Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald | Individual photos by Anthony Harden
Some of the area’s top nonprofits sat down with Capital at Play to discuss how their work is real business.
With the nonprofit sector once again a key focus in North Carolina during November—the 2018 Conference for North Carolina’s Nonprofits will be held November 27-28 in Research Triangle Park and is the largest annual gathering of nonprofit heads in our state—we once again turn our own attention to the topic. To date we have published three annual reports: “Nonprofit North Carolina: Metrics and Accountability in Philanthropy” (2015), “Nonprofits & Revenue Streams” (2016), and “Nonprofits in Western North Carolina” (2017), additionally expanding last year’s coverage to include mini-profiles of ten area nonprofits heads in order to put a human, relatable face on what some readers might have previously considered to be a huge web of myriad administrative bureaucracies.
See, these are organizations operated by people and for people. As one of our respondents astutely notes, “Staff in nonprofit settings are usually motivated by passion rather than a paycheck.”
Some nonprofits may operate in the social welfare area, bringing crucial services to families and individuals at risk or in need; others may focus on externalities such as the environment and regional ecology; and still others engage with the arts and our culture at large. But the commonality is, as always, trying to effect change and bring about something positive to the larger community.
This year we have expanded our number of profiles in order to further represent the depth and breadth of what nonprofits cover. Please consider these individuals’ stories—what motivated them in the first place, and what keeps them engaged; their greatest challenges and greatest rewards over the years; who they try to serve through their ideals and actions—and if you find yourself nodding in agreement at their comments, consider supporting their organizations in some way and perhaps even getting involved yourself.
With its multiplicity of organizations, the nonprofit sector is a major economic driver in Western North Carolina. As we noted last year in this space, there is no reason to think that trend will be slowing in the future, so it is important for all citizens to recognize its importance to them and to their lives.
A personal note from the Editor: When I came on board here at Capital at Play in late 2015, the November issue had been published just a couple of weeks earlier, and I remember being moderately surprised that one of the main features was a report on Western North Carolina nonprofits. The magazine I had interviewed for was, after all, a business publication specifically covering the private, for-profit sector. Still, it was a fascinating, revealing story—it was also the first time this publication had dove deeply into the nonprofit arena—and its underlying message was clear: As noted above nonprofits are indeed a significant economic driver in this region, wielding a major impact upon a considerable number of people, from the organizations’ staff members and ancillary employees to members of the general public directly affected by or benefiting from the activities of those organizations. And this year our coverage, as it turns out, has a notable flip-the-script element at play: Out of the dozen individuals we are profiling fully, nine of them are women (last year seven out of our ten profiles were male executives). In one sense, this is entirely coincidental; when selecting the nonprofits we wanted to include in the feature, we typically did not know yet who their heads were.
In the larger sense, though, and within the cultural context of 2018, it certainly seems serendipitous—kismet, even, should you be of a more cosmic inclination and prone to waiting for the stars to align at the right moments. Here at the magazine we steadfastly steer clear of politics, understanding that the demographic makeup of our readership is necessarily broad and our goal as a member of the media is to be as inclusive as possible in order to start conversations that everyone feels comfortable joining, not just members of a particular tribe or social group.
Just the same, I will have to admit I was pleasantly surprised when I got all the names of the people we would be featuring for our profiles this time around, and, more than just a little bit proud. I hope you will be, too. —Fred Mills
THANK YOU to the nonprofits for working with us on these profiles. Scroll to the bottom of this page to access the complete magazine in PDF form.
Four Seasons Compassion For Life
Dr. Millicent Burke-Sinclair
Dr. Millicent Burke-Sinclair’s story of why she chooses to work for a nonprofit started when she was a young child.
“My parents pastored and continue to pastor a local church, New Beginnings World Outreach Center, in Hendersonville,” she explains. “And through this ministry, dating back as long as I can remember, we served and housed homeless; fed the hungry; and provided hope through helping people develop and live their purpose and end a cycle of addiction, imprisonment, and poverty. For this reason and more, my goal in life is to help others live their purpose, and therefore, by working for a nonprofit organization, I am able to ensure that people have a better quality of life and receive the care they need regardless of their ability to pay.”
Four Seasons has served the community for nearly 40 years. They offer care navigation, home care, palliative care, hospice care, bereavement support, and clinical research.
Burke-Sinclair speaks of a patient who was living with a serious illness alongside progressing dementia. “Before coming into Four Seasons care they had not spoken much and often forgot who their spouse was. A retired musician who had always lived a life appreciating music, we decided to have one of our music therapists spend some time with the patient to bring them comfort and peace. Almost immediately after hearing the gentle music being played, the patient opened their eyes. The music therapist began playing the song the couple had danced to at their wedding, some many years prior, and alongside the therapist in a quiet room the patient began humming the soft tune. Next, the patient lifted their hand and reached for their spouse, acknowledging that the patient knew who their spouse was. Not a person in the room was untouched by this sentiment and how it was music that brought the two back together.”
Born and raised in Hendersonville, she holds a doctorate degree in education, a master’s in leadership from The Thayer Institute’s Healthcare Executive’s Program, and a master’s degree in business administration. She has an advanced certification in business and marketing education and is certified from both HRCI and SHRM with the designations of SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) and SHRM-SCP (Senior Certified Professional). Prior to accepting the role of chief executive officer, she served as chief operating officer for the organization.
The most challenging part of her job as chief executive officer is realizing the daunting season patients and family are going through. The most rewarding is providing trusted care to all they care for and hearing the treasured moments that develop from their experience with Four Seasons.
