Creating brighter futures through scholarships

On visits home from The Netherlands, Coley Stone always stops for a sausage, bacon, and egg sandwich at the Norfolk restaurant that gave him his first job at age 14.

Busing tables at the Pancake House & Grill “taught me accountability and responsibility,” said Stone, now 39. “I remember seeing adults who started out there come back with fancy cars to see the owner who gave them an opportunity.” Stone is now that successful adult coming to say thank you and let restaurant workers know that “if someone tells you that you can’t, use that as fuel to show them you can.”

Stone, a past Hampton Roads Community Foundation scholarship recipient, serves as assistant to the registrar of the International Court of Justice. The registrar oversees daily operations of the 15-judge world court housed in a palace in The Hague, Netherlands.

“This is my dream job,” says Stone, a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate who joined the court staff in 2020. The United Nations founded the court in 1945 to settle disputes between countries. Stone moved to The Netherlands in 2006 determined to work for the court, in which multiple languages are used. He is fluent in English, Dutch, French, and Portuguese, and he is comfortable speaking German, Italian, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish.

Stone’s position requires “multifaceted skills -- knowledge of languages, drafting and communication skills, sense of diplomacy and precision,” says Philippe Gautier, the registrar Stone assists. Stone “always comes into the office with a smile on his face, is a hard worker, and is ready to learn and adjust. You do not easily find all these qualities in one person. This positive attitude is certainly a recipe for excellence.”

As a child, Stone dreamed of going to college and made it there with the help of supportive mentors. He struggled in school, repeating seventh grade and attending an alternative school. With both parents incarcerated, Stone packed his belongings into grocery bags and bounced between his grandmother’s house and a group home. Free time after school was spent clearing dirty dishes at the Pancake House.

As a freshman at Norfolk’s Granby High, Stone met school counselor Babs Prewett, who supported his quest for success. “Seeing where he is now makes my heart swell with pride,” she said.

Prewett helped Stone devise a plan to graduate in three years and go to college. When Stone faced homelessness his senior year, Prewett connected him with Suzi Williams, the school office manager who invited him to live with her family and became his surrogate mom.

“No obstacle would stop Coley from succeeding,” Prewett recalled. To graduate on time with his original class, Stone twice attended summer school and earned a vocational diploma in 2001. The one snag he couldn’t overcome was not fitting in foreign language classes. Graduating with honors, Stone fielded offers from four colleges and received the community foundation’s J. Robert and Ettie Fearing Cunningham Scholarship.

For Stone, the four-year scholarship “showed me that if I work hard there are possibilities. I hope to one day have a scholarship named after me,” he said. “The foundation’s scholarship ensured a bright future for me.”

Stone headed to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond as the first in his family to attend college.

While at VCU, Stone honed his gift for languages and earned a degree in French and history.

After graduating from VCU in 2006, Stone moved to The Netherlands and started applying for jobs at the world court. Persistence paid off when he was hired in 2020. In the interim, he gained experience in The Netherlands working for the International Court of Justice, a global dermatology company, an international recruiting agency, and a worldwide fitness company.

Stone thrives on the day-to-day challenges of his work “as well as the exposure to ambassadors, heads of state and other VIPs,” he said. He plans to continue working for the court while earning either a law degree or a master’s degree in diplomacy.

As often as he can, he comes home to Hampton Roads to visit with supporters and others who “all played an important role in teaching me how to be an adult while instilling strong values in me,” he said. “They were my family when I had none, and I love them dearly for opening up a spot for me in their hearts and homes.”

About Coley’s Scholarship

A 1992 bequest from the late Ettie Fearing Cunningham created the scholarship Coley Stone received. It is for Hampton Roads residents pursuing careers in education. Mrs. Cunningham taught math at Blair Middle School in the 1920s.

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