Charley Bates came to Berry from Phenix City, Ala., with the dream of creating beautiful costumes for theatre productions – and one small problem: She didn’t know how to sew.
If she had applied for a position, even as a volunteer, with a college theatre company other than Berry’s, she likely would have been directed to “exit stage left.” But at Berry, her inexperience was considered a learning opportunity, and she was hired. It’s a break she would not have enjoyed without the opportunity afforded by the Reginald Strickland Gate of Opportunity Scholarship and Berry’s firsthand student Work Experience Program.
Gate Scholarships make it possible for students with a strong work ethic but limited financial resources to attend Berry with the chance of graduating debt free. Charley’s benefactor is Reginald Strickland (51C), an 80-year-old alumnus so dedicated to helping Berry students that he continues to work in large part so that he can fund scholarships.
Charley’s smile lights up the room when she talks about what Strickland’s generosity has meant to her. “I love what I’m doing with the theatre company at Berry,” she said. “I’m so thankful to Mr. Strickland. Without his scholarship, I wouldn’t be here having this experience.”
Freshman Gate Scholars are required to work 15 hours a week throughout the academic year and, in general, full time over college breaks and during the summer. Charley spends 10 of her work hours with the theatre and the remaining five in the provost’s office.
Charley discovered Berry through an online search and then talked with an admissions counselor visiting her school. She was interested in Berry because of its size and closeness to home, but she also was considering Birmingham Southern College, Samford University, the University of Alabama and Furman University. Then one day in her mother’s garden, her choice to attend Berry became rock solid.
“I was helping my mother plant tomatoes, and we hit something hard in the dirt. We kept digging and finally pulled out a brick with the word ‘Berry’ on it. I took it as my sign from the universe that this was where I was supposed to be,” she recalled with a laugh.
With her heart then set on Berry, Charley applied for every type of financial aid available to maximize her chances of getting the funding she needed to enroll. Last spring, she received the exciting news that she had been selected as a Gate Scholar.
In addition to her love of the theatre, Charley also has a deep concern for people in need. Throughout high school when she wasn’t on stage or working behind the scenes, the young woman spent her time volunteering for important causes. She served as school chairman for her local autism and Alzheimer’s walks and has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Easter Seals, the Homeless Resource Network and numerous other nonprofit organizations.
With such strong dual interests, it is no surprise that Charley will soon declare two majors: theatre and psychology. After graduation, she plans to launch a career in theatre working behind the scenes with costumes, makeup and hair styling. Once established, she hopes to start a nonprofit organization serving either autistic children or the homeless population.
Because of her scholarship, Charley has had the opportunity both to continue her dream and to set that dream in motion. And if she one day wins an Academy Award for costume design or is recognized for humanitarian efforts, Reg Strickland will top her list of those deserving great thanks.
Written by Debbie Rasure
Originally published in "Berry" magazine