Summer 2024 ReCOGnition

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Newsletter of the High Country Council of Governments Vol.47 | Issue 1 Summer 2024

Executive Board Members

Minority Representative

Paul L. Robinson, Jr.

Alleghany County

Timmy Evans, Commissioner

Milly Richardson, Council Member, Sparta

Ashe County

Todd McNeill, Chair, Commissioner

Peter Eller, Mayor, Jefferson

Teresa McCoy, Alderman, Lansing

Tom Hartman, Mayor, West Jefferson

Avery County

Dennis Aldridge, Commissioner

Brenda Lyerly, Mayor, Banner Elk

Kelly Melang, Council Member, Beech Mountain

Eddie Yarber, Mayor, Crossnore

Joel Whitley, Mayor Pro Tem, Elk Park

Derek Roberts, Mayor, Newland

Gunther Jöchl, Mayor, Sugar Mountain

Mitchell County

Harley Masters, Chair, Commissioner

Charles Vines, Mayor, Bakersville

Rocky Buchanan, Council Member, Spruce Pine

Watauga County

Ray Russell, Commissioner

Doug Matheson, Mayor Pro Tem, Blowing Rock

Tim Futrelle, Mayor, Boone

Larry Fontaine, Mayor, Seven Devils

Wilkes County

Greg Minton, Commissioner

Chandler Reece, Commissioner, Ronda

Otis Church, Mayor Pro Tem, North Wilkesboro

Dale Isom, Mayor, Wilkesboro

Yancey County

Jeff Whitson, Chair, Commissioner

Bill Wheeler, Council Member, Burnsville

Advisory Committee


Larry Fontaine

Tim Futrelle

Tom Hartman

Brenda Lyerly Doug Matheson

Todd McNeill

Charles Vines

Jeff Whitson

Chair Doug Matheson Vice Chair Dennis Aldridge Secretary Larry
Treasurer Jeff Whitson Officers Dennis

The Executive Board of the High Country Council of Governments installed new officers at their February 2024 meeting. Town of Blowing Rock Mayor Pro Tem, Doug Matheson will serve as Chair; Avery County Commissioner, Dennis Aldridge will serve as Vice Chair; Town of Seven Devils Mayor, Larry Fontaine will serve as Secretary; and Yancey County Commissioner Chairman, Jeff Whitson will serve as Treasurer.



What’s Inside New Executive Board Officers
4 Paddy Mtn Park to be Hub of Northern Peaks Trail .................................. 5 Brad Ragan Park Grand Re-Opening ............................................................ 6 Avery County Opens New DSS Complex ....................................................... 7 Regional Highlights ............................................................................................ 9 ΠMitchell County Projects & Accomplishments
HCCOG Hires New Finance Officer & Bids Farewell to Julie Page
Welcome to the HCCOG, Linda Slade
New Hires and Notable Retirements in the Region Area Agency on Aging
Department Highlights and Projects....................................................................12 Š Caregiver Support Updates ................................................................... 16 Š Fall Prevention in The High Country....................................................... 17 Š World Elder Abuse Awareness Day......................................................... 18 Š AAA Staff Presents at Aging Well Conference........................................19 Economic Recovery and Resilience Š Department Highlights and Projects...................................................................20 Š COG Offers Disaster Recovery Financial Management Training............. 23 Š High Country Counties Update Their Emergency Operations Plans....... 24 Planning and Development Š Department Highlights and Projects...................................................................25 Š Canoe Ashe Map Brochure....................................................................... 29 Š High Country Council of Governments GIS Data Hub Site....................... 29 Š Town of Bakersville Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) Sidewalk Project..30 Workforce Development Š Department Highlights and Projects.................................................................. 31 Š NC Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall Visits Wilkes County & the NCWorks Career Center.......................................................................................... 35 Š Success Through ARPA Substance Use Disorder ..................................... 36 Š NCWorks in the Community ................................................................... 37 Š Work-Based Learning Is a Success for Hannah and Mitchell Medics ....... 39

New Executive Board Officers

Get to Know Our Chair, Doug Matheson

Doug Matheson is currently Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Blowing Rock and has served for 15 years. He has served on the HCCOG board for 6 years. Doug is a native of Watauga county where he retired from the State after 38 years (16 with Appalachian State University). He is also a retired Fire Chief of Blowing Rock Fire and Rescue, having served the department for 30 years. Doug and his wife Barbara have 3 children, 7 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.

“I’m very honored to be a part of HCCOG and looking forward to working with all members for the continued success of the region.”

Also Serving for the 2022-23 Term:

Avery County Commissioner, Dennis Aldridge will serve as Vice Chair, and has served on the Executive Board for 5.5 years. Town of Seven Devils Mayor, Larry Fontaine will serve as Secretary, and has served on the Executive Board for almost 12.5 years. Yancey County Commissioner Chairman, Jeff Whitson will serve as Treasurer, and has served on the Executive Board for almost 3 years. Learn more about these three officers here:

Secretary, Larry Fontaine. Photo courtesy, Natural Craft Photography. Executive Board Chairman, Doug Matheson. Photo courtesy, Natural Craft Photography. Vice Chair, Dennis Aldridge. Photo courtesy, Natural Craft Photography. Treasurer, Jeff Whitson. Photo courtesy, Natural Craft Photography.

Paddy Mtn Park will be the Hub of the Northern Peaks Trail

The trail builders started trail construction on the 153 acre piece of property, Paddy Mtn Park trails on November 6, 2023. The 3.5 miles of trails on Paddy Mountain Park are now complete. The construction of the parking lot, restrooms and shelter is planned to be completed by late October 2024. This Beautifully designed trail and park is going to be such an asset to West Jefferson and the surrounding area. There will also be be ½ mile connector from the park area to the trail, which will be the first part of the Northern Peaks Trail that will someday connect Boone to West Jefferson.

This project is a partnership between the BR Conservancy, Town of West Jefferson, County of Ashe and several private donors. Paddy Mtn Park will be funded mainly through a $500,000 PARTF grant, $100,000 RTP grant, $250,000 earmark from the state budget FY 23-24. This will include a shelter, restrooms, parking lot, picnic tables and trash cans.

This is going to such a great facility for West Jefferson and Ashe County for everyone to enjoy.

Paddy Mountain Park Trails.


Brad Ragan Park Grand Re-Opening

By Mitchell News-Journal, Photos from Mitchell County Chamber Facebook.

The newly renovated Brad Ragan Park in Spruce Pine officially reopened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a host of community activities. Parks and Recreation Director Michael Wood outlined the extensive updates made to the park, emphasizing the significant improvements.

“We’ve added new signage for the park, resurfaced all the tennis courts, and repurposed one into a pickleball court. We now have two dog parks, one for large dogs and one for small dogs. There is a new trail called Mineral City Mile, a new water slide, updated playgrounds, new sidewalks, updated basketball courts, and all buildings have been painted,” said Wood.

“We’ve also added five pieces of exercise equipment that are wheelchair accessible, and even a wheelchair swing,” he added. “We’ve got so many local contractors to thank, it’s been many years since we’ve done upgrades. We’ve now seen a big increase in people using the parks.”

Town Manager Darlene Butler also spoke about the collaborative efforts involved.

“It’s taken about two years to complete everything,” said Butler. “Thanks to everybody that’s contributed, between town staff and local industry.”

The grand reopening event featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a group hike, free pizza, prizes, and free pool admission. Mayor Phillip Hise expressed gratitude to the many contributors who made the park updates possible.

“We’ve done a lot of work, and we have a lot of people to thank,” said Hise. “This didn’t just happen; it took work.”


Avery County Opens New Department of Social Services Complex

The new headquarters of the Avery County Department of Social Services (DSS) was officially opened with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Friday, March 22.

