UNC alumnae work with stimulus funds
Summer projects lead to employment
Two UNC alumnae have been hired to help distribute federal stimulus money to the state’s rural counties.
They will be working for Dempsey Benton, director of the Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, responsible for distributing federal stimulus funds.
The appointments follow summer internships with local governments helping them determine how best to use their resources.
Charessa Sawyer and Alison Gillette were two of the nine students selected by the Carolina Economic Recovery Corps, which helped N.C. cities craft their budgets and assess their obstacles.
Making progress happen
After earning a master’s degree from the UNC School of Social Work in May, Sawyer was assigned to work with the Mid-East Commission in Washington, N.C.
Sawyer helped the local government with strategic planning, searching and applying for federal grants and growth strategies.
“I wanted to go see how we could help them out as people, especially when they didn’t have the staff power in place,” Sawyer said.
Some towns she worked with had fewer than 300 residents and had not applied for stimulus money.
“It was impactful to see the communities enhanced in whatever way possible,” she said.
“It brought me a lot of awareness to the struggles of small town government where it’s very hard to obtain grants.”
After her internship, Sawyer was hired by Benton to work in Raleigh.
Martin County Commissioner Brenda Turner worked with Sawyer. She enthusiastically endorsed Sawyer’s work.
“I’ve never met someone so innovative and energetic,” Turner said. “She was both knowledgeable and respectful.”
The two worked with Mid-East together, preserving historical landmarks in Williamston.
“I was sorry to lose her. I fought to keep her here with us,” Turner said.
Rediscovering her priorities
Gillette applied to the program in Rutherfordton after graduating in May with a master’s degree in city and regional planning. She worked with a regional council of the Isothermal Planning and Development Commission.
Gillette said she worked in four counties — Rutherford, Polk, McDowell and Cleveland — and helped acquire $100,000 to fund renovation for poor homes in need of repair.
Gillette said she realized how much she took for granted.
“Basic things like waterline repairs, moving off septic tanks, getting broadband — the fact that I have wireless at my house is wild.”
Gillette also has been hired by Benton’s department to continue her work in western North Carolina for the next six months.
Results from the housing repair grant shows that Gillette helped acquire close to a million dollars in federal funding to help more houses in need of repair.
“Alison was very professional and flexible,” said Teresa Spires, grant services manager for Isothermal.
“She did a great job. I think she learned a lot from it.”
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