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Three 2019 East Bladen High School graduates have been chosen to receive a Golden LEAF Scholarship valued up to $12,000, it was announced Monday by the N.C. State Education Assistance Authority.

Ashley Earl of Bladenboro, Sarah Meares of Garland and Michelle Najera of Elizabethtown were among 215 rural students who will receive a $3,000 scholarship each year for up to four years as they attend a participating North Craolina college or university.

Earl will attend N.C. State. Meares will attend East Carolina. Najera will attend UNC Pembroke.

Recipients are from rural counties that are tobacco-dependent and/or economically distressed North Carolina counties. Students are selected based on career and educational goals, a review of school and community service activities, academic performance, length of residence in the county, and expressed intent to contribute to the state’s rural communities upon graduation from college.

The Golden LEAF Foundation created the Golden LEAF Scholarship program to broaden educational opportunities and provide support to students from rural counties with the hope that after graduation recipients will contribute to those communities.

“Golden LEAF is pleased to announce that 215 new Golden LEAF scholars from rural North Carolina have been chosen, out of more than 2,000 applicants,” said Ted Lord, acting president of the Golden LEAF Foundation. “2019 marks our 20th year of awarding scholarships to hardworking and bright students with deep roots in their rural communities. We are proud to support their educational pursuits as they develop into North Carolina’s next generation of rural leaders.”

Students receiving Golden LEAF Scholarships are also eligible to participate in the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program. The optional program provides leadership training at the Center for Creative Leadership, paid internship opportunities in rural North Carolina communities, and stipends in addition to Golden LEAF Scholarship funding.

The Golden LEAF Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1999 to receive a portion of North Carolina’s funding received from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers. For 20 years, Golden LEAF has worked to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities through leadership in grant making, collaboration, innovation, and stewardship as an independent and perpetual foundation.

North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority administers the program on behalf of the Golden LEAF Foundation. Established in 1965, NCSEAA is the State agency that promotes access to higher education by administering financial aid and savings programs, informing students and families about paying for college, teaching educators about financial aid administration and advocating for resources to support students.