Gale Wilkins ’11 advocates and impacts NC youth
WPU Advancement Communications Coordinator Liz Rieth sat down with Gale Wilkins ’11, a William Peace University (WPU) School of Professional Studies alumna, to learn how Wilkin’s courageous story began. Wilkins is currently the Executive Director of the afterschool program Project Arrow. In 2021, she was chosen as the WPU School of Professional Studies Alumni of the Year.
Gale Wilkins ’11 welcomes me into her bright home. Two-story high windows stream the afternoon sun while she shows me to her glass kitchen table. She’s invited me over for a midweek lunch.
Powerful abstract art decorates the walls, and a tall orchid sits on her coffee table. Wilkins, who is wearing a vibrant green dress to match her alma mater’s colors, has bought us sandwiches and salads. She clicks around the kitchen floors on her four-inch heels as she plates our food.
The mother of two is now a successful William Peace University (WPU) School of Professional Studies alumna. She works both as the Executive Director of the afterschool program Project Arrow and the founding director of the nonprofit Family Education Initiative. Previously, Wilkins served the Executive Director of North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement.
Her service for youth and families garnered her recognition as the 2021 School of Professional Studies Alumni of the Year. The Professional Studies Alumni of the Year, awarded by the WPU Alumni Association, recognizes an outstanding graduate from the School of Professional Studies for their personal and professional accomplishments.
But Wilkins’ story has humble beginnings.
Wilkins grew up in rural North Carolina. Every day after school, she would work in a factory. However, she felt she was not a good fit for the job as she struggled to keep up with quota. “I always dreamt of getting a degree and widening my opportunities,” Wilkins said.
When she was preparing to graduate high school, Wilkins received a full ride scholarship to a nearby college. She was excited for the opportunity, but ultimately declined. Wilkins had a young daughter that she needed to care for. Wilkins instead worked.
Wilkins’ interests in community service first started through volunteering at her church where she worked with middle and high school students. Additionally, Wilkins and her husband served as youth pastors at their church. She saw the change that her involvement could bring to the students and these experiences cultivated a passion in Wilkins for serving youth.
“I wanted my daughter and other kids to have a different kind of life than I had as a kid,” Wilkins said. “We would take the youth group kids to new places and experiences to show them what’s available.”
That was the start of Wilkins’ career in service.
Pursuing her career and education
“I want to help change the communities I am in for the better,” Wilkins said. “I especially want to help young people.”
To do this, Wilkins started to volunteer at countless church and school boards, councils and committees.
In 2002, Wilkins’ experiences in these volunteer roles gave her the opportunity to work in Washington D.C. Her expertise on youth and churches was used as she served as a Program Assistant for the Presidential Advisory Council for HIV/AIDS in the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. She assisted the Council by providing knowledge on how church youth groups could influence the AIDS epidemic. “Every year I go to visit the White House to thank God for this opportunity,” Wilkins said.
After serving in the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Wilkins founded the nonprofit Family Education Initiative in 2007. Today, she still serves as the Founding Director of this organization that serves youth, families, and communities through prevention strategies and leadership development.
Six years later, Wilkins had the chance to serve as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement within the N.C. Department of Administration. There, she oversaw a council that impacts all 100 North Carolina counties by providing funding and resources for their domestic violence and human trafficking programs .
Additionally, Wilkins has served on the Governor’s Crime Commission, Wake County Commission for Women, City of Raleigh Human Relations Commission, N.C. State Government: Smart Start Pre-school Advisory Committee and the SafeChild Abuse Advisory Board Chairperson.
Throughout all these opportunities, Wilkins still dreamed of earning her degree. She had taken courses on and off at several universities but had never finished a program. That was, until she heard of WPU’s School of Professional Studies (SPS). SPS is the non-traditional, accelerated degree program to serve adult students through evening and online classes.
The WPU SPS allowed Wilkins to transfer her previous credits and gain a bachelor’s degree in Human Services in three years.
She took five-week courses that fit her schedule as a mom, and she received academic support through the SPS. Tutors and professors helped Wilkins navigate the course materials.
“Nothing was missing while I was at Peace. It was support unlike anything else,” Wilkins said. “Peace gave me the confidence to earn my degree and then go for my Master’s Degree.”
After Peace, she went on to become a Certified Life Coach through the graduate program at North Carolina State University and receive her Master of Arts in Liberal Studies in Women in Leadership from N.C. State University.
Life-coaching for youth
Now, Wilkins is the Executive Director of Project Arrow, an evidence-based Life Coaching and Leadership program for middle, high school, and first-year college students. It’s the first program of its kind.
“The program provides coaching to prevent students from experiencing the effects of violence related actions and harmful addictions from crises,” Wilkins said. “It creates empowered leaders who are able to advocate for themselves and their peers.”
Project Arrow uses life coaching to teach students how to develop healthy responses to trauma and stress. This model seeks to prevent students from reacting negatively to their experiences, but rather process them healthily.
Since its implementation in 2018, over 700 students have participated in Project Arrow.
The idea to start a program providing students with life coaching came from Wilkins’ own experiences. Peace provided her the opportunity to have a life coach while she was in the SPS. At first, Wilkins was hesitant to take advantage of the chance, but her life was changed when she decided to give it a try.
The life coach asked Wilkins powerful questions that gave her tools to set and shape her goals. Her coach then helped her find the confidence and courage needed to attain them.
“I don’t want kids to be unsure how to navigate the problems facing them. Life coaching gives kids the tools to make better decisions and navigate the future,” Wilkins said. “It unlocks their potential.”
To learn more about the Project Arrow program, visit project-arrow.com. To learn more about how you can support current and future students in their journey to earn their degree, visit peace.edu/give