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State Honoree

Michelle Leonard

North Carolina

Michelle Leonard, 18, of Salisbury, N.C., a senior at Salisbury High School, founded a mentoring program that links at-risk high school students with college-age and senior citizen mentors through e-mail and online chats. When Michelle learned about the high number of dropouts and at-risk students in her community, she wondered what might inspire these students to stay in school. “What I found was that most of these students did not have any guidance or role models in their lives to encourage and motivate them,” she said. “I tried to think of a way to convince high school students that an education is the best promise for a successful future.” After meeting with administrators at her high school, the presidents of two area colleges and the director of the local senior center, Michelle developed a list of volunteer mentors. Each at-risk student received a new e-mail address (linked to the school’s computer center), and then was introduced to a mentor through e-mail messages and chat. Michelle met with both the mentors and at- risk students once a month to answer questions and encourage their continued participation in the program. “I saw just how little time it took to uplift a person’s spirit,” she said. “I hope that one day these students will return to the community and adopt a child who does not have a role model, as their mentors have done for them.”