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Project Impact was founded in 2016 as a six year initiative by business leaders. As a group, they agreed to raise $45 million to expand early education opportunities for children throughout Forsyth County. This was a major shift from previous community efforts, which were focused on reducing dropout rates and closing the achievement gap.

With Project Impact, the goal is to reduce the achievement gap and dropout rates by supporting students as early as possible – and even before they start kindergarten.

Three Key Strategies

Project Impact provides financial support for three initiatives to adress and narrow the achievement gap:

1. Early Learning Capacity & Staffing

High-quality pre-kindergarten programs teach children more than their letters and colors. They introduce children to school expectations, such as taking turns, working together and walking in a line.

By 2020, support from Project Impact will support a total of 34 licensed pre-kindergarten classrooms, including 21 in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools.

More than 200 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-kindergarten in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools because of Project Impact.

2. Community Outreach

Summer is a time for learning for the students who attend programs funded by Project Impact.

  • Pathway to K and Pathway to 1 programs offer 15 days of instruction to almost 500 students. These programs help prepare them for the start of school in August.
  • Ready Freddy encourages family participation in pre-K classrooms and playgroups for 4-year-olds through partnerships with two of the city’s largest childcare providers.
  • Countdown to K registration programs, held at every Winston-Salem/Forsyth County elementary school, help soothe nerves and get children and their parents excited about kindergarten.
92% of children could hold a book correctly at the end of Pathway to K, compared to 51% at the start.

3. Professional Development & Instructional Support

The quality of our programs reflects our investment in teacher training and support.

  • All K-2 teachers and assistants in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools receive research-based reading instruction and training.
  • Early learning partners provide teacher coaching and support for all Winston-Salem/Forsyth County early childhood programs.
  • Culturally relevant text, math, science and social studies materials are provided to pre-kindergarten teachers.

Project Impact funds the salaries of three pre-K coaches, one transition coordinator, one bilingual liaison and one evaluation specialist.

The History of Project Impact


May 2016

The community-wide Project Impact initiative is announced

May 2016

First grant requests are submitted

August 2016

Project Impact funds six pre-K classrooms for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

Summer 2017

First Pathway to K program is held, serving 149 students

January 2017

First program manager is hired

November 2017

Office of Early Learning is established and an early learning coordinator is hired


January 2018

Pre-K program manager is hired


Summer 2018

First Pathway to 1 program is held, serving 94 students

Summer 2019

Pathway to K and Pathway to 1 programs serve a total of 467 students

August 2019

Project Impact partially funds 21 pre-K classrooms in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system


Spring 2020

Launched virtual programming for early learning at home due to COVID-19 shutdown


Summer 2020

Allocated $1.7 million to purchase new English language arts textbooks for 12,000 students in kindergarten through grade 3


Summer 2021

Project Impact welcomes a new executive director, Dr. Paula Wilkins

Board of Directors

Janet Wheeler

Chair, Community Leader and Retired Vice President of R.J. Reynolds

Dr. Matthew Cullinan

Vice Chair, Community Leader and Former University Administrator

Dr. Paula Wilkins

Executive Director

Kelley Bendheim

K-3 Literacy Consultant, NC Department of Public Instruction

Dr. Anthony Graham

Provost – Winston-Salem State University

Mona Lovett

President and CEO – Crosby Scholars Community Partnership

Jose Rodriguez

Senior Partner – KPMG

Mamie Sutphin

Director, Community Engagement Programs – Reynolds American

Will Sutton

Executive Vice President and Director – The BB&T Leadership Institute


Founding Partners

Corporate and Foundation Lead Donors

Individual Lead Donors

Thomas R. Adams
Sally and David Blanco
Wendy and Mike Brenner
Mary Louise and John Burress
Susan Cameron
Claire and Hudnall Christopher, Jr.
Woody Clinard
Madlon and Kirk Glenn
Norma Sink and Charlie Hemrick
Grace and John McKinnon
Becky and Dave Morgan
Frances and Steve Porter
Anna Reilly and Matt Cullinan
John C. Whitaker, Jr.