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Kyle and Kevin Cheek with their mother, Karen Jenkins-Cheek. Photograph by Ronda Manuel.
Kyle and Kevin Cheek with their mother, Karen Jenkins-Cheek. Photograph by Ronda Manuel.

UNC Pembroke juniors and identical twins Kevin and Kyle Cheek spend their summers in Chapel Hill working at the University to make their college experience possible. For the past two summers, the Sanford natives performed maintenance work throughout residence halls across campus with the UNC Facilities team. The opportunity to work on campus not only provides funds for their education, but it also gives them the to opportunity to spend summers with their mother Karen Jenkins-Cheek, a 15-year veteran with the Department of Parking and Transportation.

The Cheek brothers work hard to stay in college and maintain high grades. In recognition of their outstanding academic credentials and in order to ease the financial burden of paying tuition, they have been awarded $2,000 for each of the past two years from the Carolina Family Scholarship.

“The Carolina Family Scholarship has been extremely helpful because it provided us with money that we did not have,” Kevin said. “We probably would not have been able to go to school if we didn’t have this scholarship.”

The Carolina Family Scholarship Fund, which was established over 10 years ago, provides need-based scholarships to dependents of employees attending any of the 16 UNC institutions or community colleges in North Carolina. This fund creates a sense of community among UNC Chapel Hill faculty and staff by working toward the common goal of furthering the education of employee children.

Saving the scholarship

A year ago, the future of the Carolina Family Scholarship appeared tenuous. Bruce Egan, one of the original organizers of the scholarship, wanted to retire but wanted to ensure the continuation of the scholarship. He requested that the Employee Forum administer the scholarship going forward, and the forum membership agreed.

Jenkins-Cheek, a long-time Employee Forum delegate herself, said that she is “extremely excited that the Employee Forum has taken a stand to keep the scholarship going. I am honored that someone paved the way and now the Forum can continue to carry the torch.”

Several years ago, Karen, who is approaching 20 years as a state employee, learned about the Carolina Family Scholarship through a mandatory training in her department. With two children attending college at the same time, she knew the scholarship could provide much-needed funds.

The Cheek family was elated when they were notified that the brothers had received the scholarship. Because of the financial assistance provided for Kevin and Kyle’s academic career, a huge burden was lifted from their family.

Paying it forward

With the help of this scholarship, Kevin and Kyle are both majoring in biology and minoring in psychology. They are active in Life Group, a student organization that provides them with the opportunity to discuss life situations from a biblical and religious perspective. They have participated in the university’s gospel choir and have set their sights on graduate school. Both brothers aspire to attend the UNC Physician Assistant Program through the Department of Allied Health Sciences. They believe this will be a chance for them to give back to their community, an important value in their family.

“If someone is able to provide and help you, then you pay it forward. You give back and donate money to help someone that is in financial need. Paying it forward is a big thing for me and my family,” Karen said. As a mother of four children, including two daughters who are currently in high school, Karen always taught her children the importance of getting a college education.

“All of my children have excelled in their academics, A/B honor roll, and have done really well in their scholastic achievements. I am proud of all of them and encourage them to get scholarships, scholarships, and more scholarships,” she said.

She believes the Carolina Family Scholarship shows great support from the University to their employees by providing an opportunity to receive money for higher education for their children. “It would be helpful for faculty and staff to give to the fund through payroll deduction so that the money is continuously available. It is a great chance to pay it forward to another family in need that would truly benefit from those funds,” Karen said. “I would strongly encourage all faculty and staff members that believe in education for our future to financially support the Carolina Family Scholarship Fund.”

If you’d like to learn more about ways that you can support other families in the UNC community through the Carolina Family Scholarship Fund, please visit or contact the Employee Forum at

RondaStory contributed by Ronda Manuel, Employee Forum delegate and Associate Director of Development for the Arts and Sciences Foundation.

One Response to “Cheek family believes in paying it forward”

  1. Donna Polat, communications specialist, NC TraCS

    This is a great inspirational story and really made my Friday!!! Much success to these fine young men and kudos to their loving mom!!!

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