“Last year when [Cartersville Superintendent] Howard Hinesley called me and said the Cartersville Schools Foundation wants to have a fundraiser for GateKey, I said, ‘Oh, I’m so excited; how can I help?’ and I told him [‘For the Love of Linda’] is way out of my comfort zone,” Benton said, laughing.
The event, sponsored by Cartersville Medical Center and Terry and Claudia Laughridge, featured a meal from the Cartersville School Nutrition Department, served by GateKey scholars, as well as a performance by the Cartersville High School jazz band and several guest speakers, including two of Benton’s sisters, who spoke about her personality and contributions to the city, school system and church, Sam Jones United Methodist, where she serves as director of church growth and evangelization.
“[Benton’s] favorite scripture is Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ and for the love of Linda, we are all here to say thank you for the blessing you are to each of us,” sister Martha Wellsandt said.
Benton said she was “taken back” by how much money was raised for GateKey and that she always will remember the community coming together for the event.
“I thank you for your contributions to GateKey. Until now, you may have heard the name GateKey, you may have read about it in the newspaper or heard about it on the radio, but now, you have faces [of students] to put with a name and that makes all the difference in the world ... And these fine young men and women who have been here tonight will have a brighter future because of the generosity of people like you,” Benton said. “... You hear a lot about return on investment these days, and the return on investment in these students is something that you’ll never be able to calculate because it’s too great to calculate and it will make their lives brighter and give them an opportunity to achieve more than they may have been able to do without it.”
For her service, Cartersville City Council member Dianne Tate read a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Matt Santini. Another guest of the evening was GateKey scholar and GHC freshman Eric Woods, who served as master of ceremonies for the event and spoke on how GateKey has enriched his life.
“When I received my scholarship, I was just an average student and not sure if college was going to be in my future. Being a GateKey scholar provided the motivation to do harder work in school,” Woods said. “GateKey does not only provide funds, it provides the support of many adults who encourage and assist us throughout our career in the Cartersville School System and beyond.”
Woods then thanked the crowd for their support of the program.
The GateKey Scholarship program, which began in 2007 through the Cartersville Schools Foundation, awards college scholarships for eligible students in grades six to 11. The scholarships are two-year scholarships awarded for Chattahoochee Technical College or GHC. However, recipients can petition the foundation to use scholarship funds toward other colleges.
Applicants must be approved for free or reduced lunch and, if selected, students are required to sign a contract along with their parents or guardian. The contracted requires the student to maintain at least a “C” average in each class, to study and complete assignments, stay out of trouble and remain crime and drug free.
According to a press release, “GateKey currently supports 74 students attending Cartersville Middle School, Cartersville High School, Berea College, Anderson College, UGA, Mercer, West Georgia, Georgia State, and Georgia Highlands.”
Gov. Nathan Deal in 2012 announced the state’s REACH scholarship will be modeled after the GateKey model, which Hinesley brought to the city after serving as a superintendent in a Florida public school district with a similar program.