Earning a scholarship from the RMC Foundation in Anniston won’t just help Piedmont High School graduate Hayleah Higgins go to college.
It will help the teenager open a small business in her hometown.
“When you see an opportunity, you’ve got to take it,” said Higgins, who wants to open a health smoothie shop. “Initially, I was saving money from work to help with some college costs, but now that I’ve received the RMC scholarship, I can use some of those savings to invest in a business.”
Higgins was one of two local high school graduates who recently earned scholarships made possible by the third annual Martha Vandervoort Garden Jubilee. Hosted by the Regional Medical Center Memorial Foundation, the charity arm of Anniston’s hospital, the event raised more than $111,000 this year for current and future scholarships for area students.
Besides Higgins, the charity awarded a scholarship to Jesse Wilson, who graduated this year from Jacksonville High School.
Higgins will receive $6,000 in scholarship money annually for the next four years. Wilson will get $6,000 for his first year with the chance to receive more scholarship money in the following years.
More than 400 people attended the event last month at the Longleaf Botanical Gardens in Anniston to raise the money through several raffles. The fundraiser and scholarship is named for Martha Vandervoort, former director of the Anniston nonprofit Interfaith Ministries, who died in 2015.
A selection committee chooses scholarship recipients through an application and interview process. To be eligible for the scholarship, students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA, demonstrate they have a financial need and reflect the embodiment of charity.
Lagina Fillingim, executive director of the RMC Foundation, said that previously, only one student was chosen for the scholarship each year.
“These particular students stood out so much that nobody could decide,” Fillingim said. “Both were very deserving and very worthy.”
Wilson, who graduated with a 3.96 GPA, was involved with several sports teams and a member of various school organizations, including Key Club and National Honor Society. In the fall, he plans to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at Auburn University.
Higgins graduated with a 4.16 GPA and various academic honors, all while working as a waitress at a restaurant in Piedmont. Higgins is set to attend Jacksonville State University and major in marketing.
While a college student, she also plans to operate her new business in downtown Piedmont called Fruit Punch’d. Higgins said she hopes to open the business at the end of the month.
“I noticed there wasn’t anything really healthy in Piedmont,” Higgins said. “People get so tired of eating fast food.”
Meanwhile, Ciara Smith of Anniston, the previous recipient of the scholarship, said her first year attending Spelman College in Atlanta went well.
“Spelman is a private school and costs a lot of money, but the scholarship helps me get through,” said Smith, who is a political science major.
Smith said she’s made the most of her college experience so far, including studying abroad for a few weeks in Chile. She advised, however, that the latest scholarship winners move at their own pace in college.
“You’re not in competition with anyone but yourself,” Smith said. “Stay in your own lane and focus on what works best for you.”