UNC Charlotte to Help Carry on Mebane Foundation Legacy Through Historic Gift

By Jeanna Baxter White

The investment of up to $23 million will support PreK-5 literacy education through the Mebane Early Literacy Center 

The Mebane Foundation has selected UNC Charlotte’s Cato College of Education, a leader in literacy instruction and research, to help continue its legacy of supporting innovation in literacy education in North Carolina and beyond through a five-year grant and potential endowment of up to $23 million. 

The decision follows a competitive statewide search to identify a partner to continue to carry on founder Allen Mebane’s commitment to supporting inventive educational endeavors as the foundation winds down operations over the next decade. 

“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.” 

Over the past 25 years, the foundation has granted more than $25 million to educational program partners across the state. In 2019, it invested in the University’s research-based summer reading camps. 

Through the free summer camps, elementary school students from across the Charlotte region have access to a place where they can learn to read. They are also a setting for teachers-in-training to apply new educational techniques and skills learned at the University. More recently, the foundation provided additional support to develop Project Enrich, which provides unprecedented enrichment experiences for tomorrow’s educators while simultaneously offering evidence-based tutoring year-round to elementary school students who underperform in reading. Project Enrich also gives these Mebane Early Literacy Scholars the chance to collaborate with a Mebane Mentor throughout the academic year to strengthen their teaching skills, sense of identity, and confidence. 

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

“We are grateful the Mebane Foundation selected UNC Charlotte as its long-standing partner,” said Chancellor Sharon L. Gaber, who announced the gift in a message to campus on May 10. “This transformational investment will take Charlotte’s highly-rated literacy programming and clinical experiences and move our teacher candidates to the next level. The Mebane name will continue as a gold standard for teacher readiness, assuring Mr. Mebane’s vision is realized. Together, we will create a better future for North Carolina.”

The Mebane Foundation’s gift, one of the largest in UNC Charlotte’s history, comes after a report commissioned by the UNC System Board of Governors that designated the University as “strong” in literacy instruction, the highest rating achievable. UNC Charlotte is the only North Carolina public university to earn the distinction.

“Nationwide, students are struggling to read at grade level,” said Malcolm Butler, dean of the Cato College of Education. “As Mr. Mebane well understood, a child’s future and the future of our society are tied closely to literacy rates. We are grateful to the Mebane Foundation for investing in Cato College’s efforts to ensure our elementary teachers are equipped to give all children in North Carolina and beyond the reading skills they need for success.”

In recognition of the gift, the College of Education building will be renamed Mebane Hall later this year. 

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