Two women and a young leader from Columbus County were among the 39 females from New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus counties who were celebrated at the YWCA Women of Achievement Awards presentation in Wilmington March 8, which was International Women’s Day. It was a good way to spend International Women’s Day, with more than 500 business leaders, officials and community members attending to recognize the accomplishments of the 39 nominees and to honor the 14 recipients of this year’s awards.
The locals who were presented awards for service to their communities were Mary Grayson Koonce, Rebecca Clark and Rhonda Bullard-Dutton.
Mary Grayson Koonce
Mary Grayson is a senior at South Columbus High School and the daughter of Sterling and Caroline Koonce of Tabor City. She received the Young Leader Award.
Mary Grayson helped found an all-female community-based service organization called the Stallionettes at South Columbus High whose members do volunteer service in the community.
With the Stallionettes, she collects materials and monetary donations for people in need by volunteering at local events, cleaning the town and performing random acts of kindness. Mary Grayson is also the treasurer of the Stallion Crazies Club, whose purpose is to get students more involved in school activities and she is a member of the SCHS women’s tennis team where she serves as a role model for younger students. She is also a two-time conference tennis player of the year.
In addition, Mary Grayson is involved with Reclaim, a Christian outreach program that focuses on volunteer work at homeless shelters, food kitchens, cleanup activities and clothing drives.
Rebecca Clark is a national board certified public school teacher with 30 years in education. She earned Teacher of the Year at three different schools throughout her career, including numerous Teacher of the Year accolades from Wake County, New Hanover County, the N.C. Alliance for Athletics, health, physical education, recreation and dance-sport management.
Clark is a native of Columbus County and went to Hallsboro High School (Class of 1977). Her mother, Alma Robinson, still resides in Hallsboro. Clark presently lives in Wilmington, and is married to Kendell Harris Clark. Clark’s award was for volunteerism, and she continues to volunteer at her former school, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy.
Since retiring from New Hanover County Schools in 2015, she has served on the Virgo Advisory Board and Community Partnership, the Virgo Parent-Teacher Association, the Blue Ribbon Commission and she was appointed to the UNCW-New Hanover County Schools lab consortium.
As a volunteer, Clark acts as the liaison with Virgo administration to identify and assess students’ needs beyond the classroom, as well as to connect these students with much needed support from community organizations. She has been instrumental in planning and coordination of Action Based Learning Camps at Virgo, and has even assisted with grant proposals to support the camps’ initiatives.
She mentors students in the Lion Buddy program, primarily young women of color, offering support beyond school walls. Her work improving the quality of life for families through her volunteerism is matched by a lifelong commitment to supporting the health and well being of local youth.
Rhonda Bullard-Dutton received the Social Justice & Community Empowerment Award. She recently retired from Whiteville City Schools after 30 years of service. She coordinated the Rural Child Poverty Nutrition grant as well as the Literacy Van Community Outreach program, “Reading on Wheels,” which traveled to schools and preschools, lending books and encouraging children to read.
Rhonda volunteers with the Columbus County Youth and Families Association with the goal to support and improve the lives of children and families living in Columbus County. Over the years her work has helped bring enriching programs like youth camps, computer classes and a money management camp for youth to the county. Her leadership has brought attention to the lack of wellness-focused initiatives in Columbus County and led to collaborative program efforts from the Columbus County Health Department, Columbus Regional Healthcare and N.C. State University Cooperative Extension Agency.
She has been recognized by several state and county organizations for contributions to her community. She works to increase opportunities for women, youth and families in her community and empowers them to take steps toward healthy and full lives, despite perceived disadvantages or lack of resources.