In her spare time, she “lives joyfully with my husband and two children; serves our church and community with my family; lives an organic and healthy lifestyle through diet, exercise, and intentionality; sings and plays percussion; enjoys nature and art; as well as volunteers with other local nonprofits.”
She names her father as the most influential person in her life as he lives a life of honor, integrity, and wisdom—never wavering from his purpose and always pursuing the opportunity to enhance the lives of everyone he meets regardless of their background or present circumstance.
Burke-Sinclair chooses to work for Four Seasons because they provide the right care at the right time in a manner that is co-created by the patient and family.
“Through support of our generous donors, our expanded care continuum is able to provide care navigation, home care, palliative care, hospice care, bereavement support, and clinical research trials for patients and families regardless of their ability to pay. Additionally, Four Seasons dedicates significant research and training into ensuring that we equip and develop a competent, compassionate, and committed group of highly-skilled and passionate professionals. Four Seasons expands all across our country by helping other similar organizations also provide the very best post-acute care.”
She offers the following advice: “Enjoy life by focusing on what matters most and live each day with purpose, passion, and positivity.”
Eblen Center for Social Enterprise
William Murdock began Eblen Charities alongside the late Joe Eblen with $400 they received from a yard sale. “Eblen was created in response to what we were seeing for needs in our community that were being unmet, even though there were a number of good nonprofits in our area,” says Murdock. “We saw so many going without services due to one criteria or another. So, after researching a great number of them and seeing where more help was needed we decided to set up Eblen Charities.”
Murdock was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and moved to Asheville while in the sixth grade. His education includes T.C. Roberson High School, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Mars Hill University, Duke University, Harvard University, and Stanford University. He received a doctorate of humane letters from UNC-Asheville.
There are days when more than 200 families come to the Eblen offices seeking help. Murdock says the most challenging part of his job is making sure they reach out to all those who do come to them for help. He credits the staff, volunteers, and board members for continuing to meet that challenge.
“The most rewarding part of what we all do here together is the fact that when someone comes in we are able to meet your needs quickly, and making sure that they have the help they seek before they leave and knowing that their lives are better by coming here. Those of us involved certainly know we receive a lot more from our clients than they ever do from us.
“But it is important for everyone to know that we don’t do this alone. Our partnerships are with Arby’s, Avadim Health, AvL Technologies, the Brumit Restaurant Group, Ingles Markets, Pepsi, the Southern Conference, Wicked Weed Brewing, and a great number of others who touch countless lives in our community. We couldn’t do what we do without so many who exemplify such dedicated selfless service.”
Murdock spends his spare time reading, playing guitar, and writing. He is the author of 11 books including his latest release, Find Your Own Calcutta – Living a Life of Service and Meaning in a Selfish World, published by HarperCollins.
The most influential people in his life are his grandfather, who showed him what it was like to be kind and to care for others. And Joe Eblen, who he was and is greatly honored to have worked with and helped create two unique organizations.
While there are countless heartwarming stories that come to Eblen every day, Murdock shares the story of a call they received from one of their graduation initiative counselors. Graduation initiative is a partnership with Eblen Charities, Buncombe County Schools, and Buncombe County to reduce the dropout rate.
“In 10 years we have reduced the dropout rate by more than 60 percent. One day we received a call from one of our graduation initiative specialists about a young lady who was missing a great number of days of school and in danger of not graduating on time. She was consistently missing every other day of school, and when the counselor checked she found she had a younger sister in middle school. It was a family with a single mom and her younger sister who was missing every other day of school but on alternate days. We thought they were taking turns staying at home taking care of a little brother or sister. But that wasn’t the case. The case was they only had one pair of shoes that they were sharing between the two of them. So, when the counselor called here we made sure that the [child] had not only a pair of shoes, but everything else they needed and the young lady graduated on time.”
What advice would Murdock give to a younger version of himself?
“To remember that we all have to chase after our truest calling. And to continue to ask the question, not what is it that the world gives to me, but what is it that I have I can give to the world? What talents, interest, abilities do I have that could make someone’s life better for our community, state, country, or the world.
“There’s nothing stronger in this world than kindness and it’s important that we continue to show the world that we are strong. Mother Teresa once wrote me, never worry about numbers—help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest to you.”
Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina
Rebecca Tucker sees nonprofits as multipliers: Individually, people can do just one thing, offer one donation, commit to one hour of volunteering—but programs are in place with the nonprofit that allows those individual efforts to come together to become a flood of good.
“Dream with me for a minute,” she says, “and consider if every person who is reading these words choses to be the change they would like to see; do one thing: make one donation: share one success story. Like our curriculum teaches girls: ‘Your actions, joined, will change your entire community!’”
Celebrating her one-year anniversary this month as the executive director of Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina, Tucker received her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Milligan College, in Elizabethton, Tennessee. Her postgraduate studies brought her back to Asheville. For over 10 years she acted as an elder advocate for a select number of veterans and their spouses. Her other experiences include managing the logistics of a law office, overseeing the management and renovations of numerous houses and apartments, and volunteering at church and her children’s schools.
Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina is all about inspiring and empowering girls and establishing a lifetime appreciation for health and fitness. Trained coaches lead small teams through research-based curricula which includes discussions, activities, and running games.
Tucker explains that the organization plants seeds for success—tools for a girl to navigate the challenges of adolescence (and beyond) which could prevent her from succumbing to peer or social pressures, or even keep her from beginning any self-harming behaviors.
“We serve large numbers of girls in WNC communities where jobs are scarce, and many families have food insecurity,” says Tucker. “Nationally, the organizational model is built on program payments funding the majority of their budgets, but our council cannot rely on fees received as a major source of income. We subsidize the majority of our participants’ fees. That equated to over $84,000 last year. Through direct fundraising, community partners funding sponsorships and grant funding, we also make sure every participant at each Title 1 school received a healthy snack before each lesson.
