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Mike Lavender of Toyota Tsusho America presents a $100,000 check to Dr. Monique Perry-Graves of Teach for America North Carolina.   Larry Penkava/Randolph Hub

Toyota Tsusho awards $100,000 for new for mentorship program

LIBERTY — Toyota Tsusho is providing funds for the Randolph County School System to assist in a mentorship program for high school students.


The program, known as Future Forward through a collaboration with Teach For America North Carolina, is designed to help students be prepared for life after high school. 


Randolph County will be the first county in North Carolina for the program. Toyota is building a battery manufacturing facility on the Randolph-Greensboro megasite in Liberty, a $13.9 billion investment that will bring 5,000 jobs to the area.


The announcement came Nov. 28 at a press conference in Liberty Town Hall. Mike Lavender, Toyota Tsusho America senior vice president, emphasized that the day was Giving Tuesday, a worldwide event that encourages giving to nonprofit organizations.


He said his company, part of the Toyota Group, has “a goal to build sustainable, resilient communities. The best way is by investing in young people and education. We’re committed to helping students meet their potential. We can help provide those resources.”


Lavender said the original idea was to write a check for $25,000 but the decision was made “to bring it up to $100,000” in order to expand the program to more high schools in the area.


The first school to benefit will be Eastern Randolph High School.


Dr. Susan Chappell, principal of Eastern Randolph and a 1991 graduate, said, “The goal is for every student to have a (future) plan when they walk across the stage (at graduation). That’s why this partnership is so important. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to bring mentors in to work with students. They’ll be surrounded by people who love children.”


Dr. Stephen Gainey, superintendent of the Randolph County School System, said, “Our mission is students are first in all we do. Our job is to help kids grow academically, emotionally and socially. With positive role models, you cannot go wrong. This will be exciting to watch.” 


Dr. Monique Perry-Graves, executive director of Teach for America North Carolina, said, “Teach For America North Carolina is excited to be partnering with Toyota Tsusho to bring the Future Forward program to Randolph County. Across the state, Teach For America North Carolina works as a diverse network ready to support, challenge, and lead alongside each other as we aim to collectively expand opportunities for students here in our state. Every child deserves access to an equitable and excellent education, and thanks to Toyota Tsusho’s sponsorship, we can directly impact the lives and futures of hundreds of children as they work to achieve postsecondary readiness and success through peer-to peer-influence.” 


Perry-Graves went on to say that the program’s aim is to expand opportunities for students so that, as adults, they can contribute to the community. She said coaches will work with borderline students as mentors and as examples of what’s possible.


“We want to ensure that students are not left behind due to a lack of resources,” Perry-Graves said.


NC Sen. Amy Galey, who represents Alamance County and the northeast corner of Randolph County, said that although North Carolina “is in great shape … there’s room for improvement in K-12 education.” She said Toyota Tsusho and the Randolph County School System will be “working together to prepare students for the future. They were successful in Kentucky so we’re thankful they’re coming to North Carolina. The Randolph County School System will benefit significantly.”


Dayson Pasion, a teacher advisor to Gov. Roy Cooper, said, “The Future Forward program in Kentucky increased college enrollment and reduced (high school) dropouts.”


Later, Perry-Graves said the Future Forward program will bring students together with assigned coaches, some college students, some in the military, but all of whom will have “been through the journey” and will have relatability with the students. She said they will soon be recruiting coaches for the program.