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Ashe County Arts Council Announces new executive director Joni Ray

WEST JEFFERSON — Recently, the Ashe County Arts Council announced that High Country native Joni Ray will be taking on the role of executive director for the organization. Ray, who will be coming from the neighboring Florence Thomas Art School, is slated to assume her new position starting in late September.

Having served as the Gallery Director at Florence Thomas Art School for seven years, Ray will bring a wealth experience and knowledge of both of the arts and working with the public to her new position at the arts council.

“I was fortunate to have that job because we have at least 30 to 40 artists on consignment there. So, I was able to meet all kinds or artists in that position and about half of them were local, so I’ll carry that into my new job,” Ray said regarding her current position at Florence Thomas Art School. “Also, I got to work hands on with a lot of our board members and volunteers and that’s really made a lasting impression on me.”

Wesley Barker, president of the Arts Council’s Board of Directors said, “We are excited to have Joni Ray join us as our next executive director. Joni brings a wealth of knowledge in arts programming across many mediums, possesses technology skills across many platforms and is an artist in her own right. Joni will bring a fresh perspective to our organization appealing to many demographics, while still holding onto the values that made the Ashe County Arts Council the solid, respected organization it is today. It’s being recognized across the state as one of the premier arts organizations.”

Ray attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville, Spain, and Appalachian State University, where she graduated Suma Cum Laude.

“I’m excited. I feel very excited about it, the art’s council does so much for the county, so it’s going to be a very big honor to take on this new role,” Ray said on accepting the new position. “Serving the community through the arts is my personal calling and it’s going to be a great honor for me to do so at the Ashe County Arts Council.”

Pointing out the many established programs that the arts council has provided over the years, Ray hopes to expand upon the organization’s successes and reach out to other communities within Ash County.

“As an Ashe County native, I benefited from the programming offered by the Arts Council while growing up. It’s my goal to continue all the cultural opportunities provided to the county by the Arts Council and I hope to broaden our reach over the next coming years,” Ray said. “Though I’m a visual artist, I have a deep love and appreciation for live music and theater. I can’t wait to dive into all areas of arts programming for Ashe County.”

“I’ll be bringing my dedication to providing experiences in the arts to the new role. The arts are for everyone and enrich our community,” Ray added.

For more information regarding the Ashe County Arts Council call (336) 846-2787 or visit ashecountyarts.org/.

Remembering our Heroes: Ashe County pays tribute for the 20th anniversary of 9/11

WEST JEFFERSON — On Saturday, Sept. 11, Ashe County gathered in the Civic Center to pay tribute to those we lost on that day 20 years ago, and those who fought on after.

County officials, the honor guard, survivors of the attacks and others were present, each sharing words of encouragement and advice as “we continue to strive toward a better world.”

The ceremony began with a time table of 9/11, including speakers going through the events that unraveled.

NC Treasurer Dale Folwell spoke about how Ashe County will never forget the tragedy that happened in New York City.

“I have a very local connection with this area,” said Folwell. “This event that you’re witnessing and being a part of today, didn’t just jump up on the table by itself. Being a part of this and paying tribute is highly important. As your state treasurer, one of my main responsibilities is to pay attention to planning for nearly 1 million servants in North Carolina. Most of the people you see in uniform now are a part of our pension responsibilities. Those pensions come as blessings, but unfortunately, we have to deliver checks to spouses and beneficiaries who were killed in the line of duty.

“It’s important to remember that this outcome happens unfortunately too often in North Carolina. I will not only thank all of those in the audience who are first responders, police officers, medics, firefighters, EMS and volunteers, but I want to also thank their spouses. As you know, it’s sometimes the spouses who truly suffer in these public services. I thank all of you for making the choice to come here today and to thank all of those who made this possible.

“This world is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. If you imagine how this world came together 20 years ago after 9/11, you may be asking yourself, ‘if this were to happen again, would we be capable of doing that?’ We hope that nothing like this ever happens again, but I have absolutely no doubt, as divided as we are and as uncertain as we are in this world today, if this were to ever happen, this country would become united.”

Congresswoman Virginia Fox then spoke a few words about the tragedy that struck America.

“I want to thank, not only those who served actively, but their families as well,” said Fox. “I am honored to have been able to represent Ashe County for many, many years. I don’t think there are are very many places in the country where there are more patriotic people than there are in Ashe County. You know how to celebrate Holidays that should be celebrated and commemorate events that should be commemorated, so that we don’t forget what is important about our country.

“We all know where we were when we heard the news of what happened on 9/11. That attack against America was intended to bring us to our knees and in many ways it did bring us to our knees to pray to God. But, it didn’t bring us to our knees to give up. If we’re ever faced with this again, we will come together as a people. Fear did not win that day. Darkness did not win that day. Freedom, resilience and a renewed sense of patriotism and duty won that day and the days after. Twenty years later, that freedom, resilience, patriotism and duty continue to live on within our hearts and in our activities as tonight’s event shows.”

