HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) — Etta Carter wholeheartedly believes education has the power to change the world.

After all, she’s been witnessing it firsthand for the past 24 years as a teacher in Horry County.

Etta’s drive to close the gap of inequities in local education and rural communities started in Green Sea — the very place she grew up. Today, she proudly serves as the director of adult education for Horry County Schools.

She’s a fierce advocate for students young and old deserving of a well-rounded education, no matter their background.

“It can’t be that we always look down upon somebody else and say, ‘Oh, they shoulda, woulda, coulda.’ Sometimes (in) life, you get a set of cards and you (have to) just play them,” she said.  “So what can we do in order to remove some of the barriers for other people? I think I get great joy in seeing people succeed and people seeing, ‘Hey! There is light at the end of the tunnel.'”

Her nominator says her selflessness is changing lives for the better in Horry County — and that makes her a remarkable woman.

Etta, however, will tell you it’s all part of the thrill of being someone’s cheerleader and seeing them succeed when given a second chance. They happen every day in the very school she now leads.

“People persevere through it all,” she said with tears coming down her face. “Most of the people that come (to the Adult Education Center), they got jobs. They got kids. They got bills. They got issues, and still yet, they see what education could possibly do for them, and they carve out this time to come into our program. So it’s our all-day job to meet them where they are, and take them where they need to go in order to help them become the best versions of themselves.”

Becoming the investor in someone’s future keeps Etta’s world turning, both inside and outside of the classroom.

“We know from research that between three and six, those are the ‘danger zones’ for youth. If they aren’t involved in sports and they aren’t involved in some kind of constructive after-school program, this is when they get into mayhem. This is when they get into issues,” she explained. “Our youth need to be involved in programs that promote positive behaviors (and) positive lifestyles.”

A chance “elevator speech” that won her a $20,000 grant at an adult education conference helped Etta launch a free after-school program for families in inland Horry County at the Finklea Community Center. Etta says about 75 students take advantage of it at the moment, and 100 youth in its most recent summer camp. The program is funded through grants that Etta tirelessly works to secure throughout the year.

Her nominator told News13 she has “taken out of her own pocket to help those in need and continues to bring awareness of the inequality of resources provided to underprivileged families and communities.”

“Most of the kids in the rural areas — when they go into school, they go in to school behind because they don’t have as much vocabulary or they didn’t have as much access to programs. We want to make sure we give them an opportunity to catch up, but then we also want to give them the opportunity to just be kids, as well. It is important to me that we create access for all students,” she said.

And who shows up to the program is a testament to Etta’s role in the community. During her time at Green Sea Floyds High School, she taught the parents of many of the children currently enrolled in the Finklea program. Etta’s quick to mention the program helps them tremendously, too.

“This takes away the barrier of child care,” she said. “I’ve heard parents tell me, ‘I can pay my rent because I can work my full shift, because I know my kids are safe.’ This is huge in so many ways.”

Etta says her faith in God helps fuel her passion to make her community a better place to work, live and raise a family. In the end, she says she just wants to leave the world a better place.

“I do the best I can, and then I let the lord do the rest. He’s going to make a way for me.”

In addition to her full-time role at Horry County Schools, Carter also owns “In My Father’s Housing, LLC” in Loris, which helps residents looking for affordable or workforce housing in Horry and Georgetown counties.