Four of the five Avery County Commissioners were present. Chairman and DSS Board of Directors member Tim Phillips welcomed the approximately 30 in attendance. Commission Vice-Chairman Dennis Aldridge offered the prayer and dedication of the new facility.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the new Avery County Department of Social Services (DSS) complex on Beech Street in Newland was held May 1, 2023 with various county and DSS officials attending. Pictured from left-to-right: Commissioner Dennis Aldridge; Commissioner Tim Phillips; Commissioner Robert Burleson; DSS Administrative Assistant Shannon Singleton; Commissioner Martha Hicks; DSS Director Raquel Jennings; DSS Board of Directors Member Deborah Gragg; Commissioner and DSS Board of Directors Member Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr.; County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr.; and County Finance Officer Caleb Hogan. Photo by Tim Gardner

Commissioner Martha Hicks led those assembled in the United States of America Pledge of Allegiance and noted that Avery Countians should be extremely proud of the new DSS complex. She noted that she wished long-time Avery DSS benefactor, the late Martha Guy, former President of Avery County Bank, would have lived to witness the opening of the new facility as she would have taken tremendous pride in it.

Words of Appreciation were also offered by Commissioner and former and long-time DSS Board of Directors member Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., Avery DSS Director Raquel Jennings, and Lead Regional DSS Director Ben Rose.

Robin Morgan, Avery County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, conducted the official ribbon cutting of the new complex, located at 358 Beech Street in Newland.

North Carolina House of Representatives Member (85th District) Dudley Greene, North Carolina State Senate member (47th District) Ralph Hise also attended the ceremony.

Before the opening of the new complex, most of Avery’s DSS offices were housed on the first floor of the County Administration Building and a few more were housed in the Avery County Health Department complex—both also located in Newland. The DSS staff actually moved into the new facility and began using it for its operations nearly three months ago.

The new DSS project included the complete renovation of an approximately 5,400 square foot single-story wood framed building, new construction of another approximately 5,400 square feet of single-story wood framed space added to the existing structure, and various phases of site development.

The new complex features 54 staff offices, compared to 44 in the former headquarters from which the DSS operated. Besides a waiting room reception area and restrooms, the new headquarters has an emergency shelter—a dayroom in which children or families may stay. And the new DSS headquarters also includes the following: large kitchen, full bathroom with shower, clothes washer and dryer, breakroom, and large and small conference rooms.

Additionally, there is plenty of client, visitor, and staff parking spaces available at the new DSS complex.


Avery County Opens New Department of Social Services Complex (cont.)

Young, Jr. commented about the facility: “This new complex will meet the space and other related needs of the county’s most professional and extremely outstanding DSS staff. Myself and our other commissioners believe these new headquarters will give Avery County a model DSS complex— one as good as any county has—and one that will help further enhance and expand the top-quality services our DSS offers our citizens. It’s truly state-of-the-art and a complex in which we commissioners, our other county officials, and our DSS staff are most proud and take great pride.”

Hicks said that there are a few empty offices in the facility that can be used for additional staff hired in the future or for other current DSS office needs.

The County of Avery originally purchased the property and the building that was renovated to make part of the DSS complex from the Appalachian Regional Hospital System and Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital while Carmen Lacey was then administrator of the latter. Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. said that County officials wish to express their gratitude to Lacey and Charles A. Cannon, Jr. Memorial Hospital as well as its governing hospital system—Appalachian Regional—for selling the building and property and all other assistance they provided the County during that process.

$2,500,000.00 was allocated by the Avery Board of Commissioners to complete the project.

Garanco, Incorporated (Inc.), General Contractor of Pilot Mountain, NC, was awarded the contract in the bid amount of $2,219,800 to perform the added construction and needed renovations to the building.

Garanco, Inc.’s bid was the lowest of two the county received for the DSS construction and renovations project.

Bidding began on the project on December 13, 2022. Bids were received until 3:00 p.m. on January 19, 2023 in the Commissioners’ Board Room in the County Administration Building.

Those submitting bids were required to review and follow the Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise requirements as established by the County of Avery that were contained within the bidding documents.

A mandatory pre-bid conference was held in the Commissioner’s Board Room on January 5, 2023. Representatives of the architect and the owner were present. The part of building that now houses the Department of Social Services, which was already constructed was open for inspection immediately after the pre-bid conference. That was the sole opportunity for bidders to tour that part of the complex building.

All bids were publicly opened and read aloud at a commissioners meeting.

Before their May 1, 2023 regular monthly meeting, all the county commissioners (Phillips, Aldridge, Hicks, Young, Jr., and Robert Burleson) along with Barrier, Jr., Assistant County Manager Cindy Turbyfill, County Finance Director Caleb Hogan, Jennings, and other Avery DSS officials broke ground on the new complex.

The new state-of-the-art headquarters of the Avery County Department of Social Services, located at 358 Beech Street in Newland. Photo by Avery Couty DSS.

Regional Highlights

Mitchell County Projects & Accomplishments

Mitchell County Projects & Accomplishments 2024

• Mitchell Middle School

• Auxiliary Gym/Athletic Complex

• Mitchell County Recreation Center

• Mitchell County Law Enforcement Center


• Bowman Remodel/Update Multi-Use Administrative Building

• Mitchell/Avery Joint Animal Shelter

• Hired TDA Director


HCCOG Hires New Finance Officer & Bids Farewell to Julie Page

We are pleased to announce that Caroline Briggs has accepted our offer to become the HCCOG’s new Finance Officer. Caroline has worked as Finance and Compliance Officer in the Workforce Development department and as Finance Technician in the administration department. Prior to her experience with the HCCOG she worked in finance and accounting in the private sector for many years.

Caroline has brought tremendous value to the organization and we look forward to working with her in her new capacity. As she is currently employed with us, Julie Page will have the opportunity to train Caroline until her retirement at the end of June.

Congratulations on your new position, Caroline!

Future Finance Officer: Caroline Briggs. Photo courtesy, Natural Craft Photography.

Julie Page (JP) , our Finance Officer has announced her retirement effective June 30, 2024. JP has been a tremendous asset to our organization, and while her announcement is a big loss to us, we are excited to hear her postretirement plans include travel and time with her kids and grandkids.

A huge thank you to JP for your many contributions over the past 5 years and we congratulate you on this next chapter in your life.

Welcome to the HCCOG, Linda Slade!

Linda has a background in sales and marketing but has spent the last 25 years of her career in the nonprofit sector. She spent 7 years as the Executive Director of the High Country United Way here in Boone and “retired” as President of the United Way of Gaston County in Gastonia NC.

Since retiring, she has worked part-time in a variety of roles most recently with Ray’s Weather. Linda and her husband Joe live in Ashe County on the New River having moved to the High Country from Gastonia in 2008. They have two adult children, Andrew and Lindley and 4 grandchildren.

Linda has hit the ground running as Administrative Assistant working on various projects and is a wonderful asset to HCCOG staff!

Julie Page will be retiring as Finance Officer on June 30, 2024. Photo submitted. Administrative Assistant, Linda Slade. Photo submitted.

New Hires in the Region

The Town of Blowing Rock officially announced the return of Shane Fox as town manager at the town council’s regular meeting on March 12.

“This was a collaborative effort between the counsel, myself, Kevin Rothrock and others,” said Mayor Charlie Sellers. “We feel like we’re very blessed to have Shane returning.”

Fox resumed his position as Blowing Rock town manager on May 1.

Article by Lexie Carroll, Watauga Democrat.

The Town of Sparta has hired Scott Buffkin as Interim Town Manager.

Notable Retirments in the Region

Town of Wilkesboro Clerk/Tax Administrator Jim Byrd retired after 21 years with the town.

