of each of you as your journey continues.”

Dr. Todd Boyette, Director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill, said he and his staff remain appreciative of the efforts of the Saunders family for their continued love and support of the Science Scholars program.

“In November when we lost Benjamin Saunders, Sr. we were separated by the miles between Chapel Hill and Gates County as well as a medical pandemic,” he observed. “We were living a socially distanced life, so we looked at what was in our control to honor the life and legacy of this great man. We approved a proclamation at that time which established June 20, 2021 – Father’s Day – as Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr. Day at the planetarium.”

As it turned out, that proclamation was just part of what the staff at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center wanted to do to honor their late colleague.

Harden explained the original plan included the Community Day – as held on Saturday.

“Todd had a different idea; he said if we’re going to do something, lets do something big,” Harden said.

The “big plan” turned out to be contacting Governor Cooper’s office to see if they would consider Saunders, Sr. as a candidate for inclusion into The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society.

“However, under most circumstances, this award is not given posthumously,” Harden remarked. “We went for it anyway and were blessed to have three glowing letters of recommendation written in support of our efforts.”

One week later, the Governor’s office responded, saying Cooper had approved the request.

“This is the highest honor a North Carolina citizen can receive for state service,” Harden explained. “(Saunders) always talked about having stars in your crown. I now believe he has one of the biggest stars in his crown as a recipient of this award. He’s on a very select list of recipients.”

Benjamin C. Saunders, Jr. – President of Gates County Community Partnership that supports the Science Scholars program named for his late father as well as other educational projects – spoke on behalf of the family.

“My family and myself are beyond grateful,” he said, thanking Gates County Schools, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, the citizens of Gates County, and the Office of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper for bestowing such an esteem honor on his late father.

“If you knew my father, you knew his infatuation with plaques,” Saunders, Jr. said with a laugh. “It did not matter what they were for, but this one is different. This one is the crown jewel. Dad deserves this honor. It recognizes his work for Gates County and the measure of the love he had for his home.”

His son pointed out how his father looked at life, how he carried himself, and what he represented during his time on earth.

“He would say, do better, be better, empathize, serve, learn from one another, and love each other,” Saunders, Jr. said. “In summary, just live your life to be a blessing, that is the pathway to peace.”

To learn more about the Saunders Science Scholars program, visit


Late Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr. Receives The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society Award

The prestigious award is reserved for NC governors’ highest honor!

By Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

June 12, 2021 | GATES COUNTY, NC

The late Benjamin Saunders, Sr., a pillar of the Gates County community, has posthumously received the highest honor in North Carolina and is now an inductee of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society. The honor is granted by Governor Roy Cooper in acknowledgement of Saunders’ contributions to the state and his community through exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.

A dedicated educator, Saunders spent 40 years in Gates County Public Schools—first as a science and math teacher, then as principal of T. S. Cooper Elementary School. He was a leader and beacon of light in his community especially for his students and staff. His passion for education lives on at his alma mater, Elizabeth City State University, where he and his wife endowed the “Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr, and Aileene M. Saunders Scholarship of Excellence."

“Mr. Saunders’ impact is what we all should aspire to,” says Todd Boyette, Director of Morehead. “He was a true advocate for education and demonstrated an unwavering commitment to children in Gates County and across our state.”

In 2018, Saunders endorsed—and lent his name—to a collaborative partnership between Gates County Public Schools and Morehead in support of a new STEM enrichment program.

The Saunders Science Scholars program provides resources and events to the Gates County Schools community, in particular middle school students and their families, to explore science in a meaningful way. Each month, students and a caring adult from their household meet with a Morehead educator to do science activities, discuss ways to connect through science, participate in special events (like speaker engagements and field trips) and more.

“Mr. Saunders’ support meant that we could immediately connect with the greater community,” says Crystal Harden, Director of Program and Inclusion Initiatives at Morehead. “Beyond his invaluable support, he helped bridge the gap between our organization in Chapel Hill and his community of Gates County which he loved dearly his whole life.”

Boyette presented the award at the Benjamin C. Saunders, Sr. Community Day on June 12 in Gates County. In addition to the Long Leaf Pine award, Mr. Saunders’ contributions will also be recognized on June 20th as Morehead Planetarium and Science Center designates the day as “Benjamin Cornell Saunders, Sr. Day."


Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is a unit of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Morehead works to serve North Carolina and beyond by bringing together the unique resources of UNC to engage the public for an improved public understanding of science, technology, and health.

To learn more about the Saunders Science Scholars program, visit

Opportunity to Fund Youth Outreach in Gates County

The Gates County Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC) announced the availability of $74,375 for 2021 - 2023. Use of funds requires a 20% local match.

The mission of JCPC is to address the gaps in youth services by promoting prevention, intervention, treatment, aftercare strategies and programs which strengthen families and support community safety.

JCPC will consider proposals for mentoring services, parent/family skill building, vocational skills, interpersonal skill building, tutoring/academic enhancement, restitution/community service, teen court, psychological assessments and counseling programs.

The deadline for applications is at the end of February 2021. Additional information can be obtained from Lulu Eure at 252-357-0677.