She gave kids tools for success

Catherine Campbell has dedicated most of her life to pursuing her passion: helping students.

Working as executive director of Communities in Schools of Cabarrus County, she thought of her work as an opportunity, not just a job.

On Jan. 30, she retired after 19 years of service.

Communities in Schools, a United Way agency, is a nonprofit organization committed to providing students with the support they need to graduate from high school and succeed in life.

Campbell was hired as the initial director when the Cabarrus organization was founded in 1992. She was amazed, she said, at how well her years teaching in public school, and then teaching at-risk adults at a business college, prepared her for the job.

In her position, Campbell oversaw the organization's various programs, coordinated the School Tools collection drive and focused on fundraising. Over the course of her career, she wrote more than 100 grant requests, many of which were funded.

One grant she is particularly passionate about helped fund the Cabarrus Performance Learning Center, which opened in August 2007.

The PLC, based on a model developed by Bill and Melinda Gates, is a Cabarrus County public school designed for students who do not perform well in traditional school settings. The school provides mentors, online studies and career awareness.

"They don't just get a diploma," Campbell said. "They have a path in life that they want to pursue."

"I think the most rewarding thing is to sit at the Performance Learning Center graduation and see those students walk across the stage," Campbell said, "to see their families cheer, and just knowing that without the Performance Learning Center, they would not be graduating."

So far, the PLC has seen more than 100 of its students graduate.

Campbell, who was also on the founding board of Smart Start in Cabarrus County and served on the board of the Association for the Education of Young Children, said she will continue to be involved with kids who are at risk.

"I'll always be rooting for these kids," she said, "because they need somebody to root for them."

Campbell's husband, Fred, retired a year and a half ago from UNC Charlotte, where he was a professor of marketing. As they focus on this next season of life, Catherine Campbell said, they plan to travel to each county in North Carolina and explore.

She laughed and added, "We just wanted to retire while we could still feel good and were able to go."

When she looks back on her time with Communities in Schools, Campbell said, every day was an adventure.

"It was an amazing journey," she said. "I loved it. I really did."