LeAnne Johnson inspires students and her co-workers
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LeAnne Johnson inspires students and her co-workers

Gaston College graduate and staff member
LeAnne Johnson inspires students and her co-workers

When LeAnne Johnson earned her Associate of Arts degree from Gaston College in December 2017, it was the culmination of a quest to prove to herself that she was a capable, intelligent individual. That quest led her to take a different path than the one on which she had started out, and shLeAnne posing for photoe is sure that she is now where she was meant to be.

Johnson’s parents did not encourage her or her siblings to focus on higher education, and although she enrolled in Gaston College after graduating from Belmont’s South Point High School in 1985, she dropped out after one semester. She married at 19 and concentrated on being a wife and mother. The death of her father in 2011 caused her to reevaluate her life. She was doing well at her position of catering manager at Belmont Abbey College, but she came to the realization that she felt unfulfilled and needed to make some changes. Eventually she and her husband divorced and she left her position at Belmont Abbey.

Going back to school was a difficult decision for Johnson. In elementary school she had been assigned to classes for those with learning disabilities and she was not sure she was up to the coursework. However, she determined that getting a degree was something she needed to do for her own self-esteem. She re-enrolled in Gaston College in 2015, registering for two classes. She dropped one of the classes in her first semester, but, realizing that she was more than capable, she became a full-time student in 2016, taking four classes a semester.

“I loved going to school,” said Johnson. “It was intimidating at first, but I was getting good grades and that was rewarding. It broke the cycle of thinking I was not good enough.” Johnson graduated from Gaston College with a 3.9 GPA. Her accomplishment gave her newfound confidence in her abilities to do hard, challenging things with excellence.

Now 51 years old, remarried, and the mother of four and grandmother of three, Johnson is not only a Gaston College alumna, she also has been on the housekeeping staff of the College since 2013. She is assigned to the Lena Sue Beam Building where the Gaston Early College High School is located. To JohnsoLeAnne with studentsn, the job is more than keeping the facilities clean and orderly, it is an investment in the students’ lives. “I tell the kids, ‘if I can do it, you can do it,’” she said. “I try to set the example that you can make your own decisions on what you want your life to be like.”

Her encouragement and support of the students has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. The Gaston Early College High School Class of 2017 dedicated its yearbook to her, and Johnson was the recipient of the 2017 Altrusa Award for Excellence, which recognizes an outstanding Gaston College Faculty or Staff member who personifies the College’s mission, vision, and values. Nominees are judged on their involvement with Gaston College students and their positive impact on the students’ lives. Joy Morrow, Job Developer and Coordinator of Work-Based Learning and Placement, nominated Johnson for the award. “LeAnne may not be an instructor, but she contributes to the mission of Gaston College by providing a clean and positive environment for our Early College students, faculty, and staff,” said Morrow. “She is an ambassador for both Gaston College and the Early College.”“LeAnne always has a smile on her face, and puts pride in going over and beyond her call of duty. Not only does LeAnne work for the college, but she also supports a positive relationship with Gaston County Schools through the Early College. She doesn’t just want our building to look good, but she wants it to look fabulous. If LeAnne sees something that needs to be done, she will do it even if it isn’t a scheduled task. LeAnne thinks how she would want things to look if our office or facility was her own, and makes sure it presents as such. I have seen her train new housekeepers, and she doesn’t ask anyone to do anything that she doesn’t do herself. LeAnne prioritizes her cleaning time to best fit the needs of the people in the building according to their schedules.”

“LeAnne treats everyone with respect and always has a positive attitude,” Morrow continued. “She treats others the way she would want to be treated. LeAnne is very compassionate when it comes to the needs of others. She is always willing to head up an effort to assist someone in need. For example, she provided opportunities for staff in our building to assist with a family in need, and to provide college clothes and toys for a family whose house caught on fire.”

Russel Smyre, Director of Facilities Management, is Johnson’s supervisor. “LeAnne Johnson is an open and authentic person who has the grace to give meaning to everyone she interacts with,” he said. “LeAnne has an honest and sensitive personality and she is always striving to make people, places, and situations better. Simply put, she is a great person to work with.”

Graduating from Gaston College was one of Johnson’s proudest accomplishments. “I loved every minute of studying, learning, and growing, and I have not felt the call to leave the Housekeeping Department at Gaston College,” she said. “I believe that being here for the students at the Early College High School is my purpose in life, and I feel as if I have been ministered to more than I have ministered to them. I want to inspire them to understand that knowledge is power and that they can create their own destinies.”

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