The Riley Institute at Furman University has selected Jonathan Helms, Grant Development Director at the Boys & Girls Club of Cabarrus County, and Sheneika Simmons, Program Manager at the Public School Forum of North Carolina, to participate in the White-Riley-Peterson (WRP) Policy Fellowship. A partnership with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the WRP Fellowship is a 10-month national program designed to equip participants with a real-world understanding of policymaking for afterschool and expanded learning.

“What an immense opportunity to continuing serving my community and state in the field of youth development! As a White-Riley-Peterson Fellow, I hope to gain more insight on best practices and approaches for engaging in policy work, especially on behalf of youth in Cabarrus County and across the Carolinas.” – Jonathan Helms

“This is an incredible opportunity and learning experience! As a White-Riley-Peterson Fellow, I am eager to broaden my knowledge, establish strategic partnerships with professionals nationwide, and continue to advance the policy efforts of the North Carolina network centered on high-quality out-of-school time learning and engagement.” – Sheneika Simmons

The newest class of WRP Fellows will participate in a hybrid program combining virtual and in-person classes. As part of the fellowship, Helms and Simmons will develop and implement a state-level policy project in cooperation with the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs (NC CAP) and the national Afterschool Alliance. As significant monies become available through the American Rescue Plan to support academic recovery as a result of the pandemic, much of the Fellows’ focus will revolve around leveraging funding to grow and strengthen evidence-based afterschool and expanded learning programs.

Jonathan Helms is the Grant Development Director at the Boys & Girls Club of Cabarrus Countylocated in Concord, North Carolina. Over the past ten years, Jonathan has dedicated his career to positive youth development in a range of programmatic and leadership management roles. As a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grantee for more than five years, Jonathan and his Boys and Girls Club have engaged thousands of youths annually through afterschool, year-round programming, summer, and athletic programs. Jonathan’s experience with 21st CCLC and other federal grant programs has provided him with extensive familiarity with the federal funding process and policy. Jonathan has participated in the National Afterschool for All Challenge on Capitol Hill and has been instrumental in engaging program providers statewide in advocacy efforts through the launch of the North Carolina Afterschool for All Challenge at the Synergy Conference 2021. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Sociology and a Minor in Urban Youth and Communities from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He also holds an M.S. in Youth Development Leadership from Clemson University.

As the Program Manager for the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs (NC CAP), Sheneika Simmons works to develop, lead, coordinate, and drive the NC Network’s initiatives, including the STEM Hub. She supports the design and delivery of various professional development opportunities, content development and dissemination, and shaping policy to advance out-of-school time learning and education. Before joining NC CAP, Sheneika earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology from Ferrum College in Ferrum, VA, and a Master’s of Science in Educational Studies from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Currently, she is working towards her Ph.D. in Human Services from Walden University. Sheneika is a Teach For America, Eastern North Carolina Corps Member Alumni (2015) and a StartingBloc Raleigh-Durham (2018) Fellow. She has been able to work with youth, communities, and programs in various capacities. Sheneika is passionate about the future of youth in North Carolina and the programs that impact them. As a former educator, she continues to focus on fostering positive relationships for youth and promoting strategic programming that enhances the lives of youth, families, schools, and communities.

Including Helms and Simmons, 19 individuals have been selected to become WRP Fellows this year. The number of WRP Fellows nationwide has grown to 156 in 50 states since the initiative launched in 2012. Projects completed by WRP Fellows have calculated the return on investment of afterschool funding, mapped afterschool programs across states, improved afterschool quality standards, and forged partnerships with state departments of education working to address learning loss related to COVID-19.

“While afterschool is a time-tested approach proven to promote the social, emotional, and academic development of children, ensuring that out-of-school time programs are accessible and well-equipped takes on a new urgency during the pandemic, “said former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. 

“As we work to address learning loss as a result of COVID-19, afterschool and summer learning programs are critical partners toward gaining equity in education for all students. I am so proud to welcome 19 more policy leaders to this outstanding program,” Riley said. 

The White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship is named for Secretary Riley; William S. White, the late chairman of the board of trustees of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; and Terry Peterson, national board chair of the Afterschool Alliance and senior fellow at the Riley Institute and the College of Charleston. 

Learn more about the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship. For more information, contact Cathy Stevens at the Riley Institute at 864-294-3265 or

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