Blowing Rock Town Manager, Shane Fox. Photo courtesy, Natural Craft Photography.
Photo courtesy, Town of WIlkesboro.

Zack Green Director ext.122

Quinn Griffin Health Promotion Specialist ext.143

Tammy Nelson Aging Services Coordinator ext.139

Tim Price Aging Programs Compliance Officer ext.140

Myles Stacey Family Caregiver Support Specialist ext. 123

Stevie Welborn Long Term Care Ombudsman ext.126

We are excited to welcome Quinn Griffin to the High Country Area Agency on Aging team as the Health Promotion Specialist. Quinn is an experienced health educator with a master’s degree in nutrition from Meredith College. Their work includes development of nutrition education programs for all ages, as well as leading strength and balance training for older adults while working at the Poe Center for Health Education in Raleigh. Quinn received a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and has a deep background in early childhood education and curriculum.

Quinn will be working to support and develop our fall prevention efforts for older adults to help make our community a safer place to age. Please join us in welcoming Quinn to the High Country Council of Governments staff!

Quinn Griffin, Health Promotion Specialist.

12 Welcome,
Department Highlights | |
Quinn Griffin!
Area Agency on Aging Staff

2024-2028 High Country Area Plan on Aging

Over the past several months, High Country Area Agency on Aging has been busy crafting the region’s 2024-2028 Area Plan on Aging. This plan identifies the agency’s strategic objectives for the upcoming four years, with a primary focus on bridging service gaps and fulfilling identified needs across the region. The plan extends the principles set forth by the Older Americans Act and aligns with the North Carolina State Plan on Aging. The objectives and strategies outlined within the plan highlight the agency’s commitment to administering and delivering effective, efficient, and equitable services and information to older adults, family caregivers, and people with disabilities throughout the region.

The plan is currently published online at

AAA Staff Attend National Conferences

Tammy Nelson and Myles Stacey attended the National ARCH Respite Conference, in Albany, NY. Representatives from across the US were represented, along with many advocates from the Washington, DC area. The ARCH National Respite Network works to ensure that quality respite care is available for all who need it. More information about ARCH can be found on their website

Zack Green and Quinn Griffin attended the National Council on Aging Age + Action Conference in Arlington, VA in early May as part of our Region’s fall prevention initiative. The NCOA believes every person deserves to age well and works to Improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. More information about the National Council on Aging can be found at

Tammy Nelson, Aging Services Coordinator and Myles Stacey, Family Caregiver Support Specialist.

May is National American Stroke Month, a time dedicated to promoting awareness about stroke prevention, recognizing the warning signs, and empowering individuals to act. Stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. It can happen to anyone, regardless of age, and can lead to long-term disability or even death. However, people can take steps to reduce the risk and improve outcomes:

One of the key messages during National American Stroke Month revolves around the acronym F.A.S.T., which stands for:


• If you notice one side of someone’s face is drooping or experiencing numbness, ask them to smile. An uneven smile could be a sign of a stroke.


• Check if one arm is weak or numb. Ask the person to raise both arms. If one arm drifts downward, it’s a potential warning sign.


• Is the person’s speech slurred or difficult to understand? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence. If they struggle, it’s time to act.


• If you observe any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately. Time is critical for stroke treatment.

Remember, every action counts. By being informed and proactive, we can make a difference in stroke prevention and improve outcomes for ourselves and our loved ones. The thing to remember is that stroke is largely treatable. It’s a matter of getting the right treatment, right away. For more information, visit the American Stroke Association’s website.

Operation Fan/Heat Relief

Operation Fan/Heat Relief (OFHR) aims to create a more comfortable living environment and reduce heatrelated illnesses for older adults and individuals with disabilities around our region. In the High Country, this program operates in Avery, Mitchell, Wilkes, and Yancey Counties. As individuals age and develop chronic medical conditions, their ability to sense and respond to changes in temperature often diminishes. Moreover, older adults are more likely to be on prescription medications that can exacerbate the impact of extreme heat. OFHR intends to help with these issues. In 2023, the program facilitated the distribution of 50+ fans to older adults in need, and we hope to distribute even more in 2024. Thank you to the dedicated service providers who make this initiative possible! For more information, please contact one of our OFHR Providers.

Fan/Heat Relief Providers:

American Stroke Month

Every May, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) leads the nation’s observance of Older Americans Month. This annual celebration recognizes the significant contributions of older Americans, highlights aging trends, and reaffirms our commitment to serving older adults in our communities. The theme for 2024 is “Powered by Connection.” It underscores the profound impact that meaningful relationships and social connections have on our health and well-being.

How can community groups, businesses, and organizations celebrate Older Americans Month?

• Spread the word about the mental, physical, and emotional health benefits of social connection through professional and personal networks.

• Promote opportunities to engage, like cultural activities, recreational programs, and interactive virtual events.

• Connect older adults with local services, such as counseling, that can help them overcome obstacles to meaningful relationships and access to support systems.

How can individuals celebrate Older Americans Month?

• Invite more connection into your life by finding a new passion, joining a social club, taking a class, or trying new activities in your community.

• Stay engaged in your community by giving back through volunteering, working, teaching, or mentoring.

• Invest time with people to build new relationships and discover deeper connections with your family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors.

As we age, staying connected becomes even more critical. As we celebrate Older Americans Month in 2024, let us recognize the resilience, wisdom, and contributions of older adults. By fostering connections, we empower everyone to live fulfilling lives and continue making a positive impact on our communities. Staying connected is a powerful force that enriches our lives at any age.

Older Americans Month 15

Caregiver Support Updates

As the High Country enters the spring season, the Area Agency on Aging continues to collaborate with the community to provide meaningful services and programs for caregivers. Caring for a loved one can be a rewarding but demanding journey, requiring immense dedication and resilience. To support family caregivers in their essential role, the Family Caregiver Support Program offers a comprehensive array of resources designed to provide practical assistance, emotional support, and respite care for unpaid family caregivers. Complementing this effort, the NC Lifespan Respite Program ensures that caregivers across North Carolina have access to quality respite care services, giving them the crucial opportunity to rest and recharge.

Dementia Caregivers and Friends: Memory Cafe and Resource Library Ribbon Cutting

Dementia Caregivers and Friends proudly celebrated the opening of their first Memory Cafe and Resource Library with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by community members, caregivers, and local professionals. The memory cafe offers a welcoming space for individuals with dementia and their caregivers to connect, socialize, and access valuable resources.

The Resource Library is stocked with books, brochures, and multimedia materials on caregiving techniques and dementia management, providing essential support for caregivers. This initiative is made possible from a generous grant from the Yancey Fund with contributions and support from the Family Caregiver Support Program and Higgins Methodist Church.

The event highlighted the community’s commitment to supporting those affected by dementia, underscoring the power of collaboration in enhancing the lives of caregivers and their loved ones. The first memory café has since been followed by two additional cafes held in Yancey County with plans on holding additional cafes monthly alongside caregiver support groups.

To learn more about programs and resources in your county, contact Myles Stacey at, (828)265-5434 ext.123

Lifespan Respite Vouchers for Caregivers increased to $750 Respite is a temporary break, and a key component in protecting the health and well-being of a family caregiver and their care recipient. The North Carolina Lifespan Respite Program now offers a $750 reimbursement-based vouchers to help unpaid family caregivers pay for their loved one’s care – while they take care of themselves. This is an increase from this historical voucher amount of $500.

As of May 2024, the Lifespan Respite Program has awarded a total of $93,885.75 in respite vouchers to support unpaid family caregivers across the state of North Carolina in fiscal year 2023/2024. This past year we have promoted the NC Lifespan Respite program at over 20 community events throughout the Region and State and are working to expand access to the program to Hispanic caregivers.

