WEST JEFFERSON — West Jefferson was one of 25 towns and counties that received a feasibility study grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation board to determine whether a new sidewalk or bicycle path would be an added benefit to the community.
According to the NCDOT, the total grant for West Jefferson is $72,100 with $56,000 coming from federal money and $16,100 coming from the state.
The feasibility study will be done with the idea in mind of constructing a sidewalk that will connect downtown West Jefferson to the area around Ashemont Drive where Ingles and McDonald’s are.
Two other locations within the NCDOT District 11 area received grants. Boone received a $118,450 state-funded grant to study the possibility of paving a trail along the Greenway and Wilkesboro received a $118,450 state-funded grant to study the creation of a paved trail connecting the Woodfield and Westwood neighborhoods.
Overall, the state approved $2.06 million in grant funding for these pathway feasibility studies and $388,000 was funded through additional money from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“We’re excited because this money will allow these communities to take the first step toward something that could have a lasting, positive impact,” said state Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette in a statement. “We know that bike and walking paths help connect communities and improve the quality of life for residents in immeasurable ways.”
According to the NCDOT, feasibility studies will be conducted to evaluate the viability of a transportation project, complete initial stages of design and environmental review and develop implementation strategies. The studies included cost estimates and will offer multiple routes for these sidewalks and pathways. There will also be additional public input that will play a role in each study’s conclusions.
For these specific grants, the types of projects that were considered included paths shared by walkers, runners and cyclists as well as paved trails, greenways and sidewalks.
JEFFERSON — Back in 2017, Charity Ballou gathered her peers, friends, family and colleagues to give back to the community and those in need. She began serving meals on Thanksgiving and throughout the winter months to shut-ins and those in need at local churches with the help of countless volunteers. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she and the volunteers put everything on hold.
This past Thanksgiving, Ballou rejuvenated her kindness and with the help of the Jefferson Fire Department, she and the volunteers were back on track and were able to feed 109 people.
“With a name like Charity, I think I was destined to do some kind of good works and growing up in a Southern Baptist home, it’s only natural that food is my love language,” said Ballou.
Ballou said that after the response of the 2022 Thanksgiving supper, she realized what a real need there is for something like this in the community of Ashe County. After that, she vowed to provide a meal each month.
In the month of January, the volunteers served 89 people and during their recent February supper, they served 75.
“The only criteria required for someone to receive a meal is for them to ask,” Ballou said. “It is not for me to judge who is in need. While there are certainly many people in our county who suffer from food insecurity, there are also lots of individuals who need the smiling face that delivers the meal or sits and talks with them even more so.”
In helping with the suppers, local businesses and countless individuals fund the meals through donations of both time and money for food supplies, meal prep, service and delivery.
“When I started this venture back in 2017, I called these events ‘Souper Saturdays’ but back then we only served soup,” said Ballou. “Sothe past few months I’ve been searching for something to call this thing and went so far as to create a Facebook poll to ask for ideas. While there were several great ideas offered up, one individual encouraged me to create a mission statement and that the name would evolve organically.”
In her search for the perfect name, Ballou recalled opening a Facebook page called “Good Vibes” in response to the negativity on social media. She wanted to create a positive space with words of encouragement, inspiration and motivation.
She said it didn’t take her long to realize that she was trying to do the exact same thing with these meals.
“It’s not so much about the food, but about offering up a little bit of encouragement, motivation and simple care for my neighbors,” said Ballou. “Hence, the Good Vibes community meal is born. This name also opens us up to begin other charitable works.”
Ballou said the Jefferson Fire Department has been most generous in allowing them to use their space and they are currently in communication about being able to continue to use the space for upcoming meals.
While the March meal date is not yet set in stone, there will be a meal provided one way or another.
Anyone wanting to volunteer or make a donation may contact Ballou at (828) 434-0609 or email@example.com.
If you know anyone who would benefit from a meal, contact Ballou at the number above.
“I want to serve as many as we possibly can and while I’m thankful to have been able to serve close to 100 people these past few months, I know there are so many more that can benefit,” said Ballou.
