WEST JEFFERSON — Nearly 40 community members tuned in for the annual “Outrageously Good Customer Service” award ceremony hosted by the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce on the morning of Oct. 14.

Those who witnessed individuals or businesses providing excellent customer service were invited to email nominations to the Chamber in August. Nominations for the awards closed on Sept. 7.

The event was sponsored as it has been in previous years by SkyLine/Skybest and was held via Zoom Video Communications due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To watch a recording of the ceremony in its entirety click HERE.

Presenters during the meeting were past Chair and Public Relations Administrator at SkyLine Karen Powell and Ashe Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kitty Honeycutt. Rita Schaefer who chairs the Member Services Committee at the Chamber was responsible for announcing the winners.

The team award winners were Ashe Early Learning Center, Blue Ridge Elementary School, Mountain View Elementary School, Westwood Elementary School, Ashe County Middle School, Ashe County High School and Ashe Early College.

“The teachers and the staff of these schools are serving our most important customers, our students, who are our future,” Schaefer said. “You have excelled in providing such a valuable service for all of our students, our families and community and we want to recognize you for your tremendous efforts during this most unusual time.”

Next to be announced were the individual award winners which included Chris Kearley, Jennifer Greene, Kathleen George, Dot Green, Tony Eldreth, Angela Brooks, Andria Robbins, Libby Cockerham, Kimberly Seaver and Philip Shepherd.

Kearley is an applied engineering instructor at the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College.

The nomination for Chris Kearley described his use of his skills to step up and help members of the community by obtaining his 3D printing license and utilizing 3D printers to print face shields for healthcare workers in the county and region.

Fellow employees who assisted Kearley in the efforts were Betty Eller, Kendra Perkins and her son John Fields, Loretta Johnson, Chris Bare, Mike Rash and Mike Windish.

Kearley and his team worked diligently to produce 1,367 masks and face shields produced for regional healthcare workers.

Greene serves as Health Director at AppHealthCare and has been responsible for navigating the region through the global pandemic through her leadership and expertise.

“Even in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty, she always takes the time to ask about the individual. She says, ‘how are you doing,’ always making sure you are doing OK,” reads the nomination letter for Greene.

George, one of the Chamber’s own employees, was recognized for always providing outrageously good customer service and representing both Ashe County and the Chamber with professionalism and grace.

“She continues to be a leader in the business community and a perfect example of all the best things Ashe County has to offer,” Schaefer said.

Green is an employee at the Gift Nook at WJ Hardware in downtown West Jefferson who was nominated for continuously providing exceptional customer service.

Her nomination letter described her sweet and helpful nature toward customers and how she makes shopping at WJ Hardware a delight.

Eldreth, who is the owner of the Parkway Theater in downtown West Jefferson, was recognized for his continued efforts to serve the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He has done a wonderful job of trying to stay open when possible to provide Ashe County citizens the best popcorn, the candy and the drinks,” reads a portion of his nomination letter. “He has gone out of his way to serve our community during special events, whether for a recent car cruise in, social activism protest or just a weekend afternoon. I admire his willingness to open the doors and serve our community as best he can, given the current circumstances.”

Brooks is an employee at the Ashe County Buildings and Inspections Department.

Her nomination letter described how she navigates difficult interactions while maintaining a smile and high level of professionalism.

Robbins is an employee at Global Manufacturing Services, Inc. who was recognized for serving her community.

“She has shown her belief in the old saying ‘A neighbor in need is a neighbor indeed’,” reads a portion of her nomination letter. “She has offshore contacts that could supply PPE and hand sanitizers when there were none available. She took on the challenge of being the source that local businesses could count on at a time when so much was uncertain, the business community knew they could count on her.”

Cockerham is the owner of Libby’s in Jefferson and she and her staff were recognized for their devotion to their customers.

“Libby and her staff do an amazing job of offering personalized service to everyone who comes in,” a portion of her nomination letter reads. “They will help the customer with the outfit and accessorize to make a statement. Stop by and you will be made to feel like your business really matters.”

Seaver is employed at CVS in West Jefferson and was recognized for the great customer service she provides.

“Kimberly consistently met customers with a warm smile and kindness that was so much needed by all of us who might have been experiencing a stressful time or a sick family member,” a portion of her nomination letter reads. “Her compassion is always evident and appreciated.”