State Rep. Ray Pickett then headed to the stage to give a rally cry and an echo to his previous speakers.

“I know exactly where I was that day,” said Pickett. “I can remember the layout of the furniture and watching all of the events unfold. But like many of us, after that day, we gathered strength and we moved on.”

Pickett then recalled his opportunity to visit Ground Zero, stating that he became overwhelmed with emotion and reflected on those in his life who put on the uniform every day to protect our country.

“I still feel that emotion to this day. I know we will never forget what happened that day,” Pickett Said. “We will tell the story of how this country came together and how this country can come together again. I know it in my heart, I see it everyday. God bless Ashe County. God bless North Carolina. God bless the great United States of America.”

Josh Roten, chairman of the Ashe County Board of Education made a brief on how the county has continued to unite in both times of victory and sorrow.

“I looked up the definition of a patriot and found that it is one ho loves his or her country and supports its authority and its interest,” said Roten. “In thinking about that, we have our wonderful first responders that helped on that day and those who are continuing to serve us today. Looking back 20 years ago, on those days, we lost about 3,000 people. A lot of those were our patriots. Also, that did instill a lot of folks as we see them joining our military and I work with them, our veterans and first responders. To all of the patriots we have in the audience, our first responders, our veterans and our Ashe Countians, I thank you for stopping to take time to remember the tragedy of 9/11 and remember that our nation will not bend.”

County Commissioner Jonathan Jordan then spoke on behalf of the county, remembering how we built ourselves back up after the attacks on 9/11.

“2,977 Americans died on that day,” said Jordan. “414 of them were first responders. Thats 13.8 percent. To all of you first responders, thank you so much. Thank you for what you do for us in the county, in the state and in the nation. We’re going through some hard times in our country today. Our nation and our Americans are resilient and like our previous speakers said, we will come together. We are unified. We will take on this challenge like we’ve taken on every other challenge before and we will succeed.”

To end the event, retired FDNY firefighter Bill Brenna from ladder company 47, spoke on his experiences and firsthand account with the 9/11 attacks.

“On that fateful day 20 years ago, I was off duty,” said Brenna. “My family called and said that a plane crashed into the world trade center. I watched as heavy smoke poured out of the North Tower. Then I witnessed the unimaginable: the second plane hit the South Tower. My mind could not comprehend the scene I had just witnessed. I knew that this would be a huge and unprecedented task for the FDNY. The fire department issued a total recall meaning that all 12,000 firefighters were to report to their respective fire houses. I tried to reassure my wife and twin daughters that everything would be okay. I’ll never forget their faces when I walked out the door.

“I remember the uncertainty of what to expect when I drove to Ground Zero. There was smoke and fire rising out of a 30 foot high debris pit. The clear blue sky was obscured by a thick haze of smoke and confetti like paper was just floating in the air. It was a surreal sight. We were like ants on an ant hill as we searched for survivors. We got no response as we beat around the rubble and dust. It was then that I realized that the collapse of two 110 story buildings had pulverized everything in its path. For the next six months, the FDNY spent 24 hours on and 24 hours off, manning firehouses, being detail to Ground Zero and attending funerals for our fallen brothers, sometimes two to three a day and most with empty caskets.

“I’ll remember first responders joining us in our search and rescue recovery efforts, the day President Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee stadium. So on this 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country, let us remember the 2.977 people who perished that day. Never forget.”

BOE keeps mask mandate policy, plans to revisit each month

JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Education met in regular session on Sept. 13 to discuss the mask policy, updates and upcoming events. Boards of education are mandated to visit local mask mandates monthly.

Those in attendance were Chair Josh Roten, Vice Chair Dianne Eldreth, Dr. Kim Simmons, Polly Jones, Keith McClure, Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox and Finance Officer Amanda Coldiron.

Cox began the meeting with announcements. Vannoy Construction donated a flag pole which will be up by Sept. 17 and will commemorate the men and women who serve our country. Cox also commented on the success of the first annual Back 2 School Blast and thanked all those who were involved in planning and executing the exciting day for students.

The board then discussed the question of whether or not to implement a mask mandate or to make masks optional.

The discussion began with public comment and three community members stepping up to speak to the board.

First was Jessica Carter who expressed her concerns on masking in schools.

“As an educator myself, I understand the responsibility of the school,” said Carter. “Schools are not charged to serve as an authority on any child’s health and wellbeing, but rather just to safeguard these to the extent possible. It is my opinion that a mandate which forces all children in schools at all times to cover their mouths and noses with damp, sometimes soiled cloth is counter to its principle.”

