By age 14, Charles Barton Rice Sr. was foreman of a crew of men drilling wells for his father’s small business in Early County, the JB Rice Plumbing & Electrical Company. He was already learning to manage adult responsibilities, play fair in business and commerce, and work hard.

“Dad laid the foundation for my entrepreneurial spirit without realizing it,” said Rice, who founded Atlanta-based Barton Protective Services Inc. in 1977 and grew it into one of the largest contract security service firms in the country, employing more than 13,000 associates.

Rice’s commitment to his rural home — a place he remembers fondly for its swirling gnats, steamy heat and midnight freight train soundtrack — spurred the 2004 creation of the Charles and Catherine B. Rice Foundation, which is dedicated to revitalizing communities, preserving historical landmarks and safeguarding natural resources, among other goals.

Through the foundation, Charles and Catherine Rice launched “Early County 2055,” a project to revitalize the southwest Georgia county and help create more opportunity for its 13,000 citizens.

That project sparked a unique scholarship program at Georgia State University for incoming freshmen from Early County or transfer students from Bainbridge College’s Early County campus who commit to earning a certificate in gerontology along with their degree. The Rice Scholarship offers a $10,000 annual stipend renewable for up to four years, an expense-paid study abroad experience, membership in a professional society and a laptop and printer.

Susanne Reynolds, a 20-year-old transfer student from Bainbridge College and incoming Rice Scholar, has lived in a small community her whole life, but she anticipates life in Atlanta with excitement.

“I think it’s really going to help me branch out of my comfort zone, out of a rural area into an urban area. Not as a different person, but as an improved person,” said Reynolds, whose interests include theatre and journalism. After earning her degree, she plans to return to her home in Miller County, which borders Early County and has a population of less than 7,000, to work with underprivileged, at-risk children. Greg Chisholm, scholarship coordinator for GSU’s Honors Program, noted that the Rice Scholarship is especially important for Georgia State, as it helps fulfill the university’s mission to serve all corners of the state. And the scholarship’s goal of giving back resonates.

“It helps teach the students about service, both while they’re at the university, and as something they’ll continue to do throughout their lives,” he said.

While at GSU, Rice Scholars may major in anything, but in the course of earning their certificate in gerontology, they gain awareness of a pressing social need. Elisabeth Burgess, director of GSU’s Gerontology Institute, said that, in general, rural areas over the last 30 years have seen an exodus of young people, leaving behind an aging population. Rice Scholars are exposed to the needs of this population and how best to serve them through mentors, health fairs and professional conferences, as well as coursework.

“The opportunity for students from a small county in rural Georgia to get access to this information, I see it as snowballing,” said Burgess. “We’re not just educating them. We’re educating everyone they know.”

—Contact Donor Relations Director Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424