Shepherd serves as general manager at Mountain Aire Golf Club and was recognized for providing a place for the community to safely enjoy while other golf courses around the nation remained closed.

His nomination letter described how he made it possible for many individuals to experience normalcy in their lives during the pandemic.

Once the winners were announced they were given the chance to make any remarks or express gratitude.

“I just wanted to thank my leadership, Kitty, and all of you have made my job so easy and it is such a pleasure,” George said. “And I’m just very, very grateful and Kitty went way, way above and beyond all that was ever expected of her during this time and everyday and I just want to thank her and our Board of Directors.”

“I was just stunned the morning you all came in and almost in tears, as you remember, but I just wanted to say that WJ Hardware was allowed to stay open during the COVID shutdown because we’re a hardware store,” Green said. “And I think we really did help a lot of people.”

She described how for Mother’s Day the Gift Nook had a special video and people called ahead for gifts. The staff helped them by preparing the gifts and transporting them to the car for them. Green said they continue to assist their customers in any way they can and expressed their appreciation for the Chamber.

Terry Richardson, who serves as director of Exceptional Children and Pre-K spoke on behalf of Ashe County Schools.

She expressed their gratitude for the many stakeholders in the county who support the school system, which are too many to name.

“Ashe County has got it going on and we are moving forward for the best of all,” Richardson said. “Thank you so much for all you do and everybody on this Zoom meeting today.”

Shepherd thanked the Chamber, Ashe County and all those present on the Zoom meeting.

“It has been tremendous to see how everybody just came together and has worked hard to try and keep everything as normal as possible,” Shepherd said. “And I would like to thank my staff because they have done a lot of the work out here and just thank you to everyone.”

The business award winner for 2020 was Ashe Services for Aging for providing outrageously good customer service.

Executive Director Patricia Calloway and Director of Strategic Initiatives and Special Projects Bevin South were both on the Zoom call.

“We are so grateful for our community and we are grateful for the volunteers that continue to come and provide services,” Calloway said. “All of the people that we serve have just been so gracious during this time with us as we try to shift and pivot to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the community. And I have to say our staff has been amazing through all of this, very flexible, graceful and compassionate to the needs of our community.”

Calloway added that she feels the nomination served as a representation of the great work South has done at Assisted Living and the work of Glenda Luther and her staff at Ashe Senior Center

Once the winners were announced, Powell shared a few comments.

“Ashe Services for Aging is a model for senior programs throughout the state of North Carolina, we are so fortunate to have that facility, the services they provide to our seniors especially at a critical time like we are in at this point,” Powell said.

She also spoke about the community Wi-Fi hotspot project SkyLine/SkyBest completed along with the county and the school system to provide students with access to broadband. She shared that SkyLine is in the process of awarding new grants concerning technology in school systems. The new program is called the Student Connect Grant and she said further details will be available in the near future.

In closing, Powell mentioned the Annual Rise & Shine Breakfast Food Drive. The drive began in September and will end on Oct. 31.

After recently speaking with Board Chair at Ashe Sharing Center Kelly Vannoy, Powell said she learned that the percentage of increase in requests is well over 100 percent.

Non-perishable breakfast items are requested for the drive and those who are interested in participating can pick up a tote at all customer center locations along with a suggested grocery list.

Powell said the seventh cooperative principle is concern for communities.

“We try to honor that principle along with our mission, not just at this time of year but throughout the year in some of the outreach initiatives we do,” Powell said. “But this one is one that really hits close to home and touches our hearts.”

Prior to the end of the virtual ceremony, Greene commended AppHealthCare staff for their dedication and congratulated the community for their efforts during the pandemic.

“It is time to continue that vigilant effort, Ashe County has had a total of 389 cases of COVID-19,” Greene said. “I am grateful that we haven’t had more but I want you to know that we have had an uptick in the last little bit. So we need to all just remain vigilant and I just want to say thank you for all that you’ve done so far and it does take all of us.”

“Thank you to the Member Services Committee, the Board of Directors and SkyLine for being our sponsor of this,” Honeycutt said. “Congratulations to all of the winners.”

Powell ended the meeting with another cause for celebration by asking everyone to unmute their microphones and “Happy Birthday” to Honeycutt.

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