Next up was Drew Martin, who shared the same concerns as Carter.

“I want to voice concern for the health of the children in our school system regarding your actions as a board,” said Martin. “I’d like to think that we can all agree, that unless it is absolutely necessary, covering a child’s face is wrong.”

Martin’s father, Jeff, then spoke, reiterating that their opinion on masking is that there should not be a mandate.

The board then deliberated for about two hours on both the mandate and the new option of pool testing. Pool testing would allow athletic teams to be tested on Mondays, getting their results back by Wednesday and then offering rapid testing if a positive case was found.

Many concerns were brought up regarding this including the question of how effective it could be if they are tested on Monday, then proceed to practice together, further exposing the risk of transmission. The board voted to table the option until more information is received.

Next, the decision on whether to keep the mask mandate or to make them optional was brought into play. Eldreth made the motion that they keep the mask mandate policy and plan to revisit it each month. Jones seconded the motion. They then held a singular vote. Simmons voted no, Eldreth voted yes, Roten voted no, Jones voted yes and McClure voted yes. The motion carried three to two.

The board then moved on to discussion of the adoptions of policies including Learning Thru Play, LTP contract for meal services, school nurse funding initiatives, counseling services, mental health training, ASU contract for the ACS center, beginning teacher support and more, all which were approved by the Board.

Marcia Elledge then gave an update on the Endowment Fund Golf Tournament, saying that 24 businesses and individuals from Ashe and Watauga were able to participate and or donate to the tournament.

The total net proceed was $32,408, triple the amount they were able to raise in the past. The Board gave a round of applause to Elledge and those who put in the work to produce the successful outcome.

Ashe sees 50 active cases of COVID-19 along with the 54th death

Ashe County, as well as neighboring counties, have remained into the ‘red’ stage which represents a high level of community transmission.

ASHE COUNTY — As the COVID-19 pandemic reaches for another peak, Ashe County is continuing to contract the virus, standing at 50 active with 101 individuals in quarantine as of Sept. 13.

AppHealthCare has also reported the 54th death since the beginning of the pandemic. Neighboring Alleghany stands at 30 active, 84 in quarantine and six deaths as of Sept. 13. Watauga has 78 active cases, 98 individuals in quarantine and 35 deaths.

In the week of Sept. 4-10, Ashe County Schools reported that 41 students tested positive along with five staff. No numbers on current quarantine have been provided. To keep up with the ACS COVID-19 dashboard, visit https://www.asheschools.org/domain/1939.

Ashe county has continued to remain in the “red” producing a high level of community transmission.

As of AppHealthCare’s Sept. 10 situation update, Ashe County currently has a 50 percent vaccination rate with fully or partially vaccinated individuals. 20 percent is needed to reach the goal of 70.

AppHealthCare offers COVID-19 testing by drive-thru, Monday through Friday from 8:30-10 a.m. at each of their clinic locations in Ashe, Alleghany and Watauga. They also offer COVID-19 vaccines by walk-in or appointment, Monday through Friday from 1-4 p.m. If you choose to walk-in for a vaccine, you may have to wait. In order to lessen your wait time, schedule an appointment by calling (828) 795-1970.

“Get vaccinated to protect yourself against COVID-19 and variants,” said AppHealthCare. “With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases and severe outcomes is happening in places with low vaccination rates. The vaccines are working like they should. They are helping prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death. If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is about 3.5 times lower, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8 times lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is about 25 times lower.

As of Sept. 10, 13,384 vaccines have been administered by AppHealthCare alone in Ashe.

Percentages continue to rise in each age group. 12-17 year olds have seen a 26 percent rate, 18-24 at 39 percent, 25-49 with 48 percent, 50-64 standing at 59 percent, 65-74 at 71 percent and 75 and up with 74 percent.

In all three counties, as of Sept. 9, 23,023 COVID-19 tests have been administered and 9,680 positive cases have been reported.

Since the Sept. 3 update, cases have dropped from 115 new to 69 new, the positivity rate has decreased from 16.92 percent to 8.51 percent and the number of COVID-19 tests have risen from 678 to 811.

The Ashe County High School football team has been recently monitored with eight cumulative positive cases and zero as of Sept. 10. The last positive result among the cluster was reported on Aug. 24.

The NCDHHS has reported a total of 1,303,390 cumulative cases since testing began. As of noon on Sept. 13, 3,514 individuals were hospitalized due to the virus.

WHO reported globally 224.511 million positive cases along with 4.62 million deaths have been confirmed since testing began. They also reported that a total of 5.534 billion vaccine doses have been administered.

To learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic, schedule a vaccine or to schedule a test, visit www.apphealthcare.com or call the Ashe clinic at (336) 246-9449.