More information regarding eligibility and the voucher application can be found by visiting our website at Applications must be submitted by a referring agency. If you work for a health or human service organization and would like to learn more about connecting your caregiver clients to respite vouchers, please contact our Aging Service Coordinator.

For more information, please contact our Aging Services Coordinator, Tammy Nelson: 828-265-5434 ext. 139 or

Lifespan Respite Vouchers are made possible through our partnership with the North Carolina Division of Aging and a grant from the U.S. Administration for Community Living.


Fall Prevention in the High Country

The High Country Area Agency on Aging (HCAAA) continues to partner with Appalachian State University (ASU) to offer fun, engaging, and effective fall prevention movement classes in the High Country community. The expansion of these classes stems from HCAAA and ASU receiving a federal grant from Administration for Community Living. A major goal of the grant funding is to bring Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention (TCAFP) and A Matter of Balance to all seven counties served by the HCAAA.

TCAFP classes follow a 16-week curriculum developed by Dr. Paul Lam, the founder of the Tai Chi for Health Institute. Though Tai Chi is a martial art, these movements have been adapted to be friendly for any age group and skill-level. Tai Chi classes are beneficial for balance, fun, and are a great way to engage with a community. TCAFP classes have a strong following in the region. Many classes and host organizations have continued to offer weekly practice sessions after a class completes, as participants are passionate about continuing their Tai Chi practice. Participants can take the class more than once, and some host sites offer a part two class for continuing the Tai Chi practice. TCAFP can also be modified to accommodate interested participants who need to remain seated. Local data collected from TCAFP class participants proves the effectiveness of the program. 71% of participants improved on a chair sit/stand functional fitness test upon the completion of the workshop. 89% reported that their health was maintained or improved after the workshop, and 85% reported that they felt more satisfied with life. 100% of Tai Chi students said they would recommend the program to family or friends.

A Matter of Balance (AMOB) is another fall prevention program designed for individuals who have a strong fear of falling or have experienced a fall. This evidencebased curriculum involves group discussion and brainstorming to help “re-train” your brain to have less fear of falling to have reduced limitations on mobility and life choices. AMOB also involves a series of gentle, functional exercises to improve balance, strength, flexibility, and mobility. This program was developed by Maine Health and is a National Council on Aging (NCOA) highest tier program for fall prevention. Local data collected from AMOB class completers also shows remarkable results. Those who completed the class had substantial improvements in grip strength and stride. 88% of class participants reported that their health was improved or maintained after the workshop and 84% said they felt more satisfied with life. 98% of those who took the workshop would recommend it to a friend or family member.

The Administration for Community Living Grant that supports this work continues into 2025. The fall prevention team at the High Country Area Agency on Aging and Appalachian State University have plans to continue training class leaders and implementing more fall prevention classes. Since we started this project, 703 people have participated in classes. This Fiscal Year 2023-2024 we have certified 11 new instructors in Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention, and 16 new instructors in A Matter of Balance. We are excited to share that we have 14 active host sites throughout the region where these classes are happening.

For more information please contact Quinn Griffin at qgriffin@hccog. org or 828-265-5434 ext. 143.

Quinn Griffin, Health Promotion Specialist leads Tai Chi.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

June 15, 2024 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. On that day, communities in the USA and all over the world will sponsor events to highlight solutions to this systemic social challenge. The High Country Area Agency on Aging is proud to participate in this national conversation.

As Americans, we believe in justice for all. Yet we fail to live up to this promise when we allow older members of our society to be abused or neglected. Older people are vital, contributing members of American society and their maltreatment diminishes all of us. Just as we have confronted and addressed the social issues of child abuse and domestic violence, so too can we find solutions to address issues like elder abuse, which also threatens the wellbeing of our community.

Our policies and practices make it hard for older people to stay involved with and connected to our communities as they age. As a result, older people are more likely to experience social isolation, which increases the likelihood of abuse and neglect. We can design stronger societal supports to keep our older people connected and protect them from abuse, whether financial, emotional, physical or sexual. When we address a root cause, like social isolation, we also make it less likely that people will become neglected. Older adults who are socially connected and protected from harm are less likely to be hospitalized, less likely to go into nursing homes and less likely to die.

We can and must create healthier and safer living environments for older adults, including their homes, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities.

Get more information about how to make a difference by visiting the National Center on Elder Abuse https://ncea. or by calling Stevie Welborn, Regional Long Term Care Ombudsman at (828) 265-5434 Ext. 126 to explore local community services and supports.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Walk in Wilkes County on 6-14-24. World Elder Abuse Awareness Walk in Wilkes County on 6-14-24. Sarah Price-Resiliency Planner, Zack Green-AAA Director, Stevie Welborn-Long Term Care Ombudsman, and Tim Price-Aging Programs Compliance Officer.

AAA Staff Presents at Aging Well Conference

The first annual Aging Well Conference at Appalachian State University was a success! The High Country Area Agency on Aging was proud to partner with the Appalachian Institute of Health and Wellness to help plan this inaugural event.

This conference focused on advancing the knowledge and skills of healthcare providers in rural western North Carolina, particularly in geriatric care, addressing the unique healthcare needs of older adults. With a blend of individual and group presentations, panel discussions, and demonstrations, the conference brought together diverse perspectives of healthcare experts, researchers, government officials, social service providers, as well as older adults and family caregivers.

The conference featured a multitude of presenters ranging from Area Agency on Aging staff, ASU faculty, North Carolina Division of Aging staff, physicians, Legal Aid of North Carolina Attorneys and many more. A few highlights include:

• A great co-presentation on caregiver resources by Myles Stacey, the High Country AAA’s Family Caregiver Support Specialist, along with Laura Jane Strunin from the NC Division of Aging.

• Stevie Welborn, the High Country AAA’s Long Term Care Ombudsman, presented on navigating long term care.

• A great reception at the end of the conference sponsored by the High Country AAA’s Aging Service Coordinator Tammy Nelson and the NC Lifespan Respite Program and

• The High Country Tai Chi Club, led by Nicole Hiegl and Sia Beasley, opened the conference with an incredible demo of Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention. Picture below of the Tai Chi Club right before their big moment in front of the whole conference!

Over 125 people attended the Aging Well Conference in its first year, and we look forward to this being an annual event to advance the knowledge and skills for supporting healthy aging and positive caregiving.

Quinn Griffin-Health Promotion Specialist, Myles Stacey-Family Caregiver Suppport Specialist, and Stevie Welborn-Long Term Care Ombudsman.

Tai Chi Club. 19
Tammy Nelson-Aging Services Coordinator and Zack Green-AAA Director.

Economic Recovery and Resilience Staff

Cory Osborne Director ext.142

Sarah Price Resiliency Planner ext.141

Department Highlights |

Regional Stormwater Tour & Forum

High Country Council of Governments partnered with the American Flood Coalition to host a regional stormwater tour and forum in November 2023. Participants visited sites in Watauga County to see vulnerable areas firsthand and heard from local government staff and elected officials about the stormwater hazards their communities face. Due to the mountainous terrain, the High Country region is especially prone to flash floods that come with little warning and cause significant damage. Most communities are built in low-lying areas where flood waters converge, which increases damage and vulnerability.

Participants included State Senator Ralph Hise, representatives from 7 local governments, as well as representatives from multiple state agencies who partner with communities to address flood vulnerability. The American Flood Coalition is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and nonpartisan coalition advocating for national solutions to flooding and sea level rise. They proactively address the growing threat of higher seas, stronger storms, and more frequent floods by advocating for smarter planning and investments that protect our nation’s residents, economy, and military installations. To learn more about the American Flood Coalition, visit their website ( ). To learn more about stormwater issues in the High Country region, view this handout that COG staff developed (


Avery County Holds Public Input Sessions for Funds Received as Part of the National Opioid Settlements

In February 2024, Avery County held their second and third public input meetings to solicit feedback from the general public on the use of funding received as part of the national opioid settlements. These funds, which will be received over an 18-year period, provide an unprecedented opportunity for local governments to begin to address the impact of the drug crisis on their community. The morning session was held at the County Commissioners’ Board Room and the evening session was held at the Avery County Morrison Public Library.

