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$750,000 gift jumpstarts BRCC campaign

A donor has jumpstarted a $2 million Blue Ridge Community College fundraising campaign with a gift of $750,000, BRCC Educational Foundation supporters learned today at a kickoff breakfast.

At its annual donor appreciation breakfast this morning, BRCC President Laura Leatherwood, trustee John McCormick announced the campaign Impact Campaign and the surprise gift.

A quarter of the $2 million raised will go toward 500 new scholarships for Henderson and Transylvania County high school graduates from the class of 2019. Another quarter of the funds will go toward addressing critical needs, and one-half of the funds raised, or $1 million, will fully fund the Pay It Forward Endowed Chair position started by Ellen Perstein in 2006.

BRCC provided $372, 214 in scholarships to students in 2017. The Board of Directors for Blue Ridge Community College Educational Foundation and the Board of Trustees for the College want to send more local students to Blue Ridge and make sure they can attend without the strain of financial worry.

“When we remove financial obstacles for students who want to further their education, everyone benefits,” said Dr. Leatherwood. “I am excited to partner with the community to achieve this goal on behalf of the College.”

The $2 million campaign also seeks to address critical needs that may prevent overall success for the student body. Unexpected obstacles in the life of a student, student success initiatives that lack state funding and start-up costs for emerging programs were all identified as critical needs that, when supported financially, can result in positive outcomes for the College student body.

In the surprise announcement, Dr. Ivan Sutherland, executor of the estate for Ms. Ellen Perstein, presented a check in the amount of $750,000 toward the Pay It Forward Endowed Chair Fund. In 2006, Perstein, a Brevard resident and long-time Blue Ridge Community College supporter, made an initial gift that established the Pay It Forward Endowed Chair Fund. When fully funded, the endowment will approximate $1 million. In 2013, Perstein told BRCC officials that she no longer wanted to wait until her death for a recipient to be named—she wanted to see the first recipient sit in the Pay It Forward Endowed Chair. The recipient is Sharon Suess, chair of Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing at Blue Ridge Community College. Suess was able to meet and form a bond with Perstein before the donor passed away in 2017.

“The Pay It Forward Endowment has inspired me to continue to do the things that I can to help others,” Suess said. “I hope to carry on Ms. Perstein’s legacy.”

Organizers for the event and the annual campaign stressed the importance of carrying on Ms. Perstein’s dream and creating real impact in the community through scholarships and competitive programming at BRCC. Community members interested in supporting the Impact Campaign are encouraged to contact Ann Green, executive director of the Educational Foundation. She can be reached at (828) 694-1710 or by emailing