Banquet honors Blue, helps youth

Banquet honors Blue, helps youth

[Photo: Surrounded by family, Linda Blue gets a hug at the HNASA banquet, held last Friday night to help send local youth to college. Blue was the recipient of the Mitch Tyler Award.]

By Catharin Shepard • Editor • A teacher assistant who has dedicated decades of her life to helping children learn was named the 2023 recipient of the Mitch Tyler Award by the Hoke Native American Scholarship Association (HNASA).

As her family hid at a table on the other side of a packed room during the HNASA banquet Friday night, Linda Blue didn’t see the surprise coming as presenter Tona Jacobs introduced the recipient. Jacobs built up to revealing Blue’s name by recounting some of the many reasons the Association chose to honor the recipient.

“This person has dedicated 23 years of their life to shaping young minds as a teacher assistant in Hoke County Schools. Throughout this person’s career, they went above and beyond to make a lasting impact on both the schools and the communities that they serve,” Jacobs said. “One of the remarkable aspects of this journey was the ability to go the extra mile, continuously organizing special events and initiatives that enrich the educational experience for not only the students in her class over the years, but all the students at the school. She truly believed that it was her duty to provide an equal opportunity for every child to participate in and/or experience activities, regardless of their demographics or economic status.”

As Jacobs revealed it was Blue she spoke of, a standing round of applause went around the room. Blue’s family members came forward to surprise her with flowers and hugs to accompany her award plaque.

“I love my job, I love my family. You know, they’re supposed to be at the movies,” Blue said.

Blue has always believed that students here deserved the same opportunities as students in “posh” schools in large cities, Jacobs said in the award presentation.

“She empathized with her students and their parents because she was one of them and so were her children. She lived in the neighborhood and experienced the same challenges. She also knew she had the ability to make a difference, and she did,” Jacobs said. “She knew the school and the county could not fund those activities that other counties and schools offered to their students, so the PTA participated in fundraisings and involvement, that was her solution.”

Blue’s involvement with the PTA over the years resulted in thousands of dollars being raised for the benefit of students to help them develop critical thinking skills and curiosity.

Outside of the classroom, a “huge foundation of her life is her love for God and her faith in Jesus Christ. Church is a huge part of her life,” Jacobs said.

Blue has been singing for over 47 years and traveled many nights each week to perform. She volunteered with other church activities, including serving as secretary. She and her husband have been married for over 42 years.

“It’s easy to do things when others are watching, but what truly defines us is what we do when no one is watching, and she was always the same person,” Jacobs said, reading from the statement from Blue’s family. “The person you see at school or church was the same person she was at home…God creates special people to do special things, and I think he knocked this one out of the park.”

Blue recalled one fundraiser she helped work on to raise funds for the children that turned out incredibly successful.

“Pennies, y’all. $1,800 of pennies,” she said.

The Mitch Tyler Award is named in honor of Hoke County’s first Native American school superintendent, and presented to a person who has gone above and beyond for youth in Hoke County Schools.

Commissioner Tony Hunt, who served as master of ceremonies, said the Blue family had been a part of the South Hoke community for as long as he could remember.

“We didn’t think we could find a better person than what we’d found in Mrs. Blue coming and receiving the Mitch Tyler award, which exemplifies what this award stands for. Someone who is dedicated and loves children,” he said.

17 years of scholarships

The Hoke Native American Scholarship Association celebrated its 17th year of providing financial assistance to youth from Hoke County who want to pursue higher education. Since it began, the organization has awarded $171,900 in scholarships to 108 recipients, organizers said.

Last year the HNASA was able to give out seven scholarships of $3,000 each, for a total of $21,000 in contributions for youth seeking higher education, Chocajuana Oxendine said. The funds come from donations including money raised at the annual scholarship banquet.

“You are the people that make this possible and we are so thankful that you’re here,” Oxendine told the assembly.

Oxendine recognized several of the previous recipients who attended this year’s banquet. Three of the past recipients gave an update on their current endeavors.

Kyonna Tyler is attending the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where she is pursuing a degree in nursing. Shayla Bullard is attending the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where she is pursuing a degree in social work. Celeste Carter is attending Sandhills Community College through the Sandhills Promise program, and plans to transfer to Fayetteville Tech to pursue a degree in radiology.