In total, more than 60 community members attended and contributed to a lively and informative conversation. Attendees included concerned residents, members of community organizations, local law enforcement, and local government staff. During the meeting, community members learned more about the opioid settlement funds and the eligible uses of these funds for programming and services. Attendees heard provider updates from High Country Community Health and Freedom Life Avery regarding their plans and ideas for supporting Avery County. Additionally, those in attendance were honored to learn from an Avery County resident who shared her firsthand experience with the drug crisis in Avery County. County staff went home inspired to continue fighting this crisis in hopes of facilitating further healing within the community.

High Country COG is available to assist local governments with understanding eligible uses of funds, reporting requirements, and conducting public input meetings. In accordance with the Memorandum of Agreement Between the State of North Carolina and Local Governments on Proceeds Relating to the Settlement of Opioid Litigation, each County in North Carolina is required to host a public input meeting that is open to the public and that invites each municipality within that County. Local governments receiving opioid settlement funds are also required to follow annual Financial and Impact reporting requirements, as well as additional Local Spending Authorization reporting requirements following the authorization of expenditures. For more information on High Country COG assistance for local governments, reach out to Sarah Price at or (828) 265-5434 x141.

Photo courtesy, Christian Gardner-Avery Journal Times.
Photo courtesy, Sarah Price-HCCOG.

The Golden LEAF Foundation awarded $210,000 in funding to the Town of West Jefferson to install stormwater infrastructure along the two Townmaintained roads of Long Street and Backstreet in the heart of downtown. The two roads currently do not have any stormwater infrastructure . As a result, these two roads and the surrounding area experience intermittent flooding during moderate rain events, resulting in overtopping of stormwater along Backstreet, Long Street, and Jefferson Avenue. The project will install approximately 867 linear feet of 18-inch diameter high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) with associated catch basins and drainage inlets along Long Street and Backstreet in the vicinity of where the two roads intersect. These pipes will convey the stormwater in a controlled manner down to Jefferson Avenue and tie into existing NCDOT stormwater infrastructure.

Golden LEAF’s Flood Mitigation Program is focused on the reduction of existing flooding within communities. Eligible projects include the construction of new or improvement of existing publicly owned stormwater infrastructure, which can include natural drainage infrastructure or flood control equipment. Eligible projects also include the repair of existing stormwater infrastructure that has been damaged or destroyed by flooding. These projects must include improvements to mitigate future flooding. Additionally, engineering expenses from planning for flood mitigation solutions are also eligible when requested alongside construction expenses.

Lead Service Line Inventory Funding

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded $360,000 in funding to the Town of Burnsville to complete an inventory of lead service lines connected to their water system and to develop a plan to replace identified lines. The award consists of a mix of loan money and principal forgiveness, and is part of DEQ’s Lead Service Line Replacement funding program. The program was established to assist water utilities with meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) requirement that all public water systems conduct an inventory of service line materials in their distribution systems, and to replace all identified lines over the coming years.

All water systems are required to complete and submit the inventory to DEQ by October 16, 2024. Systems must use the official North Carolina Inventory template spreadsheet developed by DEQ. There are three different templates based on system size, which are available on DEQ’s website. Systems must include all service line connections in the inventory regardless of ownership status. This includes privately-owned lines connected to the public system and service lines intended for non-potable uses such as fire suppression. Systems must complete the inventory using approved methodology. DEQ and the North Carolina Rural Water Association have developed guidance on allowable inventory methods including reviewing historical records, on-site visual inspection, water quality sampling, excavation, and more. There are also public notice and accessibility requirements when lead service lines are identified and when the inventory is complete. If you are beginning your inventory process, be sure to consult DEQ and EPA guidance to ensure that your methodology and notification approaches comply with requirements.

Golden LEAF Flood Mitigation Program Grant
West Jefferson Receives
Burnsville Receives

COG Offers Disaster Recovery Financial Management Training

High Country COG hosted two in-person training events in April 2024 to provide participants with an introduction to FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) program. The PA program provides funding to local governments and other eligible entities to assist in recovery efforts from Presidentially Declared Disasters. Attendees learned the fundamentals of the PA program, including eligibility criteria, documentation requirements, and the grant process. The course was based off a curriculum developed by the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils of Governments in partnership with the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management and North Carolina Emergency Management.

In addition to the in-person training, the COG developed an online version of the course that can be accessed on-demand. The online version is self-paced and contains a series of videos and quizzes designed to give participants a basic understanding of the FEMA PA program. The course is free and can be accessed via


High Country Counties Update Their Emergency Operations Plans

High Country COG utilized funding from the North Carolina Association of Regional Councils of Governments to help all seven counties in the region update their Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs). An EOP is a comprehensive, all-hazards document that establishes the framework for an effective system to ensure that a community will be adequately prepared to deal with the occurrence of emergencies and disasters. While specific content varies across counties, an EOP generally outlines the roles and responsibilities of state and county agencies, municipal governments, and volunteer organizations in a variety of scenarios. Some counties also conducted a Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) as part of their EOP update process, which allowed them to bring together stakeholders and local experts to gauge the probability and severity of potential hazards in their jurisdiction. In addition to the THIRAs and EOPs, one county developed a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), which helps outline measures to ensure vital county operations continue in a disaster event. In total, 11 planning documents were developed across the region at no cost to the local governments.


Chris Grubb Director ext.121

Michelle Ball Regional Planner ext.115

Planning and Development Staff

Kelly Coffey Senior Planner ext.114

David Graham Transportation Planner ext.135

Tatiana Magee GIS Tech & Planner ext.138

The High Country Council of Governments is pleased to announce that Chris Grubb has been selected to lead HCCOG’s Planning and Development department.The Planning and Development department is comprised of seven team members who provide direct technical assistance to local member governments. Services include but are not limited to grant writing, grant administration, comprehensive and strategic plan development, GIS mapping and data analysis, web-based GIS development, and the administration of the Rural Planning Organization (RPO). Chris joins the team with extensive experience serving local municipal and county governments in the High Country footprint. Chris has already been a huge asset to HCCOG since he joined us in December 2023.

Drew Plettner Regional Planner ext.118

Jessica Welborn GIS Planner ext.134

Chris Grubb, Planning & Development Director.

Chris says, “I am honored and beyond excited to join the team at the High Country Council of Governments. Having worked for local governments in the area for over a decade, I have seen first hand the challenges our partners face, but most importantly the benefit of the services they provide to the community. I look forward to upholding the strong relationships that have been forged and continue to support those we serve in any way possible.”

Welcome, Chris Grubb!

Town of Newland Stormwater Mapping

The HCCOG has completed asset mapping of the Town of Newland’s Stormwater Infrastructure as well as the creation of an ArcGIS Web App containing centimeter level accuracy of stormwater network structures. This Stormwater Web App is accessible by the Town’s Public Works department and includes a Maintenance Log Layer to allow for the following edits:

• Attribute Correction

• Existing Feature Found

• Feature Abandoned

• Known Issue/Problem

• New Feature Installation

• Other-Provide Details in Description

Snippet of Town of Newland’s Stormwater Web App showing the Maintenance Log Layer and select Stormwater assets.

