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25 students have life altering experiences on LEAP tour

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Students at SCSU. Kisha McDowell, director of LEAP, is shown seated, right, with a cast. She broke a few fingers on the trip.

Twenty-four high school and middle school students from Rutherford County and one from Cleveland County visited college campuses during a Spring Break tour across the southeast sponsored by LEAP -- Leaders & Entrepreneurs for the Advancement& Promotion of Youth--a nonprofit begun in 2020 in Forest City.

Kisha McDowell, chairman and chief executive officer of LEAP, and board member Jennifer Laney chaperoned the week long trip as students visited six colleges across the Carolinas and Florida including Florida A&M University, Bethune-Cookman University, South Carolina State University, Claflin University, Winston Salem, and Livingstone College.

"Although we only had two chaperones, we did not have any problems at all. The kids are very respectful and willing to learn, and they understand that the college tour is a privilege," said Kisha.

"For me and Jennifer and the students, the college tour is an amazing opportunity to connect with youth, to expose them to a potential future opportunity and to show them things they've never seen outside of Rutherford County," Kisha said.

"The opportunity to go on these trips is an amazing time for them to hang out with their friends, to visit colleges to learn lots of new things and to determine what colleges they may or may not consider as a part of their future education," she continued.

In addition to visiting the college campuses, the group visited the Urban Air Park in Tallahassee, Florida; planetariums, museums and other tourist destinations.

"We work very hard to ensure that the kids are not completely bored or have too much time on their hands so we maintain activities throughout the whole day, typically leaving them with a couple of hours to enjoy the pool or go to the mall," McDowell said.

While touring the colleges, the group has an opportunity to ask questions, become educated about the schools from tour guides.

"The majority of colleges that we visit are historically black colleges and universities," Kisha said.

The historic black colleges were chosen to educate participants about the schools and to expose them to these particular colleges for references and for them to experience cultural awareness at an elevated and professional level.

"Truly, the college tours are a great opportunity for students in middle and high school, preferably rising ninth graders through seniors.

"We are thankful to those that have entrusted us to care for their children as well as those that have trusted the LEAP program and funded us financially or supported our fundraisers," Kisha said.

Without the financial support of the community, individuals and grants, the $25,000 trip would not be possible.

Among grants awarded for the 2024 trip came from the Carolina Foothills Foundation, CoThinkk (Asheville) and also funding from United Way of Rutherford County, Chick-fil-A's cookie fundraising program, New Vernon Church and The Source Outreach Center.

Money is already being raised for the 2025 college tour.

Anyone wanting to help with next year's tour can send checks to: LEAP 420 Old Wagy Road, Forest City, NC 28043. LEAP Cashapp: LEAP4Youthrc or Paypal email: leap4girlsfc@gmail.com.

LEAP is a nonprofit leadership and life development program for youth ages 9-17 that provides access to academic achievement, leadership, life enrichment skills, community involvement business acumen and ownership.

What students said about the trip:

"My favorite college was Livingstone. My favorite place that we traveled to on the trip was Daytona Beach because there was stores and food and the beach and the good view." -Jerrell Ferrell, R-S Middle

"For me the tour is more than a fun trip that allows me to get away from home. It's a trip that allows me (a person who has never been outside the walls of NC before the trips) to actually have a look at what's available to me and the plenty of opportunities that I have ahead of me." -Amaris McEntire, East Rutherford High

"During the college tour we got to learn a lot about not only the repercussions in college but about all the limitations. The tour guides went in depth about what makes their college special and showed great pride in what they represented." -Makayla McDowell, East Rutherford High

"Our experience with the college tour was mainly about our education and seeing where we want to go, but also the history behind the college and learning the hardships they went through and seeing how far they went in life and the sacrifices they made so that we can be where we are today. -J'ymus Johnson, East Rutherford High

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