“When the executive director position opened at Girls on the Run, my world had just experienced a personal tsunami, and I knew this organization’s call to empower girls was the plug which matched the hole in my blown out heart. Through our curriculum girls learn, ‘You are enough.’ Our volunteer coaches are the heartbeat of Girls on the Run. One lesson specifically discusses healthy relationships, and as a coach and I were sitting with a group of girls discussing what it means to be a friend, she said, ‘I wish I had this program when I was growing up.’ My words exactly.”
Keeping with the mission of Girls on the Run, Tucker enjoys being outdoors and active—hiking, camping, laughing on the tennis courts, a walk at sunset. She also enjoys spending time with her children and friends.
“In rare down time, I hope to be serenaded by crickets on the screened porch with a great book in hand. My future self would really like to go on grand adventures and meet more amazing people in all corners of the world.”
She credits her father with being the most influential person in her life. “My father and I share the ‘hyper’ gene and thankfully I received some of his work ethic. I have seen him face seemingly insurmountable tasks, and simply begin. No complaining about whatever the job is, just working through the process until everything is finished. Perhaps it’s a trait of his generation, but I have learned to believe that if I, too, can keep taking the next right step, the work will get done. Eventually.”
Tucker knows she can’t go back and give her younger self the tools which Girls on the Run of Western North Carolina instills in girls. But she will do everything she can to help create strong leaders of tomorrow.
“I get to invest my time to promote a program which I know changes lives. Thousands and thousands of girls whose futures will be measured by their own standards. Girls who will know they can aim for a difficult goal, and because they believe in themselves, will achieve it!”
Green Built Alliance
Sam Ruark-Eastes considers his position as executive director at Green Built Alliance his “dream job.” He is a seventh generation North Carolinian on both sides of his family and has worked in the field of sustainability for local governments, nonprofits, and small businesses since 1998.
“In my time with Green Built Alliance, we have made a difference in the community through some wonderful programs such as the Blue Horizons Project, Green Built Homes, Appalachian Offsets, and Energy Savers Network,” he says. “We have grown from a three-person staff to six staff members and two interns, and have expanded our impact and reach in the community.”
Ruark-Eastes has a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology and communications from the College of Charleston, and is a LEED AP, NARI Certified Green Building professional and Certified Permaculture designer. He lives with his wife, Lena, and their daughter on a 1.5-acre homestead in Candler, where they strive to incorporate the principles of sustainability and stewardship into daily life.
The Green Built Alliance is dedicated to advancing sustainability in the built environment through community education, measurable standards, and regional action in Western North Carolina and beyond.
“With a background in green building and program development and management, the Green Built Alliance is a natural fit as it is aligned with my experience and values,” he explains. “We connect with professionals, local government officials, other nonprofits, and diverse groups of citizens. Connecting with a wide-ranging community meets our values of inclusion, collaboration, and effectiveness. We also care about the community and the environment and strive each day to make the world a better place.”
After nine years of working in local government, he says it’s refreshing to be able to do projects where there aren’t so many bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
“Nonprofits are also unique in that we have a volunteer board of directors who are passionate about our mission. They help guide the organization and carry our mission to their networks. They provide key guidance on our organization’s financial and programmatic health, while bringing their passion to the cause and helping to elevate the understanding of what we are doing to the bigger picture. Nonprofits also rely on our relationships with community partners and a diverse network of funders. So, while we may be small, we connect with and serve a large number of people and organizations each year.”
Ruark-Eastes finds working in Asheville very rewarding because Ashevillians understand the importance of green building and clean energy to bring forth a vibrant and healthy world.
“The most challenging part of my life right now is witnessing how the president and members of Congress are focused on eliminating policies that protect our air, water, health, and future of life on earth. We are now the only country not dedicated to the Paris Climate Accord. Clean water, clean air, endangered species, special landscapes, and the oceans are all under attack by this dangerous administration. They are focused on trying to keep the dying coal industry going, and making it harder for us to transition to a clean energy future. And for what purpose? More money for the wealthy corporations? I don’t get it. Each day we witness their destructive and unethical actions that impact the health of our planet and future generations. So, we must work harder at the local level each day to continue to grow and support the work that will help future generations survive and thrive.”
Ruark-Eastes enjoys going to community gatherings, bee keeping, gardening, hiking, mountain biking, being with friends and family, and reading. The most influential person in his life is his wife.
“Her beauty, artistic nature, passion for life, caring for the children, ability to teach and inspire others, understanding and love of the natural world, mothering of our daughter, care for friends and family, running Earth Path Education programs, and the sweet love we share are all very important and influential in my life.”
His advice is to love each day and follow your passions: “If you want a job, place to live, friend, or partner, show up fully and let your clear intentions and desires be known. Practice yoga, meditate, take walks in the forest with others and by yourself, and go to the mountains and ocean often. Stay focused on pursuing your goals and take time to reflect on bigger things and the arc of your life. If you need healing or support, ask for help. And when loved ones need your support, offer it. Give back to the community where you live, and when you die, may the world be a better place because you were here.”
Haywood Street Congregation
One thing Laura Kirby loves about working for a nonprofit is being surrounded by people who are passionate about what they are doing. Volunteers who are there because they want to be and are driven by a desire to make a difference and participate in something meaningful.
“Staff in nonprofit settings are usually also motivated by passion rather than a paycheck,” says Kirby. “That creates a lot of positive energy, and I love being surrounded by it.”