This year, 2024 HNASA scholarship candidates include Payton Baker (parents Derick and Angel Baker), Mallory Grace Cummings (parents Bruce Jacobs and Ulonda Fields), Caleb Dial (parent Sally Dial), Mya Dial (parents Shawn Dial and Tasha Sampson), Chloe Jacobs (parents Jerry and Sabrina Jacobs), Nakel Jacobs (parents Cody Locklear and NaKeisha Bullard), Caroline Jones (parents Byron and Delores Jones), Faith Locklear (parents Jason and Martha Locklear), Jasmine Locklear (parents Dwayne and Jessica Locklear), Johanna Locklear (parents Bobby and Wanda Locklear), Kylan Locklear (parents Kenneth and Mallette Locklear), Sawyer Locklear (parents Scotty and Shavala Locklear), Christian Lowery (parents Chris and Johnna Lowery), Gavin Moncrief (parent Ashley Moncrief), Geronimo Oxendine (parent Melissa Oxendine), Mikeelyn Reynolds (parents Michael and Anton Reynolds), Lauren Rogitz (parents Todd and Jill Rogitz) and Jeremiah Watkins (parents Michelle Watkins).

Besides having a 3.0 or better GPA, the scholarship candidates must fill out an application, must reside in Hoke County and have to complete an interview to be considered for a scholarship through HNASA. They also helped out at the HNASA banquet, Chocajuana Oxendine said.

“They needed to come and work as servers and I think they’ve done a wonderful job so far,” she said.

Hunt, who is a member of the HNASA committee, introduced committee Chairman Kirk Lowery with words of praise for his work leading the organization.

“This man, he drives a tight ship and he keeps us all headed in the right direction. It’s because of his leadership, how much this organization has been able to grow and the money we’ve been able to receive. We just want to take our hats off, and I think the whole committee feels like I do, I don’t think anybody could have done a better job as chairman these past years,” Hunt said.

Lowery thanked Hunt and said he couldn’t do it without the other committee members.

“That’s the good thing about this committee, there’s no one person. We all work together. There’s no ‘I’ up here, it’s a team,” he said.

Lowery recognized the many sponsors who donated to the HNASA and help make the scholarships possible. The committee also announced that thanks to the generosity of donations from Hunt and State Sen. Danny Britt, starting next year the HNASA will be looking to also provide financial assistance to students who are in college.

Lowery held up the list of donors that was included in each program.

“This is our lifeline. If you see any of these people, if you visit any of these businesses, just say thank you for supporting our students, because we could not do this without them. This is what makes everything better,” he said.

The “super sponsors” who donated over $1,000 each to the cause included Britt, Hunt, WellCare of N.C., Fullers BBQ, South Hoke Baptist Church, Hoke County Holiness Church, Mt. Elim Baptist Church and Lumberton Honda/Kent Locklear. Many more sponsors donated to the scholarship fund.

At the end of the dinner, the HNASA held an auction of donated items with the proceeds going to the scholarship fund. Some of the highlights of the auction were a hat and a pair of earrings that sold for hundreds of dollars, and a knife that sold for over $900. Other items offered at the auction included Native American blankets, bolo ties and hand-painted gourds. The items were donated by local Indigenous artisans.

The evening also held a 50/50 raffle. Kayla Renee Lowery won the raffle and donated the $800 prize money back to the scholarship fund.

Fullers BBQ provided the catered dinner, sponsored by WellCare N.C. Pastors BJ Hunt and Dana Goins offered the invocation and benediction. Commissioner Tony Hunt served as master of ceremonies. Linda Revels recognized guests and elected officials. Kirk Lowery recognized the sponsors.

The 2023-2024 HNASA committee members are Kirk Lowery, Jacqueline Chavis, Tony Hunt, Chocajuana Oxendine, Della Maynor, Tona Jacobs, Linda Revels, Dana Goins, Bruce Jacobs, Brandon Locklear and Leslie Locklear.

For more information on the HNASA and how to help support Hoke’s Native American students, visit the group’s Facebook page.

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