Access to the Maintenance Log Layer allows for the Stormwater data, like both the Town’s Water and Sewer Utility Data, to be kept up to date as new information is discovered and/or installed. Structures found in the Web App include Inlets, Discharge Points, Possible Buried Features, Virtual Drains, Open Drains, Building Drains, Fittings, Network Structures, and Other/Notes (important information unique to the area and relevant to Public Works). The locations and attributes of these network structures were retrieved through primary data collection in the field alongside staff from Newland’s Public Works Department. Collecting the data first-hand alongside Public Works provided the opportunity to check on all parts of the Town’s stormwater system and repair or make note features needing maintenance (e.g., clogged catch basins, etc.). The following infrastructure points were all collected in the field:

• 380 Inlets

• 133 Discharge Points

• 6 Possible Buried Features

• 50 Other/Notes

Additionally, the following were digitized in the office using the field collected data:

• 439 Culverts

• 83 Open Drains

• 72 Virtual Drains

Various attributes were collected for each Stormwater Utility Feature. Inlet points include Condition, Flow Presence (True/False), and Invert Depth attributes. Discharge points contain Odor Presence (True/False), Flow Presence (True/False), Discharge To (Stream or Surface), and Pipe Material/Shape/Diameter attributes. Culverts contain Pipe Material/ Shape Diameter and Outflow Direction attributes. The finalized data includes more detail per feature than mentioned above. The value from this project not only comes from the deliverables that are created, but from the field work and the future value to new hires. This project ensures that Town knowledge is not lost and allows new hires to have a detailed understanding of the systems that they maintain. The completion of the Stormwater System project concludes the comprehensive mapping of all the Town’s public utilities (stormwater, sewer, and water) by the HCCOG.

Catchbasin along Linville Street in Newland.

Jeffersons Considering an Emergency Water Interconnection

A study, commissioned by the Towns of Jefferson and West Jefferson, is underway to determine the feasibility of an emergency water system interconnection between the two municipalities. The project is funded by a grant from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. An interconnection is needed in case a drought, catastrophic leak, or contamination of a water source severely reduces water availability to either one of the towns. In addition, routine storage tank maintenance temporarily diminishes storage capacity to a critical level. An interconnection would provide back-up capacity if needed.

Engineers are currently engaged in the following activities that will lead to a final report:

• Analysis of the water production, usage, and storage quantities of both systems to determine the capacity level and limits each one has to supply the other one with water in the event of an emergency.

• Identification of the most feasible connection point(s) in the two towns’ distribution system, considering distance, age & condition of the pipes, breakage threats, possible barriers on the surface and subsurface, and potential disruption to be caused by construction. More than one option might be proposed, depending on initial findings.

• Detailed and comprehensive cost estimates for each connection option, to include engineering, construction, and construction observation.

• Interview officials of both towns to identify any political, administrative, or historical barriers to successfully implementing the proposed interconnection.

• Calculate a reasonable cost of water that one town might charge the other in the event that the interconnection is utilized.

• Identification and analysis of any regulations that would have to be followed during construction, after the connection is made, and when the connection is utilized.

• A plan for shared ownership and maintenance responsibilities.

• A draft interconnection legal agreement.

High Country Council of Governments assisted the Towns with a grant application for the project, and currently is helping with grant administration.

One potential location for an interconnection, where the two systems are close.

West Jefferson Begins Implementation of Stormwater Plan

Downtown West Jefferson experiences frequent flooding due mainly to large areas of impervious surfaces. To mitigate the problem, work is underway on an underground stormwater detention chamber that will be installed at the public works lot and an above-ground detention basin that will be constructed at one end of the town park. These stormwater devices will capture runoff from pavement and buildings, and slowly release the rain water into the ground.

Example of a stormwater control device.

Source: NCDEQ Stormwater Design Manual

The project begins implementation of a stormwater management plan that the Town commissioned in 2021. Engineers identified 12 sites in town where stormwater runoff is excessive or negatively affects water quality. The two sites with the highest volume of runoff are the Town’s public works lot that accommodates service vehicles and maintenance supplies, and a location at one end of the town park where runoff collects from a parking lot, a street, and multiple residential driveways.

The project is funded by a grant from the GoldenLEAF Foundation. High Country Council of Governments assisted the Town with the application and is providing grant administration services.

Tatiana Magee, Panelist at Digital Opportunities Gathering

Tatiana Magee, GIS Tech & Planner at HCCOG spoke on a panel at the Digital Opportunities Gathering in Flat Rock, NC on June 4th.

Tatiana was on the Panel titled “Engaging Across Sectors for Digital Inclusion Collaboration” where panelists spoke about “strategizing around how to engage a variety of sectors in digital inclusion work and maintaining the momentum for coalition work”. Tatiana spoke alongside Don Michael Jr. (Digital Literacy Specialist from Central Piedmont Community College) and Brian Scott (Executive Director from OurJourney).

The Digital Opportunities Gathering was a celebration of the completion of Dogwood Health Trust planning grants and the beginning of regular statewide gatherings on digital inclusion. To continue to build and sustain strong digital equity ecosystems across North Carolina, practitioners, funders, and community members need to come together to share knowledge, best practices and innovative solutions to obstacles. The Institute for Emerging Issues and BAND-NC partnered with DHT to disperse funding.

Flooding in downtown West Jefferson.

Canoe Ashe Map Brochure

High Country Council of Governments updated and redesigned the Canoe Ashe map brochure for Ashe County Department of Economic Development. The brochure was originally created by the Ashe County Planning Department and New River Conservancy in 2020. The newly designed brochure features a map designed in ESRI’s ArcPro containing all high and low water bridges (private and NCDOT), river access locations, and approximate lengths and durations for recommended paddle trips. The opposite brochure side, designed in Adobe InDesign, features outfitter and campground addresses, as well as latitude and longitude coordinates for river paddle trip planning. The two-sided, folded, printed brochure is available to the public at various locations determined by Ashe County Economic Development, and online at the High Country Council of Governments Data Hub Site found here: High Country Council of Governments GIS Hub (

High Country Council of Governments GIS Data Hub Site

The Data Hub Site was built by HCCOG GIS to showcase and provide one location for accessing all available web maps and web applications built for member local governments and other public agencies throughout recent years. HCCOG utilizes ESRI’s ArcGIS Online to build a variety of public and private web applications, maps, and field solutions. This Data Hub Site features only the publicly available products that are accessible from each organizations’ website.

Please visit the site at High Country Council of Governments GIS Hub (arcgis. com).


Town of Bakersville Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) Sidewalk Project

In March 2024, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) selected the Bakersville Sidewalk Project for funding through the NCDOT Carbon Reduction Program (CRP). The CRP provides funds for projects that reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the transportation sector. The selected sidewalk project is for construction of a new 1,300-foot ADA compliant sidewalk along South Mitchell Avenue from Downtown Bakersville (Morgan Oil Company) to Bowman Middle School property (Willis Cove Road). The total cost of the project is $1,036,933.00 with preliminary engineering scheduled for 2024 and construction in 2025.

The existing sidewalk is in urgent need of safety and accessibility improvements which in turn has resulted in pedestrians walking on the road instead of on the sidewalk. The Town and NCDOT Division 13 have recently improved sidewalks with ADA improvements at the intersection of US 226 and South Mitchell Avenue. The primary purpose of the new sidewalk is to reduce carbon emissions in the Town of Bakersville through improved connectivity and accessibility to Downtown Bakersville, future uses at the Bowman Middle School property, nearby churches, as well as other surrounding land uses and nearby neighborhoods. In addition, a longterm improvement of connecting the new sidewalk to the Bakersville Creekwalk Trail will further reduce carbon emissions.