As executive director of the Haywood Street Congregation, Kirby works alongside both staff and volunteers to make a difference in the lives of many. Their core programs include the Downtown Welcome Table meal served each Wednesday and Sunday (go to Haywoodstreet.org/downtown-welcome-table for details and a full schedule); the Haywood Street Respite, a place where unhoused individuals can stay on a short-term basis following outpatient surgery or an inpatient hospital stay. They also offer a community garden and a clothing closet.
“There is incredible authenticity of relationship at Haywood Street,” she notes. “People genuinely care about each other; they want to know each other, to become friends. Yes, we help address food insecurity, we distribute thousands of pounds of clothes and personal care items each year to folks struggling in poverty, we provide a safe place for unhoused individuals to rest and finish getting well after being in the hospital. But all of it revolves around a core belief that we all need each other. Mutuality is a key concept. There is giving and receiving as folks share their vulnerability with one another. I need community and relationships as much as anyone else and so this environment is very life-giving for me.”
Kirby has been involved with the Haywood Street Congregation since the 2009 beginning and has worked in the role of executive director since 2013. She grew up in Atlanta and went to UNC-Chapel Hill, where she completed a dual degree graduate school program, earning master’s degrees in social work and public health. She has worked mostly in the nonprofit sector, and before coming to the Haywood Street Congregation, she worked as development director for the WNC AIDS Project (WNCAP) from 2007 to 2012.
The most challenging part of her job, she says, is accepting that there are lots of problems she can’t solve. “Sometimes I want very much for a homeless friend to be housed, or an alcoholic friend to remain sober, or a friend living with serious mental illness to stay adherent with treatment. But that doesn’t always happen, and it’s hard to watch people you love suffer.
“It’s very rewarding to watch people who come to Haywood Street in search of food, or clothes, or needing medical respite care, begin to offer themselves back to the community, to begin volunteering to help make those same things available to other people.”
She shares a story of when a friend who stayed in the Haywood Street Respite described his experience this way: “I never thought I would have to break my leg in order to find family.”
The most influential person in her life is a former supervisor who made an unforgettable impact.
“After completing college, I worked in the for-profit sector, in commercial banking. After a couple of years I made a change, leaving a well-paying job with benefits for a part-time job working in a local chapter of the American Red Cross. My supervisor was Shelley Collinsworth. She helped me to understand the nonprofit setting and structure and provided an excellent role model for working with volunteers and a nonprofit board. That was more than 20 years ago, but I still think of Shelley often.”
Kirby enjoys gardening and yard work, yoga, and cooking. “My favorite thing to do on a Saturday is browse through cooking magazines and find an interesting recipe, then cook a delicious dinner for my family.”
What advice would she give to a younger version of herself? “Probably the same thing I regularly tell myself now: ‘Breathe. Slow down. Take time to be with friends and family.’”
Heart of Horse Sense
Creating Heart of Horse Sense in 2014 was the perfect vehicle for Shannon Knapp’s passion for bringing horses and humans together for mutual healing. Knapp explains that there is so much need for unique healing opportunities, and the powerful horse-human connection can be life-changing and even, in the case of many veterans, life-saving.
“At Horse Sense of the Carolinas, we saw there was a need to help support the cost of services for those who can’t pay (such as children) and those who already have (veterans), when funding is a barrier,” she says. “Organizations offering such services often have their hands completely full delivering services and can’t spend the time writing grant applications and fundraising to underwrite deserving populations like at-risk youth and veterans.
“Heart of Horse Sense was created to take that burden on, as well as screening Equine Therapy programs for quality, education, and treatment of the horse partners, so that people can feel confident that their funding is going to professional, trauma-informed programming. It’s like the Community Foundation model, screening and fundraising for equine therapy and learning in Western North Carolina.”
Knapp was born and raised in Lakeland, Florida, and has a Master of Arts in English. She has taught college English at the University of Florida and at Richland College in Dallas, Texas. Currently, she teaches equine assisted mental health and learning for a master’s program at Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. She is also the founder and president of Horse Sense of the Carolinas, Inc. (2003), delivering psychotherapy and learning with horses in our region.
The most challenging part of her job is fundraising for ongoing sustainability. On the flip side, the most rewarding part of her job includes seeing children and veterans, who at first may be very closed off, come alive in the process of working with horses. They connect, engage with their horses, staff, and the natural world. Watching them “wake up” to possibilities is a reward in itself.
Not surprisingly, Knapp enjoys trail riding her horses in her spare time; along with reading and, she notes proudly, Cleveland Indians baseball.
She names her parents as the most influential people in her life and shares the story of her father, James W. Sikes, who bought a bankrupt tile company and turned it into the second largest tile producer in the country during his life. He never stopped giving back to his community, often anonymously. His favorite phrase was, “If everyone in my community were just like me, what would my community be?” Knapp sees that as his challenge to her.
Her mother, a schoolteacher with a love for kids, has become a huge philanthropic force in Lakeland, sitting on many boards and creating several small funds in honor of her mother and Knapp’s father. She is over 80 years old and works out at the Y every day.
Veterans are an important beneficiary of programs supported by Heart of Horse Sense. While most of the work is done at Knapp’s farm in Marshall, occasionally it is done offsite. For example, Knapp has taken horses to the Henderson County-based Veterans Healing Farm in the past. (Veterans Healing Farm head John Mahshie was profiled as part of this magazine’s November 2017 report on area nonprofits.) Citing a pilot study at Fort Carson, Colorado, that shows how equine therapy and learning reduced the risk of violence by veterans by 24%, with the rate of suicide reduced by 62%, Knapp is seeking the same level of results with her program.
She shares a story of a veteran who came out with a group from the VA but looked isolated and alone upon arrival. Within the first 20 minutes of the session, one of the horses came over to him and planted that big horse nose right in his chest.
