Nothing Habele has done - or continues to do - would be possible without the vision and dedication of Neil Mellen.
After graduating from Virginia Military Institute in 2002, Neil joined the Peace Corps to serve as a classroom teacher on the remote Micronesian atoll of Ulithi. His experiences over the three years that followed cemented a love for the people who welcomed him into their communities, and a deep respect for traditional Micronesian cultures. During this period, Neil worked with local partners to develop what would become the world’s first Ulithian-English dictionary.
One unavoidable recognition for Neil was the number of bright young students for whom educational opportunity was an undreamt of option. Extreme isolation, poverty, and conflicting social pressures present challenges that too few Micronesian students overcome. The resulting waste of the resource of young minds left a powerful, lasting impression.
As Neil’s term with Peace Corps came to and end, he determined to remain invested in the islands that had made such an impact on him. Habele was the result of this determination. With the help of two other Peace Corps volunteers, Neil established the first tuition scholarship fund in 2006, and began raising support and materials to help establish libraries for some of the most isolated schools in Micronesia.
In the years since, Neil has worked tirelessly to build on the original vision for Habele. Because of his commitment, Habele is able to benefit more schools and students across Micronesia than ever before.
Neil remains an advocate for educational opportunity at home, as well as in Micronesia. In 2013, he orchestrated the implementation of South Carolina’s first scholarship program for students with physical and cognitive disabilities, a multi-million dollar program that continues to serve families across the state.
Neil has served as an appointee to the South Carolina Educational Broadband Commission, as well as the South Carolina Governor’s Executive Budget Review Task Force. His editorial columns have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Wall Street Journal, The Honolulu Star Advertiser, The State, and others.