The future uses for the Bowman Middle School property will most certainly increase automobile and pedestrian activity on South Mitchell Avenue and greatly benefit from a new and accessible sidewalk to Downtown Bakersville. The condition of the existing sidewalk generally appears unsafe which likely impacts how people currently perceive using it as a viable pedestrian connection to Downtown Bakersville, the Bowman Middle School property, and surrounding neighborhoods thus limiting its potential carbon reduction benefits as a key pedestrian connection facility for the Downtown Bakersville area.

A new, safe, and accessible sidewalk will be a tremendous benefit to the Town of Bakersville in the future as a transportation alternative to the automobile and will promote a healthy lifestyle through walking. The new sidewalk along South Mitchell Avenue will help reduce vehicular traffic in the area which will result in less carbon emissions and cleaner air for the Town of Bakersville.


Misty Bishop-Price Director ext.119 Rebecca Bloomquist Communications and Business Services Coordinator ext.136 ext.120

Don’t miss this financial aid! The Next NC Scholarship combines state funds and the Federal Pell Grant to offer free community college tuition for North Carolina students with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $80,000 or less. The scholarship also covers at least half of UNC System tuition!

Visit NEXTNC - Next NC Scholarship for details.

Department Highlights | | Workforce Development Staff Next
NC Scholarship
Debra Foxx Finance and Compliance

High Country Workforce Development Board Receives Additional Funding to Support WorkBased Learning in the Region

The High Country Workforce Development Board has received additional funding to support work-based learning activities in the seven-county region.

These funds are designed to establish work-based learning opportunities targeting small – and micro-businesses (i.e., businesses with twenty-five -[25] or fewer employees) to bridge the gap for business retention and expansion with funding for on-the-job training (OJT), work experience internships (WEX), and incumbent worker grant training (IWG). Emphasis is placed on historically underutilized businesses (HUB), industries significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic, or businesses located in an economically distressed Tier 1 or Tier 2 county.

• Work Experience: assists with building the future workforce who need exposure to the working world and its requirements

• On-the-Job Training: employers can be reimbursed up to 75% of wages while training a new employee

• Incumbent Worker Grant training: up to $10,000 per business of 25 employees or fewer (with no employer match required) to provide training to a business’s current workforce

For more information about these opportunities please contact your local NCWorks Career Center:

Alleghany County NCWorks Career Center 336-372-9675

Ashe County NCWorks Career Center 336-982-5627

Avery County NCWorks Career Center 828-766-1385

Mitchell County NCWorks Career Center 828-766-1195

Watauga County NCWorks Career Center 828-265-5385

Wilkes County NCWorks Career Center 336-838-5164

Yancey County NCWorks Career Center 828-682-6618

Virtual Reality in Workforce

The High Country Workforce Development Board applied for a small grant to integrate virtual reality (VR) equipment into career exploration activities at local NCWorks centers. The VR headsets allow the user to “experience” various careers and to get a sense of what work in that career is like. The headset currently has 24 career exploration modules with more projected to be available in August of this year.

NCWorks Wilkes staff Buddy Flay assisting students with virtual reality career exploration at North Wilkes High School career day on April 12, 2024.

So far, staff have shared the headsets with students at two school-career fairs and allowed some community partners to explore the tool. The headsets continue to be available for career exploration and the Centers are encouraging staff to use them with anyone exploring careers.

An East Wilkes high school student tries out the Transfr VR equipment.

NCWorks and Step Ahead Ministry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

NCWorks Career Center Wilkes and Step Ahead Ministry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church have partnered to provide a formal program to provide soft skills and job search assistance to participants.

For Step Ahead, NCWorks provides a series of workshops in which soft skills are taught and practiced. Participants must attend both workshops, as well as participate in mock interviews guided by staff, complete a resume, and register fully with NCWorks. These job seekers then attend Working Wednesdays (Wednesday hiring events held at the NCWorks Career Center) to meet employers. Job seekers are then reported as complete to Step Ahead and upon verification of completion of some additional job search requirements, Step Ahead provides a stipend to help job seekers meet some work search expenses.

The Center has graduated 11 participants in the first two sessions and anticipates the partnership to continue.

Spotlight: Aldridge Eye Institute

Aldridge Eye Institute in Yancey County has been a dedicated partner with NCWorks through work-based learning programs. The two have partnered since December 2022, with the first WIOA youth work experience held at the employer’s site.

After that initial work experience, the participant was hired full-time, and the employer was invested in doing even more to grow the workforce. Since that time, three On-the-Job Training placements have been made, where the employer agrees to hire and then train employees on the job for a set period until they learn the skills needed.

Aldridge Eye has proven to provide thorough and comprehensive training to individuals without medical field work, experience or previous training and engage in positive and constructive feedback for both soft and technical skills alike. All placements remain employed there, with the most recent participant completing OJT training in March of 2024. This employer not only actively engages with NCWorks, but the community of Yancey County by demonstrating a deep involvement, frequently extending public support to other small businesses. NCWorks is proud to collaborate with them across all facets of workforce engagement.

NCWorks Wilkes staff Cindy Holloman teaching soft skills curriculum in a workshop held in the center. Aldridge Eye staff including former participants Grace (far left), Emmaline (3rd from left) and Chesney (2nd from right).
Missy Bowlin. Annette Bednosky, Career Advisor (Ashe County) Missy Bowlin, Career Advisor (Alleghany and Ashe counties)
Welcome New NCWorks Staff!
Allen Osborne, Compliance Specialist (Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga, and Wilkes counties) Annette Bednosky presenting job search and career exploration at the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College. Allen Osborne.

NC Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall Visits Wilkes County & the NCWorks Career Center

Last November, Secretary of State, Elaine F. Marshall presented at the Stone Center for the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, Women in Leadership event where she shared information related to business growth and resources in North Carolina. During her presentation she highlighted resources such as the Rural Rise NC initiative that provides resources and information to new and or existing businesses such as funding sources, resources, mentors, counselors, and more. She also reported that 2023 is on pace to be the second highest year on record for new business creations for NC.

Following the Women in Leadership event, Secretary of State Marshall visited the NCWorks Career Cetner of Wilkes where she met with center staff and the High Country Workforce Development Board Director about events and workforce development activities in the area. Marshall commended staff on the importance of their work as she learned about customer successes, local services, and community engagement activities by center staff.

Elaine F. Marshall became the first woman ever elected to the statewide North Carolina executive branch office in 1996. She also became the first woman ever elected to serve on North Carolina’s Council of State. Secretary Marshall worked as a schoolteacher, business owner, interior decorator, and private attorney prior to being elected North Carolina’s Secretary of State where she continues her work to serve the community.

The Wilkes Women in Leadership Luncheon is an annual event and always with a prominent speaker. The NCWorks centers make scheduling arrangements so that all women staff can attend.

NC Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall pictured with staff at the NCWorks Career Center in North Wilkesboro.
NC Secretary of State Elaine F. Marshall with staff from the NCWorks Center in front of the Wilkes County Hall of Fame at the Stone Center.

Success Through ARPA Substance Use Disorder

The Substance Use Disorder (SUD) grant funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is designed to enhance programs assisting local communities impacted by the opioid epidemic and other substance use disorders (SUDS). The goal is to increase workforce participation and job retention of persons in recovery through an increase in education, knowledge, and workforce skills and by ensuring they are ready to work. Individuals served via the grant are actively working towards a goal of employment/training.

Amanda was referred to NCWorks by the HOPE House and Never2Scarred, a six-month recovery program in Mitchell County. Amanda was enrolled in the ARPA Substance Recovery Grant and WIOA program to assist with moving from recovery to reaching employment goals.

Amanda had several barriers to employment and training. She did not have her driver’s license, a car, or any family/friend support system outside of the program. She had a history of alcohol abuse, which led to her arrest for DUI. Amanda had entered recovery immediately so charges would be lowered, which is how she came to the HOPE House.