“This vet had tears streaming down his cheeks, something breaking open inside him with the help of a horse. After group [session] he began attending private, individual therapy sessions with our financial support. This is the same story again and again, with veterans and kids alike. With kids it’s often more along the lines of them being anxious and uncertain at first, because the horses are so big and powerful.
“One young group of third-to-sixth grade girls came out this summer and worked on building self-esteem through healthy, consensual relationships with the horses, where they both got to say ‘no’ if they didn’t feel safe together. After spending some time with one horse in particular, one young lady told me, ‘I trust my horse and feel safe with him, and he trusts me and feels safe with me, and so I think it’s OK to ride now.’
“That’s the kind of thing we want to have happen!”
Hannah Randall wants her life to have given the world more love than it had before. She wants to show her two children that meaningful work brings a meaningful life, and that their mama did something that filled her heart. This is why she chooses to work for a nonprofit.
Randall’s story begins in Asheville, as her parents met when they were students at UNC-Asheville. “Western North Carolina has always been the place where my heart is,” she says. She participated early in her life in poverty alleviation work in several pockets of the area through an organization called Carolina Cross Connection (CCC) as a volunteer and later a staff member.
“Through CCC,” recalls Randall, “I had the opportunity to be in the homes of people in need throughout this region, and when you get the chance to really get to know people and their struggles and resiliency, it never leaves you. In my view, food should be a basic right for anyone no matter their circumstances.”
MANNA FoodBank has been providing food with hope and dignity to people in Western North Carolina since 1983 and now distributes the equivalent of over 40,000 meals per day while linking the food industry with over 200 partner agencies in 16 counties. (The MANNA acronym stands for Mountain Area Nutritional Needs Alliance.)
“But beyond that, MANNA FoodBank is the leader in the work of ending hunger right here in our community,” she explains. “We are the reason that everyone can have a cake on their birthday, that seniors have access to fresh produce to keep them healthy, and that single moms can let their kids have a friend come over because they have enough food to have a real dinner. This place really is magic, and I couldn’t be more grateful to work here.”
Randall graduated from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. She then earned a master’s in business administration from Elon University. While at NC State, she interned with Carolina Power & Light (Progress Energy) and was hired as an engineer upon graduation. She held various operations, project management, and leadership positions including being the plant manager for a fleet of combustion turbine gas plants. She has worked and volunteered in various capacities with several nonprofit organizations all over North Carolina.
“Hunger is a pervasive and sometimes invisible injustice that affects thousands upon thousands of our neighbors, and I can’t live with that so I’m working to do something about it. But it is difficult sometimes for people to know how widespread this issue is, especially when there are help wanted signs up in several places. The reality of the complex factors that cause hunger and food insecurity is that the math just doesn’t add up for many people who work but have to pay for rent, transportation, and all of the other bills that pile on. The truth is that most of us are just one or two situations away from needing a little help, and many of the people that we serve were fine until their car broke down or the breadwinner of the family got laid off or someone got cancer. For people living on the edge, any one of these things can drown them if MANNA and our partners aren’t there to catch them so they can breathe.”
Randall doesn’t find herself with a lot of down time between MANNA, two kids, two dogs, two cats, and 11 chickens. She does enjoy traveling to places off the beaten path and spending time with friends and family.
She advises to be kind to yourself. “No one has ever pushed me more or been my worst critic more than me. There has always been a fire in me that I can’t extinguish, but you have to control fire, too. As I’m getting older, I am trying to learn more about self-care and forgiving myself when I’m not perfect. I still struggle with both.”
The most rewarding part of her job she says is when she is at one of MANNA’s food distributions and gets to be with her neighbors in need. “The people of Western North Carolina are the most beautiful and resilient souls that I have ever known. From those that are the community of partners, volunteers, and donors that come together from all walks of life to those we serve, I am often speechless and feel like my heart is overflowing. While we’re providing food, we’re also providing hope in a time that can be someone’s darkest hour, and that’s something pretty special.”
She shares a story from Swain County that puts her job and the role of MANNA FoodBank in perspective. “Last week one of the students came to our social worker, with head down, wringing their little hands, sharing that they get really hungry over the weekend, and asked if they would be getting a food bag to take home. The social worker sent two bags home with the child and contacted the parents to see what other needs we could help with. The food bags often open a dialogue with parents, providing a stepping stone to begin building a relationship where we can maximize the student’s and family’s opportunity to be successful. Amazing things happen when we share food with others.”
Angelica Reza Wind
Angelica Reza Wind’s parents immigrated from Mexico and were migrant farm workers. In the mid-1980s, they decided to put down roots in the small rural town of Biscoe, which is between Charlotte and Fayetteville.
“As the child of immigrant farm workers, I benefitted from and saw how other community members benefitted from local nonprofits that were passionate about addressing certain issues that impacted us,” she says. “These were organizations that were totally invested in improving our quality of life, at no cost to us. They addressed a need and offered services with a certain level of dignity and compassion. It was really my first encounter with nonprofits and it informed my view of how nonprofits can have an impact on a community. That has always stayed with me. When I came to understand the nonprofit model, I realized this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to give back.”
She has a bachelor’s degree in science and human services from St. Andrew’s University and a J.D. from the North Carolina Central University School of Law. Prior to working at Our VOICE, she was the bilingual advocate for the Mountain Violence Prevention Project at Pisgah Legal Services. She also worked at the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, where she was the immigrant outreach coordinator.
She says she was fortunate to have an opportunity to apply for the executive director position at Our VOICE.
