The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Local News

June 11, 2014

Gray Stone senior wins national honor

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 — Gray Stone Day School senior Sam HillJennings was sitting in class when he received the message.

“I looked down at my phone and yelled out loud ‘yes,’ ” HillJennings said.

“Everyone in the class looked back at me. It was embarrassing.”

HillJennings’ enthusiasm arose from an email awarding him a $10,000 scholarship for collecting the most canned goods in the Feinstein Foundation $100,000 National High School Challenge. He was one of five students to earn the award in the nation, tallying 1,067 cans.

The Feinstein Foundation is an organization that focuses on curing world hunger and spotlights the importance of community service.

It was during his senior service project that the Gray Stone senior was introduced to the challenge.

As part of his service project he volunteered at Stanly Community Christian Ministry in August 2013, working with SCCM Executive Director Roger Thomas. His mother, Julie Hill, had served on the board.

 “He’s a very compassionate young man,” Thomas said.

At SCCM, HillJennings worked in the food pantry, stocked shelves and helped clients. Through the opportunity HillJennings gained organizational skills and an insight to the need there is throughout Stanly County.

“He learned about the process and how we try to help people get a leg up,” Thomas said.

When Gray Stone Day School Founder Helen Nance designed the charter school she wanted seniors to do a project modeled after the Eagle Scout project.

An Eagle Scout project is the opportunity for a Boy Scout to demonstrate leadership of others while performing a project for the benefit of the community.

To align the Eagle Scout project idea with the state of North Carolina’s universal senior project, Nance required the project to be completed by all seniors. Seniors had to record at least 15 hours of service to a community benefit.

Nance thought the service project was a great learning experience.

“They can volunteer or raise monies, some students support different research like cancer,” Nance said.

After completing just under 20 hours, HillJennings’ volunteer opportunity ended with SCCM. Thomas received an email from the Feinstein Foundation due to the SCCM’s previous participation. In the email they stated they added the $100,000 National High School Challenge this year asking high schools to have a food drive.

Thomas took information to all the high schools in the county and relayed the information to HillJennings. Gray Stone Day was the only school within the  county to respond. After speaking with Nance, HillJennings set up the challenge at his school.

Nance was excited about the opportunity.

“At this age it’s hard for students to think about anyone else,” Nance said.

Nance said HillJennings’ eagerness to help others was neat. All of the food HillJennings collected for the food drive went to SCCM.

HillJennings got started on the food drive right away. He asked family to donate money to buy canned goods.

Being an active participant in church, HillJennings also leaned on his church family at Norwood First Presbyterian, where his mother serves as the pastor.

“My church was extremely supportive and huge contributors in helping me collect canned goods,” HillJennings said.

HillJennings also planned a food drive at church through competition. He set up N.C. State, Duke and UNC tables, and whichever table accumulated the most canned goods won.

“That always seems to draw people in as people are passionate about those schools in this area,” HillJennings said.

HillJennings said while finishing top five was a goal, he did not think it was attainable.

“I thought I didn’t stand a chance to be in the top five,” HillJennings said.

Thomas said this experience proved to HillJennings that one can achieve something if they put in enough effort.

“This was a glowing example,” Thomas said.

HillJennings will attend Appalachian State University in the fall, majoring in business.

To submit story ideas, contact Trenton Little at (704) 982-2121 ext. 33 or email


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