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. Bates’ 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.
Bates’ 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. Bates spends 10 of her work hours with the theatre and the remaining
five in the provost’s office.
Bates 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, Bates 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, Bates 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 Bates 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, Bates 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.
by Debbie Rasure
published in Spring 2011 issue of Berry magazine