WEST JEFFERSON — On June 15, 50 in-home aides took home a gourmet surprise along with other tokens of appreciation from Ashe Services for Aging, thanks in part to AARP’s NC Mountain Region.

In-home aides are rarely recognized for the difficult, sometimes lonely work they do, and AARP, in partnership with ASA, wanted to extend its thanks and appreciation.

A serendipitous chain of events had to happen to make this surprise a reality. It started several weeks ago when Alan Briggs, local AARP volunteer coordinator for Ashe and Watauga counties, and Rebecca Chaplin, associate state director of AARP NC in Mountain Region, talked to ASA’s executive director, Patricia Calloway and asked how they could provide some funds to help.

Calloway told them that one of their biggest challenges was staff morale and stress. The in-home aides were feeling especially isolated and anxious amid the global pandemic.

Several ideas were discussed from t-shirts, to gift certificates to a local restaurant to local chocolates.

“Who doesn’t feel special when they get a box of chocolates,” Chaplin said.

“Ultimately, we selected something that could both support the local economy and hopefully leave the staff feeling our love” Briggs said.

Briggs called Ashe County resident Suzanne Clouzeau, owner/proprietor of Boone Chocolat.

Clouzeau, a Paris-trained chocolatier, was excited by the idea and was eager to help. Unfortunately, she had just lost access to the commercial kitchen where her high-end chocolates could set and crystallize, a process which takes 24 hours.

Briggs inquired about ASA’s kitchen which is still providing drive-through and home-delivered meals for older adults as well as the children onsite in the children’s daycare program. The kitchen was not being used on weekends.

After some negotiations, Calloway arranged for Clouzeau to be able to use the kitchen on a temporary basis on weekends. In exchange, she’s provided chocolates below the usual cost to AARP to reward in-home aides with a little taste of something they’d probably never buy for themselves.

“It took a lot of creative thinking, a lot of phone calls and a lot persistence by willing partners,” said Briggs, also an Ashe County resident.

A former lobbyist, Alan was instrumental in getting the chocolate deal done. No stranger to trade-offs and compromises, he can’t recall a more satisfying win-win.

“Talk about being in the right place at the right time,” he said. “ASA has built this amazing web of health and human services over the years, right here in our little county. Then COVID-19 comes along, making the need more urgent than ever, yet throwing so many obstacles in ASA’s path. Way too many Ashe seniors are feeling isolated, lonely, and anxious during this unusual time. Their in-home aides provide a real lifeline, and the county is so thankful for them. I was thrilled to help put this ‘sweet deal’ together. A great example of what makes us love Ashe County.”

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