Civic Local Foundation scholarships total more than $1 million over 21 years

Debbie Whitfield received the $1 millionth dollar in scholarships

Civic Local Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Local Government Federal Credit Union and Civic Federal Credit Union, has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships to its members seeking to further their education at the UNC School of Government. Scholarships can be applied toward tuition for the School's conferences, classes, and seminars.   

The scholarship given to Debbie Whitfield, accounting supervisor for Person County, put the program over the seven-figure milestone. "I really appreciated the opportunity to attend the budgeting conference at the UNC School of Government and the Civic scholarship that made it possible," Whitfield said. "The class helped me to better understand the whole budgeting process, which I know will benefit me down the road in my career."   

The scholarship program began in 2002 with a commitment of $10,000 per year available to Local Government Federal Credit Union (LGFCU) members. It increased to $50,000 in 2008 and to $100,000 in 2020. Since 2002, more than 1,250 credit union members have received a UNC School of Government scholarship, reaching officials in 98 of North Carolina's 100 counties.    

Program Manager for the Civic Local Foundation Crystal Prevatte has worked with the scholarship program for almost all of her 19-year career at the credit union. "That we're able to do this has always been my 'why' – why I get up and go to work every day," Prevatte said. "I love how the credit union sees the value of professional development for our membership and for our employees, as well. Ultimately, it contributes to the betterment of North Carolina across the state."  

Gregory Allison, the Albert and Gladys Hall Coates Distinguished Term Teaching Professor at the School, agreed that the seven-figure mark has meant exponentially more to North Carolina. Allison has directed the municipal and county administration curriculum for 20 years and has served on the program's scholarship committee for more than 15 years.  

"The numeric figure is truly a drop in the bucket to the impact that the training has had and the opportunities that it has given countless governments, especially smaller governments," Allison said. "It has given them access to the educational resources that they need. The educational impact we have had and been able to foster with that program – that you can't calculate. And I would say that the smaller governments, in particular, have been the biggest benefactors."  

Looking back over the program's history, Allison said the credit union has been extremely generous over the years. But no matter the amount available, it seemed that demand exceeded it. "Throughout every year, we had to be very frugal and very conservative with what we did award," he said. "We always wanted to make sure that we had resources, at least some resources in place, by the end of each giving year, to spread the wealth."  

Throughout his time on the committee, Allison said its members have wanted to impact as many governments as possible. That philosophy has meant it awarded partial scholarships.  

In January 2020, Civic Local Foundation's decision to double its yearly commitment to the scholarship program proved not only generous but prescient when COVID-19 shutdowns just a few weeks later meant the School pivoted to offering classes online. Scholarship requests increased, but that was balanced by travel requirements disappearing.   

"Our approach of reaching as many governmental entities as possible became an even stronger dynamic during the pandemic when we were doing all-online classes because we had governments that were taking classes from the School that had never had any contact with the school whatsoever," Allison said.   

The variety of classes ensures that all officials can find a way to grow their professional skills. "We're reaching not just finance officials or budget officers, but the managers, the HR directors, the water and wastewater directors," Allison said. "We're reaching public safety big time. We had a massive uptick in the number of public safety positions and individuals that applied to and came to the municipal and county administration course after 9/11."  

The Foundation's continued support will ensure that officials like Amie Hanaway, the one-person administration for the Town of Ruth (pop. 488), can take classes. Ruth paid Hanaway's tuition to take Allison's municipal and county administration class, and Hanaway said every aspect of her job has been improved by the experience. "I learned so much from my class; it was amazing," she said. "I would participate in all of them if I could." 

In November 2023, Debbie Whitfield attended "Budgeting in Local Government" on a Civic Local Foundation scholarship. Her award officially marked the $1 millionth dollar in scholarships awarded by the program!