BOONE — The newly formed Responder Wellness Coalition reached multiple high country agencies at one of its first meetings on Tuesday, Feb. 21. During the meeting, attendees learned about the nonprofit’s plan to support first responders in the High Country.
The meeting began with organization founder Valerie Mailman introducing board members Tim Fox and Laura Wilson and the nonprofit’s mission in the High Country to the roughly 50 attendees. The organization aims to increase access to mental health services for first responders by eliminating barriers such as accessibility, affordability and stigma.
Guest speaker Rick Baker, founder of Responder Support Services in Asheville, then spoke on the behavioral health, mental health services and career-saving strategies he and his clinicians provide exclusively to first responders.
“The need for the service is in every area, the job of emergency services isn’t getting any easier,” Baker said. “First responders are a tough crowd to read, but a lot of individuals came to me after the meeting expressing their support.”
Following Baker’s presentation, Mailman said Director of Avery County EMS Mike Edmisten shared that the Responder Support Services led his team in an impactful and successful debriefing following an incident in his county.
Mailman said representation from more than 15 emergency departments from Watauga, Ashe and Avery counties were present at the meeting, with many chiefs expressing the need and want for the services in the area.
Mailman said moving forward, the main priority of the nonprofit is to start fundraising to begin providing services.
“We are elated to see such enthusiasm and positive energy from the agencies who attended,” Mailman said. “Now we need to focus on raising funds to ensure that all the agencies of Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties will benefit.”
Baker said in order for Responder Support Services to expand into the area, office space and a qualified clinician is needed. He said the organization is open to working with a commercial landlord that is passionate about providing services to first responders to find a location.
The Responder Wellness Coalition’s first program is projected to launch May 1 with the “Got Your Six” program, which will help first responders pay for all out-of-pocket expenses for mental health services in the area.
For more information, visit responderwellnesscoalition.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WEST JEFFERSON — Applications for the annual Badger Family Scholarship are still being accepted for Ashe County High School senior students.
According to Michael Badger, the scholarship committee will get together and choose the scholarship recipients in late April.
Last December, the Badger Family Scholarship Endowment gifted $10,000 to Ashe County Schools to help with scholarship funding for Ashe County students. The scholarship fund officially began in August of 2021.
The Badger Family Scholarship is open to students applying to both two-year and four-year colleges and universities.
Students interested in applying for the scholarship can get an application from student services receptionist Linda Sloan at Ashe County High School. Students can also speak to their high school guidance counselor if they have any questions.
JEFFERSON — Ashe County Schools will soon welcome a new maintenance director to its leadership team. Anthony Leek will assume the role following the retirement of current maintenance and facilities director Jerry Baker.
“Anthony Leek brings a wealth of experience to Ashe County schools from the maintenance and construction industry,” said Superintendent Dr. Eisa Cox. “Alongside this experience, Mr. Leek’s attention to detail, focus on safety, and breadth of knowledge in building maintenance made him stand out among a strong field of candidates.”
Leek has worked in the building construction industry for more than 30 years. During this time, he has built homes and additions and completed many kitchen and bathroom renovations. In addition, he worked as a superintendent for Vannoy Construction. While employed with Vannoy Construction, he worked on several school projects and completed renovations and additions to Ashe Memorial Hospital. Most recently, Mr. Leek has provided subcontract maintenance services for Skyline Telephone Company.
When asked what inspired his career path, he said it was one of his own teachers.
“I had a great and very memorable high school carpentry teacher, Wayland Cox, who taught me the basics and encouraged me to become a carpenter,” Leek said.
His favorite part of his career has always been the people he has met along the way. He shared that looking back, those friendships are the highlights for him.
Learning the complexities of an ever-growing Ashe County school system and how he can help make it better is what Leek anticipates will be the greatest challenge in his new role.
He shared that God has blessed him in being a husband, father of four and a grandfather. In his spare time he enjoys blacksmithing and shooting at traditional archery contests.
“I have much to learn about my new role with Ashe County Schools and I am very excited to get started,” Leek said. “I enter this job thankful, knowing that there is a dedicated and talented team already in place.”
His favorite quote is one he made up himself years ago, which he always will follow, “I will make mistakes because I am human, I will never make them purposely to cut corners.”