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UNC Charlotte to expand literacy education efforts with Mebane Foundation award

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The Mebane Foundation, a major funder of education projects for nearly three decades, selected UNC Charlotte’s Cato College of Education for a five-year literacy grant and a potential endowment of up to $23 million to help continue its legacy of supporting innovation in literacy education. The gift is one of the largest in the university’s history. 

Mebane announced the award last month, after news that the foundation will wind down operations over the next decade. 

Mebane said its decision followed a competitive statewide search to identify a partner to carry on founder Allen Mebane’s commitment to support inventive educational endeavors. 

“The Mebane name will continue as a gold standard for teacher readiness, assuring Mr. Mebane’s vision is realized,” UNC Charlotte Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber said. “Together, we will create a better future for North Carolina.”

The award is the latest in a series to support the university’s literacy efforts. In 2019, Mebane invested in research-based, free summer reading camps provided through UNC Charlotte’s 49er Elementary. The camps also give undergraduate teachers-in-training the opportunity to apply techniques and skills they learn in teacher preparation classes. 

More recently, the foundation provided additional support to develop Project Enrich, which provides evidence-based tutoring year-round to elementary school students who underperform in reading.

“A lot of the work that we’ve been engaged in has been funded, but there’s also been considerable amount of resources that individual faculty members and the college put forth in order to keep the work ongoing,” Cato Professor Kristen Beach said. “What this gift really allows is for our faculty in the college who are engaged in this early literacy work, to more easily sustain and grow the work and the impact.”

The foundation will increase its funding to Cato over the next five years in support of teacher development, community partnerships, and research and innovation. It is expected the gift will culminate in the “Allen Mebane: Leaving a Legacy for Future Generations” endowment, to create and fund the Mebane Early Literacy Center into perpetuity. 

“What I’m most excited about is that this will give us a name and a platform for people to plug into so that we can have an entity that is known and a resource for our local schools and community members and community organizations,” Beach said. “We’re doing really good tutoring work and reading support work in the area and in the region and in the state. We can become a place of integration to bring partners together.”

Mebane’s gradual but consistent grant making to the college gives the foundation confidence in positive outcomes for the considerable investment.

“From the leadership team down through the college’s faculty and teacher candidates, focus on early childhood literacy is embedded in the Cato College,” said Marianne Mebane, chair of the Mebane Foundation Board. “I know Allen would be pleased with the direction we’ve taken and the partner we’ve chosen to carry on his work. 

“I have no doubt that this partnership will flourish, but more importantly, it will provide world-class opportunities for some of the brightest young teachers in our state while at the same time supporting young struggling readers, both inside and outside the classroom.”


Editor’s Note: The Mebane Foundation supports the work of EdNC.

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria was the equity and learning differences reporter for EducationNC from 2018 through October 2023.