“Our VOICE is one of the oldest rape crisis centers in the state, and I knew the organization’s philosophy and values were aligned to mine as it related to survivors of sexual assault and what we need to do to stop it. Our VOICE has a strong reputation in the community of not only working with survivors and others who are impacted by sexual violence, but also doing prevention programming to end sexual violence.”
As a first-generation immigrant and because she spoke English, she found herself at an early age interpreting for other community members when issues arose. She interpreted for survivors of domestic violence when they had to interact with law enforcement when they were seeking safety.
“That created an impression on me and the realization that the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault is far wider than we would like to believe,” says Wind. “I knew when working at Pisgah Legal Services that this work was what I had been building up for, professionally and personally. Everything in my personal life, going to law school to become an advocate – it was all gearing up to work in this movement.”
The most challenging part of her job is silence—survivors not being believed. Part of that is changing, however, and you see that with the #MeToo movement as more survivors are starting to feel empowered to share their stories. In the past year, Our VOICE has experienced a 26 percent increase in demand for services that they feel links directly to this national movement.
There are three things that are the most rewarding part of her job:
“First, I love the feeling I get when I walk through the hallways of Our VOICE and I see a survivor coming out of a counseling office with a big smile on their face, and if you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t think they were at a rape crisis center. It’s bearing witness to healing and know that healing is possible. Second, and it’s hard to describe this, but that moment when, after you have a survivor that discloses, often for the first time, and you tell them, and they might be hearing for the first time, that you believe them, they’re not at fault and they’re not alone. You hear the sigh of relief from the survivor that for the first time, they feel they have truly been heard. They know that they don’t have to hold that secret anymore. It’s an unburdening that you experience on the other end of the conversation. Third, when we are doing prevention education in the schools and communities, and you see that ‘lightbulb’ moment when folks recognize that they have autonomy over their bodies and that they have the right to say what happens with their bodies.”
One of her priorities when she became an executive director was to create a culture of self-care for the staff to build resiliency and minimize vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. That requires her to be able to model this behavior to staff.
“While I haven’t perfected this, one of the things that I enjoy in my free time is exercise. I enjoy running. But more than anything, I enjoy spending time with family and my daughter in particular. What this work has taught me is to embrace and be free of judgement of the personal relationships I have with individuals. Spending time with my daughter and diving into what she’s into makes me happy. It makes me feel present and reminds me of what is truly valuable in our lives.”
The most influential person in her life is her mother.
“My parents came from an old-school frame of mind in rural Mexico that my role as a woman was to go from my parents’ home to my husband’s home. I joke with my mom a lot about how they inadvertently raised a feminist when they tried to raise me like that. She came here 45 years ago and wasn’t afforded the same opportunities that I was. Her family was very poverty-stricken and could only afford to send their son to school. My mom was and is illiterate, but she taught herself how to survive and navigate through this world. She taught herself English and how to drive. She’s just someone who has rocked my world. She has shown me that you can’t change the circumstances that you were born into, but you can change how you respond to those circumstances and determine the direction you want to go. My mom doesn’t give herself much credit, but to me, she is the smartest and strongest person I know!”
Wind believes in giving yourself permission to put yourself first—you can’t give to anyone if your cup is empty.
“Fill your cup first and let others benefit from your overflow. As a breast cancer survivor, I learned the importance of this mindset the hard way. Also, do not minimize your worth. You are worthy and you earned the right to be at those tables—in those spaces—so step into your power without fear.”
Southern Highlands Reserve
The path that led Kelly Holdbrooks to Southern Highlands Reserve is an interesting one. In 2000 she started out as a smoothie girl at the old Max & Rosie’s Café on Lexington Street in Asheville after turning down an outdoor education position from Princeton. While her parents thought she was crazy, she knew she was meant to be in Western North Carolina—her intuition landed her in Asheville. For the next few years, she was an instructor for Talisman, a summer camp that worked with boys aged 12-17 who had behavioral problems. Next was a full-time school dedicated to working with boys in nature and helping them with their behavioral issues.
“Eventually, I needed a break from such intense field work and began working with autism in Asheville (TEACCH & ASNC),” says Holdbrooks. “During this period I also coached women’s basketball at Warren Wilson College. Finally, I found myself burned out, and made a career shift to horticulture and landscaping. I literally had to beg my way onto a landscaping crew in South Asheville (Snow Creek). I worked my way up and moved to another company in Johnson City. The entire time I was gaining field experience, I was also preparing for landscape architecture school. Becoming a landscape architect had been my goal since 25. Eventually, I moved back to Asheville and opened my own landscape business called Dig. When the recession hit in 2007-2008, I took the opportunity to follow up on my goal and return to graduate school.”
With a bachelor’s degree in international studies and political science from Rhodes College and a master’s degree in landscape architecture, with honors, from the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia, she believes that while the bottom line is very important in running any business, the mission and core values should lead and guide the bottom line, not vice versa.
“I enjoy working in a team atmosphere, and working at a nonprofit often lends to team-based work both internally and externally through partnerships and grants. The work is driven more by mission and core values than a bottom line.”
The Southern Highlands Reserve is dedicated to sustaining the natural ecosystems of the Blue Ridge Mountains, making the nonprofit a perfect fit for Holdbrooks.
“Within the profession of landscape architecture there are many avenues to pursue. I chose conservation for my career. I wanted the opportunity to work with others on large landscape scale projects that will benefit the region. I wanted to work with a board and founders have a high level of integrity, and were committed to partnering with other organizations. Ultimately, each day I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to serve my community and region in the work we do at the Southern Highlands Reserve.”
The most challenging part of her job is climate change. Because the Southern Highlands Reserve is located at a high elevation on the Blue Ridge escarpment, adaptive management is the name of the game.
