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Just look at her now!

Sheba Boone of Conway displays the “spoils of victory” as she was recently presented with a Governor’s Award in Excellence in Workforce Development for an Outstanding Youth Participant. Staff Photo by Amanda VanDerBroek

RICH SQUARE — The last two years have brought both personal tragedy and triumph for Sheba Boone of Conway.

On Tuesday, as she sits in an office at the Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA), Boone is still on an incredible high that came October 14 in Greensboro where she was presented with a Governor’s Award in Excellence in Workforce Development for an Outstanding Youth Participant.

But at the same time, the 22-year-old reflected on the challenges she had to overcome.

In 2008 her mom, Vivian Stephenson, was diagnosed with cancer. As the youngest child in the family, Boone decided to put her future on hold to be a caregiver to the woman who had been there to encourage and support her in every moment.

Boone described her mom as a warm, optimistic person who always looked to the brighter side of life even when times were dim.

“She always told me what’s going to happen will happen and what’s done is done,” she said. “All you have to do is pray about it and do what you feel is best for you.”

Boone added her mother was a stickler about education encouraging her daughter to seek a higher level of learning.

Boone, a graduate of Northampton County High School-East, was a student at St. Augustine’s College for one semester. She then decided to move home and enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at Roanoke Chowan Community College.

“They say everything happens for a reason; when I came back home, that next year is when my mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer,” she said.

As her mother’s health declined, Boone helped to provided care day and night as well as continuing with school. She went so far as to take a nursing assistant class to better help her mom.

“I had to start taking care of her pretty much full time,” she said. “It takes a toll on you mentally, physically and emotionally.”

Boone’s mother lost her battle with the disease in August 2009.

“She was the support system, the glue that held us together,” she said. “When we lost her, the whole world just…shattered.”

Her mother’s passing was the second tragedy she had experienced in her life. In 2000 her brother was murdered when she was just a high school student.

Boone now faced the task of moving on without the woman who showed her so much encouragement.

She turned to her own family, including her older sisters, Pamela and Gloria, as well as her church family at Macedonia A.M.E Church in Severn.

One of those church family members happened to be Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Case Manager Phyllis Branch who works with CADA. The WIA program at CADA is funded by Turning Point Workforce Development Board.

Branch had been friends with Boone’s mother and reached out to help the young woman.

The WIA program helps provide funds to address the employment and training needs of adults, dislocated workers and youth. According to Branch, the youth portion of the program assists young people, ages 14-21, from various backgrounds, including incarcerated individuals, dropouts and pregnant teens. Resume writing, job experience, job interview training and obtaining a GED and higher education are just a few aspects the program helps with.

In November 2009, Branch, along with CADA’s WIA Manager Angela Mitchell, enrolled Boone in the program.

Boone was placed at the Dollar General Store in Murfreesboro for work experience. Her computer skills and work performance impressed her onsite supervisor so much that it led to Boone being hired as a full time cashier on April 1. She will be eligible for a raise in one year.

Boone credits the program for helping her keep her future dreams intact.

“For one (the program) helped me with a job, then it helped me learn how to get out there and provide for myself,” she said.

Boone’s accomplishments led to Branch nominating her for a Governor’s Excellence Award.

At banquet held in Greensboro, Boone became the first youth from Northampton County to earn the honor in the statewide competition. She was presented with a trophy, medal and a $500 check by North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco.

Boone described it as a once in a lifetime experience. Her thoughts turned to her mom.

“I could imagine her now, she would be so excited,” Boone said. “She would have been happy; happier for me than I was myself.”

“She was queen for that night,” said Turning Point Workforce Development Board Vice Chair Catherine Moody.

Moody praises Boone for keeping her plans on track despite the difficult circumstances she has faced.

“A lot of kids would have folded, especially when you lose your mama—that’s your support system—but Sheba held her head up because she saw a light with Ms. Branch and Ms. Mitchell and was able to continue,” she said. “Thank God she did, because look at her now.”

Moody noted how Boone’s story testifies to the program’s success.

“It saved her sanity, when her mother got sick and she had nowhere else to turn WIA was here for her,” she said. “That makes me feel good that we played a part in getting her where she is today.”

Others including Branch, Mitchell, Turing Point Workforce Development Board Executive Director Michael Williams and CADA Executive Director Sallie Surface, also commended Boone for her perseverance.

“We’re really proud of Sheba and all of her accomplishments and all she overcame,” said Williams.

“It’s been a great opportunity to work with Sheba, I’m very proud of her and I wish her much success in her future endeavors,” said Mitchell.

“It’s quite an honor for all of us,” said Surface about Boone’s honor. “It represents that the program is all about—it gives young people an opportunity to achieve.”

For Branch, Boone’s success is bittersweet.

“Her mother was the first friend I ever had outside of my sisters,” she said. “So it was an honor to know her. …We spent many, many hours sharing. So I knew where she wanted Sheba to go…she wanted the best for her.”

For Boone this is just the beginning of her career and educational journey.

“I’m focusing on finishing school (at RCCC) and getting my degree,” she said. “I want to go back to school—I want my bachelor’s degree, my PhD—I want it all. I feel like there is nothing like education. A lot of people think it’s just a piece of paper, to me it’s a way to better myself. …I feel the more education I have, the higher I can go.”

Boone said the ultimate goal is to work with youth, particularly children with special needs, at her own daycare facility.