Mary Katherine Murphy
With the retirement of longtime Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce staffer Brenda Gilbert, the Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs’ Academy will find itself under new leadership next year.
Gilbert, currently serving as interim Chamber president, intends to retire once a replacement for former president Theresa Pinto is found. Gilbert, who retired from the Scotland County school system in 2004, has been the Chamber’s part-time workforce development coordinator for several years.
She served as interim president before Pinto’s hire, and found herself not only staying on, but founding Scotland County’s Young Entrepreneurs’ Academy last year with Scotland High School scholarship coordinator Toni Blount.
“When Theresa came, she brought me on full time to do some workforce development and I just stayed,” Gilbert said. Upon her retirement from the Chamber, her first priority has been hiring someone who could do the program justice to replace her as YEA co-director.
“I wanted to find someone to do YEA for me,” said Gilbert. “It’s a wonderful program and it takes a lot of time to do it right - more time than I expected.”
She anticipates that a new Chamber president will be hired at the end of the summer, at which point she will retire fully.
“I’ve got so much on my plate with other things that I do that I won’t be going home and just sitting, you can count on that,” Gilbert said.
Laurinburg native Jennifer McRae will be joining the Chamber as Gilbert’s replacement with the YEA. She has worked with YEA students throughout the last year, assisting them with the graphic design needs of their fledgling businesses.
“The students are so motivated and enthusiastic; it’s really inspiring for me to see what they can bring to the county in terms of business and growth,” McRae said. “It’s inspiring how connected they are and how they are working so hard to develop their businesses. The community has really embraced the program, which is great.”
McRae holds a Master of Science degree in interior design from UNC-Greensboro with a concentration in museum studies. She began to specialize in designing museum exhibits after interning with a museum during her undergraduate career.
“They loved me, I loved them - the whole creative process was so much different from commercial or residential design,” she said. ” I do the complete package for museums: floor planning, graphics, marketing, everything that they need. I work with the curators, helping them brainstorm and figure out what direction they want their exhibits to go.”
She moved back to Laurinburg four years ago and is now the owner of McRae Exhibit and Graphic Design. She plans to continue work in museums for established clients.
Blount will also be leaving the YEA program as well as her job at Scotland High School.
“My experience in Scotland County has been phenomenal - I have thoroughly enjoyed working with not only the seniors but the entire school system,” she said. “It’s just been a phenomenal opportunity, which gave me the chance to blend my community college knowledge and K-12 teaching experience in a good marriage for my skill set.”
She will relocate to the Clinton area this summer with husband Stuart, who will take the superintendent’s job in the Clinton City Schools. She has been scholarship coordinator at the high school since 2010, and has considerably expanded the scope of the position.
“When I came on, it became a full-time position again, and I developed it into much more of a detailed job in terms of including SAT and ACT prep, the College Foundation of North Carolina, and the FAFSA process, connecting students with leadership and scholarly activities across the state with our university system and community college system,” Blount said. Blount will seek work with Sampson Community College upon her move to Clinton.
Once a new scholarship coordinator is hired at the high school, the school system will appoint a new co-director to head the YEA program with McRae.
“Jennifer brings great marketing skills to the position and hopefully the person that the schools will put in will be someone who knows the community very well, is very familiar with business leaders, and has a connection to the students as well,” said Blount.