“With increasing storm events and intensity of storm events, which are a result of climate change, gardening at 4,500 feet elevation is sometimes challenging. We have been implementing stormwater mitigation practices since 2013 in our Core Park. We worked with local landscape architecture firm, Sitework Studios, and an engineering firm, Robinson Engineering (from South Carolina), this past year to develop more best management practices for stormwater mitigation.”
The most rewarding aspects of her job—in addition to educating people about the use and importance of using native plants, plant communities, and ecosystems; the opportunity to work in a gorgeous place; and working outside and connecting to nature—are working on projects like the Flat Laurel Restoration Project. In this project, 902 red spruce seedings were planted on public land in an effort to benefit the federally endangered northern flying squirrel as well as many other species.
“This project was a result of Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative, a grassroots organization formed in 2013. The Southern Highlands Reserve is a founding member and serves on the Steering Committee and subcommittee Planting & Propagation. The Flat Laurel project was a huge success and involved the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission, Daughters of the American Revolution, Pisgah Conservancy, Haywood Community College, and many volunteers.”
Holdbrooks names four of the most influential people in her life—three external and one internal.
“First my parents. They raised and guided me into the woman I am today. They were supportive, encouraging, and loving. Next most influential person in my life is Robert Balentine, one of the founders of Southern Highlands Reserve. Robert has mentored me since I joined the staff at the Reserve. His experience in business and life coupled with his dedication to the organization and staff has been and continues to this day to be my greatest resource for running Southern Highlands Reserve. The internal most influential person in my life is me. From a very young age I was internally motivated to do my best in any endeavor.”
She enjoys hiking, yoga, jumping in swimming holes, and gardening in her spare time, and offers the following advice:
“Love always wins! Do not waste your time stressing. Ask yourself will this even be a topic of conversation next week? Life is shorter than you can imagine and each moment should be spent towards growth and happiness. And most importantly, remember you are and will be the most influential person to your future self.”
Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center
Anne Chesky Smith
As executive director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center, Anne Chesky Smith often finds herself in the role of detective. Artifacts and items are donated to the museum and she investigates to find out as much information about the item as possible. She describes solving these mysteries as the most fun part of her job.
“A couple months ago I sent an unidentified photograph of an African-American church congregation to the local newspaper asking readers if they could identify the church or the people pictured,” says Chesky Smith. “About a week later, I got a phone call from a woman who now lives in Michigan letting me know that at 87 years old, she was probably one of the only people still alive who could identify almost all of the over 65 people pictured in the circa-1932 photograph.”
Chesky Smith has served the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center located in Black Mountain for seven years. With the goal of preserving and interpreting the social, cultural, and natural history of the Swannanoa Valley, she finds the most challenging part of her job is finding creative ways to stretch funding to create the highest quality products possible, whether it be in educational programming, exhibit design, or preservation services.
“It’s a challenge, but a fun one,” she says. “And it’s probably the most rewarding part as well. It’s very satisfying to accomplish big goals with small monies.”
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, her family moved to East Asheville when she was six, so she considers Asheville to be her hometown. As a teenager and twentysomething she traveled around the country and the world thinking she might settle elsewhere, but always ended up wanting to be back in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
“I graduated with a degree in environmental studies from UNC-Asheville and also have MA’s from Appalachian State University and the University of Georgia—in Appalachian studies and anthropology, respectively. I also have a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University.
“After college, I served terms of services with AmeriCorps in West Virginia and New York City. I think it was probably these experiences that led me to choose a career in service to the community—and, more specifically, my home community. It’s a lot easier to accept the challenges of working at a nonprofit when you are doing it for the people and places you love.”
The Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center is located at 223 West State Street in the old Black Mountain Fire Department building which was built in 1912. They welcome visitors Tuesday through Saturday (10AM-5PM) through December 8 and by appointment over the winter. A successful and popular fundraiser for the museum is the wide array of guided hikes that they offer that include a strenuous series in which participants hike the entire ridgeline of the Swannanoa Valley over the course of a year and a more moderate series with one hike a month in each of the valley’s communities.
“What’s great about our hikes is that they are led by people who are very knowledgeable not only about the history of the area, but also about the topography and flora and fauna.”
“The great Appalachian Studies scholar, Helen Lewis, taught that a community’s first step to solving current problems and planning for the future is understanding their history. This idea really stuck with me as I worked my way through graduate school. And it was with this in mind that I began collecting the history of the community where I grew up—the Riceville area of Asheville. Riceville is the westernmost end of the Swannanoa Valley, so when I finished my graduate degree I offered my files to the museum and eventually wound up with a job offer. That’s how I got the job, and I’ve stayed for the same reason. The museum preserves a knowledge base about where the community has been and how it got there that is essential in planning for the future of all aspects of our community.”
With the museum having only one and a half staff members, Chesky Smith interacts with the public quite a bit.
“It’s always fun to show elementary school children how to use a typewriter or dial a rotary phone. Though it’s becoming more common now that students don’t even realize that until a few years ago telephones had buttons!”
As a new mother, she finds herself enjoying doing whatever her daughter enjoys doing—particularly sleeping, if at all possible. She also likes to hike with her husband, read, craft, and clog.
Her advice to others is to be patient, which is something she says she still struggles with.
“With nonprofit work, most results are not immediate, but happen over time, so patience is vital to continuing to do this work.”
Throwing Bones for a Cure, Inc.
In January of 2015, Kenny Capps’ life changed forever—he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that often affects bones by creating lytic lesions (holes) and lots of pain.
