'Million-dollar Woman' a miracle worker

Deborah Morgan, the outgoing Grant Program Coordinator for the DeSoto County Economic Development Council's Foundation for Excellence in Education, is looking ahead to the next chapter in her life.

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Just call Deborah Morgan the "Million-Dollar Woman."

Morgan is the longtime Grant Program Coordinator for the DeSoto County Economic Development Council (EDC) which oversees the DeSoto County Foundation for Excellence in Education which awards mini-grants to teachers in private, public and parochial schools in the DeSoto County area.

Morgan is retiring after nearly a decade and a half at the helm as DeSoto Council Coordinator of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

In 2014, the DeSoto County Foundation for Excellence in Education, under Morgan's leadership and the DeSoto Council's guidance, reached the $1 million mark in donations since the program was created.

Since that time, the program, with Morgan's help, have added to that number.

"It was a miracle," Morgan said. "I can't put my finger on it as to why it happened. I pray it continues."

While the characteristically humble Morgan doesn't take credit for raising all of that that eye-popping amount, she has raised a significant amount during her tenure.

"I was so blessed and so thankful for the support of the DeSoto Council members," Morgan said.

Morgan is quick to turn all the credit and thanks to the private donors and companies in the community who give generously to improve education.

"Whether it's public, private, parochial or other — it doesn't matter —  they want us to have the best school district in the state," Morgan said.

Still, the amount raised for the Foundation for Excellence is staggering, according to Morgan, and she is gratified to have played a role in raising the teacher grant funds.

"I was amazed at how it grew from $40,000 my first year to $80,000," Morgan said. "We got as high as $84,000 one year. I don't know that I did anything extraordinary. I decided to ask the entire membership instead of just asking a select few. I asked all the teachers to write 'thank you's' to the  company representatives. I worked hard to develop relationships."

"It's all about relationships," Morgan said. "The most rewarding thing to me has been the response of the teachers. Usually, the grants are $500 or less but it's like Christmas. They are excited about it. I did have a man come in one time who received a very special gift. A teacher had compiled a book about what his grant did for the students in her class. That relationship was forged for life."

The Foundation has been in existence since 1989, Morgan said, and was originally formed by the DeSoto County School Board. The program was given to the DeSoto Council to manage and is a 501c3 charity for tax purposes.

Morgan, who came to the DeSoto Council from the agribusiness industry, began working for the DeSoto Council on July 3. 2003 after spending a year at the Memphis Downtowner Magazine and a stint at cotton giant Staplctn, its moniker as traded on the world cotton exchange.

From day one, Morgan said the DeSoto Council has recognized the important relationship between education and the businesses and industry in the DeSoto County region.

Money to the Foundation can come from a variety of sources, including private and corporate donations. Teachers in the DeSoto County School District, at Sacred Heart School and Northpoint Christian School are encouraged to make application to be considered for grant money as well.

The applications are judged by a panel that represents education and industry. The highest rated application from each school is awarded, followed by the remaining amount according to available funds and need.

Grant award winners learn where the money is coming from and Morgan said efforts are made to match winners with the providers.

"We're trying to build relationships between our schools and the business community," Morgan said. "Basically it benefits our workforce and quality of life to have good schools."

She noted programs such as the Foundation assist in attracting new opportunities in DeSoto County.

"It makes it a whole lot easier to recruit manufacturing, factories and industry here because of our schools," Morgan said. "It is big, really big."

Each year, the DeSoto County Economic Development Council's "Salute to Education" Classroom Teacher Grant Program as presented by the DeSoto County Foundation for Excellence in Education, Inc., is unveiled in an elaborate ceremony at DeSoto Hills Baptist Church in Southaven.

Many of Morgan's duties will be fulfilled by Susan Fernandez, who is stepping into Morgan's role.

Now that she is retiring, Morgan said she is eagerly anticipating spending time with her first grandchild and pursuing her love for gardening and watching things grow.

The native of Glendora is the mother of two grown sons.

"It's time to move on," Morgan said. "It's time for somebody with new life and new ideas. Legacy-wise, I just hope that the support for our community and our schools continue. I hope those bonds grow stronger."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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