Amanda had no money to pay for getting her license but was willing, with NCWorks assistance, to obtain employment or participate in a work experience where she could ride public transportation.

During meetings with her advisor, Amanda said she wanted to better herself and use her experience with addiction to help someone else, possibly in the mental health field or as a volunteer. Her advisor contacted Freedom Life Avery, a reentry assistance center in Avery County, about a work experience opportunity for Amanda. After an interview, Freedom Life was willing to have her complete a work experience at their office. Upon completing this six-month work experience, she continued volunteering at Freedom Life coordinating her transportation through Mitchell and Avery County public transportation to get to work.

Freedom Life was so impressed by Amanda, that after only 2 months of continuing to volunteer, they wanted to hire her as a full-time employee. An On-the-Job training program was developed with the employer to assist with creating a position for Amanda in their organization earlier than they otherwise could have.

Since then, Broken Wheel Ministries in Avery County recognized Amanda’s devotion and donated a car to her. The director even took Amanda to get her license and to have an ignition interlock device installed on her car, which was a requirement from the DMV.

Further services have been coordinated in support of Amanda through WAMY Community Action and for a case manager with RHA to meet counseling needs. Amanda, dedicated to continuous improvement, also applied to the Lees-McRae New Opportunity School for Women and was accepted into this summer program from June 2- June 22, 2024. She recently officially moved into her own rental home, and her plans include pursuing Peer Support Specialist training and certification.

Amanda with her donated car.

Success Through ARPA Substance Use Disorder (cont).

Jason wanted to give back to those who were struggling on a journey he knows all too well. His participation in the ARPA SUD grant assisted him with having reliable transportation to get to work and meet his goal of becoming a Peer Support Specialist.

High Country Community Health (HCCH) in Boone agreed to host Jason for a work experience. While at HCCH he went through Peer Support Training and obtained his certificates. His goal after the work experience was to continue working in the community to help others enter recovery and support them with the barriers to meeting their own goals.

Jason believes in and lives his recovery with and for others daily. He has accepted a position at Mountain Community Health Partnership in their Behavioral Health division working on the STAR team to help in the treatment of substance use disorders as a Peer Support Specialist. This spring he was nominated for the 2024 NC Governor’s NCWorks Award of Distinction for his commitment to helping others find another path for their future.

NCWorks in the Community

South Toe Elementary Career Fair: On March 26, 2024, the Yancey NCWorks Career Center participated in the first-ever elementary level career fair with Yancey County Public Schools. This career fair was held at South Toe Elementary. The students, through 5th grade, were exposed to several available local career opportunities. NCWorks was able to share information on local jobs and the education that was required, as well as answer questions from these young, inquisitive minds.


Veteran Stand Down: Veterans outreach program staff member Andrew Holland (l), with an unidentified visitor to the Hickory Stand Down – Source: LinkedIn post – Michelle Haynesworth

GE Tour: Staff from the HCWDB and NCWorks in Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga, and Wilkes counties participated in a tour at GE Aerospace in West Jefferson. Staff left with a better understanding of the skills needed to work in advanced manufacturing as well as the needs of a precision manufacturer of the scale of GE.

South Elementary Career Fair. Veteran Stand Down. GE Tour.
Jason at High Country Community Health.

NCWorks in the Community (cont.)

Wilkes Central Career Day: NCWorks staff Buddy Flay and Kimberly Anderson at Wilkes Central School Career Day.

Wilkes Chamber Membership Celebration: NCWorks Wilkes Center Manager

Brian Lane, Assistance Center Manager Kimberly Anderson, HCWDB Director Misty Bishop-Price, and NC Commerce Regional Operations Director, Felicia Setzer at Wilkes Chamber of Commerce Membership Celebration, at which local businesses were recognized for their achievements. This event is an opportunity for NCWorks to celebrate and network with the business and chamber members with whom they collaborate year-round. Also, the 2024 board was announced –to include NCWorks Career Center Assistant Manager Kimberly Anderson!

Wilkes County Job Fair: Wilkes County Spring Job Fair on April 10th. NCWorks staff assisted with promoting, managing registrations, staffing check-in, directing attendees, helping businesses at the event, etc. The event saw 244 job seekers attend – a record attendance for recent years! Staffing the check-in desk on the day of the event pictured L-R are Veatrice Johnson, Kim Anderson, Mary Jolly, Buddy Flay, Cindy Holloman, and Ashley Davis.

Wilkes Hamber Member Celebration. Wilkes Central Career Day. Wilkes County Job Fair.

Work-Based Learning Is a Success for Hannah and Mitchell Medics

Hannah was 18 years old and a recent high school graduate when she came into the Mitchell NCWorks Career Center. She needed assistance with education and employment to get past some significant barriers. At that time, she did not have a stable place to live and minimal support from anyone.

Hannah, as a member of the Fork Mountain Fire Department, was interested in a career as an EMT/Paramedic. She was highly motivated despite her barriers, having worked full-time time the past 3 years while in high school. Due to her circumstances, Hannah was unable to get her driver’s license until she turned 18; however, she had saved enough money to purchase a car when she was ready, further proving her motivation.

Hannah participating at 5th Grade Steer Your Career Day with Mitchell Medics.

Unsure of how to pursue her EMT goal, she hoped NCWorks could assist. Hannah enrolled in WIOA to learn more about this career and how to obtain it. With the help of her career advisor, she started a beginner EMT class at Mayland Community College the week after enrollment. Hannah was interested in also starting a work experience at an EMT facility. Her career advisor reached out to Mitchell Medics, the current EMT provider for Mitchell County.

The director, Bryant Reid, was very excited to see a young adult interested in this field, due to a shortage of people entering an EMT/paramedic career. Reid said his goal was to acquaint Hannah with the frontlines of EMS, as well as the office and behind-the-scenes work that had to be done. He hoped that this would give her an encompassing perspective on EMS, something much more than EMS students usually receive during their field internships.

During this work experience, he allowed Hannah to participate in rescue drills, assist with patient care, help with documentation, participate in management tasks, and work on problem-solving skills in the field and office giving her a well-rounded perspective on the field and assisting further with making career decisions.

Reid told NCWorks staff, “To say the least, this has been better than anything I could have hoped for, both for the intern and the service. I have constantly received compliments towards our intern from our staff, some even recommending me to offer her a position with our agency. I hope that the news of this tremendous internship and its experiences will spread and intrigue other students to consider the EMS field.”

Hannah completed EMT classes in December 2023 and was hired by Mitchell Medics in January 2024. She continues to further her education with additional classes such as Hazmat training, that will be helpful in her field. Now at 19, she is in the field she always dreamed of and continues growing her skills, which could lead to even higher positions.


Julie Wiggins Executive Director ext.125

Caroline Briggs Finance Technician ext.103

Victoria Oxentine Communications Manager ext.101

Meeting Schedule

High Country Council of Governments

Executive Board Meeting

7:00pm on the 3rd Monday of the month (except January and September)

Area Agency on Aging

Regional Advisory Council on Aging Meets Quarterly

Senior Tar Heel Legislature Meets in March, June, and October

AAA Provider Meeting Meets Quarterly


Julie Page Finance Officer ext. 109

Linda Slade Administrative Assistant ext.100

Workforce Development

Workforce Development Board 2:30pm on the 2nd Thursday in January, March, May, July, September, and November

Planning & Development

RPO Rural Transportation Advisory Committee 2:00pm on the 3rd Wednesday in February, May, August, and November

RPO Rural Transportation Coordinating Committee 10:00am on the 3rd Wednesday of February, May, August, and November

40 Administrative Staff and Meeting Schedule | (828) 265-5434 Administration Staff
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Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.