“During the course of that year, I began intense chemotherapy treatment, had to stop running, lost my business, underwent a bone marrow transplant, and had to find my way back to life again,” says Capps. “I discovered that what was most challenging about having the disease wasn’t necessarily that I might be dying a little early, but that the disease and treatment was devastating on my family, financially, and my psyche, personally. I discovered quickly that responding with fitness was the way to control mental and physical distress. Since this wasn’t being directly addressed, I wanted to give a platform to this discussion, and Throwing Bones was born.”
Capps adds the name’s significance lies in the fact that myeloma often effects the bones with lesions (holes) as an initial symptom; he has lesions in his skull, spine, scapulae, collarbone, hip, and sternum. It also has to do with “how we’re all throwing bones—referring to throwing dice—in life. Sometimes fortune leads us in a way that we didn’t plan for.”
Throwing Bones for a Cure’s mission is to support and inspire patients to healthy and active lifestyles before, during, and after treatment and to issue small grants to patients and caregivers for non-medical financial needs through its Patient Assistance Fund.
“There are needs that aren’t being met when it comes to multiple myeloma patients. It’s easy to feel like you can’t move—you can’t do anything—when you’re sick. Frequently, there is organ degeneration, a depletion of red blood cells (anemia), and an increase in infections. However, purposeful movement or exercise is essential to a better quality of life, treatment tolerance, and pain management. Also, it’s expensive being sick, if only because of the expenses of travel to and from treatment. Unfortunately, there are more than just travel costs involved. Throwing Bones is raising funds, creating opportunities, and encouraging and inspiring patients and caregivers to be better and enjoy life during and after treatment until there’s a cure.”
This year, Capps ran across the State of North Carolina on the Mountains to Sea Trail from the Outer Banks to Clingman’s Dome, completing all 1,175 miles on foot in 54 days. He was encouraged and inspired by many on this journey, including a man named Bob, an experienced hiker with a pulmonary disease that acts like COPD, now waiting for a lung transplant. His words brought tears to Capps’ eyes:
“Thank you. Your trip moves me. I know you’re battling something different than I am, but you’re doing it. I’m living through you.”
“I had something to do with moving a tortured man to hope for something better,” says Capps. “I want to do that again and again.”
Educated at the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Arts degree and the University of Denver with a law degree, Capps says the most rewarding part of his role at Throwing Bones for a Cure is inspiring and encouraging.
“Until I started this organization, I don’t think I knew that others often find hope when I do well. I move, I encourage, I ran across the state of North Carolina, I talk about everything I do on social media, and every day I hear about someone moving because they saw me do it. That’s immediate validation for what I do.”
In his spare time, the Black Mountain resident plays. “That means that I take my kids to soccer games, dance, and art schools; I watch my talented wife act. I run. I cycle. I swim. I hike and explore. I drink a lot of coffee. I read books. I go to bookstores that have coffee. I do as much as I can except rest. I don’t do a lot of that.”
When asked who the most influential person in his life his, Capps says he couldn’t narrow it down to one or even two people, as he has been and is still influenced by many.
“Each one has their strengths, but even their perceived ‘weaknesses’ are valuable windows to how awesome people can be. My list of people who have and still do influence my life isn’t short, but the tops would be my father for his focus, love, and dogmatism (yes, that can be a strength); my mother for her intelligence, warmth, and openness; my wife for her desire to bring happiness into every room she enters; David LaMotte (songwriter/musician) for being David LaMotte even when he isn’t David LaMotte; and Captain Joshua Solove, whom I have known for about 25 years, for loyalty and perseverance.”
Western Women’s Business Center
The most influential person in Sharon Oxendine’s life is her father, Zeb Oxendine. An example of his influence came when she was 14 years old and went to work. She became discouraged one day while being criticized by another employee.
“My friend worked there too—we both called our parents and her mother came to get her,” Oxendine recalls. “My father refused to come get me. He not only did not come get me, he stated I would continue to work there. My friend got to quit. I went back to work and worked there for another year. I learned later in life—you do not give up when it gets hard; you go back and begin again.”
As director of the Western Women’s Business Center (WWBC), she shares that determination and work ethic with others. The WWBC is a program of Carolina Small Business Development Fund, a statewide nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution that was started in 1989. With a mission of providing technical assistance, capital, and programs that reduce barriers to success, and to assist women entrepreneurs in Western North Carolina in becoming successful, they offer one-on-one business coaching and counseling, workshops, seminars, networking opportunities, and technical assistance. Topics include marketing, financial management, business planning, preparing for a small business loan, and industry-specific topics.
Oxendine was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and hails from the Lumbee Tribe in Lumberton. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in human resources and her previous work includes clinical counselor, marketing development, sales training, dental assistant, lab technician for Kodak, and, currently, small business development.
“I have worked for nonprofits for over 25 years,” she says. “The ones I chose all had a social influence or impact. I chose this because I want to serve in my community. This nonprofit has a strong presence in the minority communities and with women entrepreneurs.”
WWBC hosts an annual conference that brings together a diverse and energetic crowd of local women entrepreneurs. From the 2018 conference, 76.8% of attendees were identified as current business owners and 10.7% of attendees planned to start a business. Attendees not only hear nationally-renowned speakers, but also have the important opportunity to network. The Fifth Annual WWBC Conference is scheduled for June 20, 2019.
The most rewarding part of her job is helping entrepreneurs to overcome their obstacles and barriers.
“I worked with a young woman who came to me convinced that she had a dream of owning a bakery that would be successful and allow her to create and obtain wealth and assets for her family and for the community. She was right, but it took over a year—trial and error, hard times finding a location, and now, just a couple of years later, she is highly successful and well on her way.”
Oxendine enjoys sharing her culture, learning about other cultures, hiking, and reading.
“The older you get, the less you will know,” she says. “So, develop some humility and learn from everything and everyone—mostly your mistakes and challenges.”
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