First grade teaching assistant and nonprofit founder Anissa McLendon has always been deeply involved in her community
By James Dupree | Photography by John Michael Simpson
As a child, Anissa McLendon learned the importance of “love thy neighbor” from her grandmother, Martha McLendon. “She taught me to help people and had me doing missionary work, [taking] meals to people [who were in need],” Anissa recalls.
It was a lesson the Chapel Hill High School grad took to heart. Upon earning her bachelor’s degree in 1989 in physical education at UNC, Anissa spent the next decade working for Residential Services, Inc. and later for the Carrboro Recreation, Parks, & Cultural Resources department. In December 1999, with a little nudge from then-police Chief Carolyn Hutchison, and after completing an officer training program at Wake Tech, Anissa spent six years as a Carrboro Police Department officer. “It was wonderful because I live in Carrboro, and it was nice to patrol my own area,” she recalls. “I had great relationships with people because they knew me. It’s about working with people because sometimes they make a mistake.” Unfortunately, her career in law enforcement was cut short after a head-on collision. “If I hadn’t had that accident, I would have done 20 years with Carrboro Police,” she says.
In 2005, Anissa began working for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools as a behavioral teaching assistant. “I worked with [the children] on their assignments. Or if they just needed a break, I would be there,” she says. Anissa moved within the school system for two decades, continuing to help children, eventually landing at Glenwood Elementary School as a dual language first grade teacher assistant. Anissa recognized a worrying pattern of Black students falling behind. “They were labeled exceptional children, but it was more so in a negative way,” she says. “They didn’t need to be labeled; they needed to be worked with.”
Anissa’s realization led to the creation of her nonprofit, Empowering Excellence thru Exploration Camp (E3 Camp), in 2017. The free summer program for Black middle school students exposes them to the arts and STEM fields through activities, field trips and presentations from local experts, most of them Black. “The kids may say, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never seen a Black dentist. That’s what I want to be,’” Anissa says. In February, she took 20 E3 Camp children to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and Kure Beach, North Carolina. “None of them had walked on the beach before,” she says. “One of the kids saw the ocean and said they never realized that the world was so big. I was weeping on the inside because this is what it’s about.”
In fall 2021, the Chapel Hill chapter of the National Organization for Women awarded Anissa the inaugural Jan Allen Award for her work. “I thought they must have the wrong person,” Anissa laughs. “But it was empowering. I don’t do what I do for recognition. People tell me that I’m doing too much, but that’s all I know. If I see something that needs to be done, then I do it. We would all be better off if we gave 5% of our time to help others.”
A lifelong member of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Anissa was one of the founders of the St. Paul Village Community Walk & 5K Run, which celebrated its 11th year in March and helps fund the construction of the St. Paul Village project, a multiuse development providing amenities and resources to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. This year saw around 200 people participating in the 5K, with many attendees staying afterward to help. “It was one of the most moving things,” she says. “Usually, it is the committee members that stay to clean up, but we had maybe 50 people that helped out.”