New Opportunity School for Women

The mission of the New Opportunity School for Women at Lees-McRae College is to improve the educational, financial, and personal circumstances of low-income women—usually between the ages of 30–55—who live in or hail from the Southern Appalachian region.

The curriculum is designed to foster skills that will help them approach life and work from diverse perspectives.

Now accepting applications!

2024 Summer Session: June 2–22
Learn about the program below and contact Jennie Harpold for additional information. 

About Us

In 2005, Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, NC became home to the second New Opportunity School for Women.  Originally founded in 1987 by Lees-McRae College alumna Jane Baucom Stephenson (‘57) in Berea, KY, this organization seeks to, “improve the educational, financial, and personal circumstances of low-income women,” in the Appalachian region.

We are seeking up to 14 low-income women to participate in the New Opportunity School for Women at Lees-McRae College during the three-week residential program each June. There is no cost to the participant. During the program, the women explore career options, educational goals, and leadership development as well as a self-esteem boosting curriculum. Weekday mornings and some evenings are spent in workshops—topics include computer training, job search skills, leadership development, Appalachian Literature, basic math, and creative writing, among several others—while afternoons are spent at a job internship of interest to the participant. During evenings and weekends, participants continue classes and workshops as well as field trips to museum and attendance at cultural events in our area. The curriculum of the NOSW also includes a workshop on how to go back to school, receive financial aid, and take the SAT or ACT. Graduates of the New Opportunity School for Women find the experience life-altering. According to the New Opportunity School for Women in Berea, KY, “In the past 30 years, over 900 women have completed the School’s three-week residential program. A recent survey of graduates showed that 76% are now employed, enrolled in further education, or both. 

Graduates of the NOSW are now employed in areas such as social work, counseling, education, public relations, business, and healthcare vocations such as nursing and respiratory therapy.” In fact, the program has been so successful that it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show as part of Oprah’s Angel Network.

Any woman who has a GED or high school diploma, who is of low income, and who lives in or hails from the Southern Appalachian region is eligible to attend the New Opportunity School for Women. Most participants are between the ages of 30 and 55 and are motivated and eager to learn.

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Who is eligible? Women who...

  • are from the southern Appalachian region, including North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia
  • have completed high school or have a GED but do NOT have a college degree
  • are approximately between the ages of 30 and 55
  • are of low income
  • demonstrate motivation and eagerness to learn
  • are committed to remaining on campus for the entire three-week program, including weekends

Graduate Stories

NOSW graduates have found success in a multitude of areas. Read one of these success stories below and be sure to watch for new stories in the future!

Mary Absher is a resident of Wise County, Virginia and a graduate of the first class of the New Opportunity School for Women at Lees-McRae College in 2005. Since her graduation Mary has served as house sister at all four NOSW programs. She also served in AmeriCorps at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Mary attended the Brushy Fork Institute in Berea, Kentucky where she gained knowledge and skills for leadership positions in the community. She currently serves on the Community Action Board for Wise County and a four county transportation advisory board.


  1. Expand participants’ knowledge base of Appalachia culture and current issues.
  2. Provide participants’ access to the resources, information and contacts to support personal and professional decisions.
  3. Engage participants’ in activities, counseling, classes and internships that provide them with the viable tools to improve their overall self-esteem, decision making processes, financial literacy, personal wellness and career options.

To learn more about the New Opportunity School for Women in Berea KY, visit

Thank you to
The Women's Fund of the Blue Ridge, the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, and the High Country Charitable Foundation, Inc. for providing grants that will allow us to improve the educational, financial, and personal circumstances of low-income women.

Meet the Director

Jennie Harpold
Director of New Opportunity School for Women

Contact Us

Mail: New Opportunity School for Women
Lees-McRae College
PO Box 128
Banner Elk NC 28604
Phone: 828.898.8905
Fax: 828.898.3524