ASHEVILLE — The WNC Honors Awards, a program of WNC Communities, is built on a 72-year tradition of recognizing rural community development clubs for their innovative ideas and grassroots solutions. These centers and clubs are the backbone of community cohesion running through our beloved mountains.

The culmination of this year’s Honors Program occurred via Zoom on Thursday, Dec. 2 with over 100 community leaders and volunteers from 13 Western North Carolina Counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Two community centers from Ashe and two from Watauga were honored with cash awards and recognition.

Despite COVID-19 shutting down many of the communities’ usual activities, the 66 communities participating in this year’s program made an incredible $5.8 million investment of time, talent, money and effort in our western North Carolina communities.

A total of more than 4,900 volunteers invested an impressive 116,400 hours of their time in outreach programs dedicated to feeding people during COVID-19 and other benevolence projects, education, beautification, health, wellness and economic development.

All participating communities received $550 to support their efforts. Additionally, communities were assessed across six different competencies and awarded a designation of Trillium, Mountain Laurel, Redbud or White Oak level according to their demonstrated capacity to lead and serve. These competencies include Good Governance, Leadership Excellence, Financial Stewardship, Volunteer Recruitment and Retention, Community Programs and Civic Engagement and Collaboration.

The Peak Creek Ruritan Club and Todd Ruritan of Ashe County and the Deep Gap Ruritan Club and Foscoe Ruritan of Watauga were recognized for achieving the Mountain Laurel level. Communities at this level have their 501©3 status, offer several impactful programs to assist their communities, seek training for their board and are actively collaborating with at least five community partners.

WNC Communities also awarded the Calico Cat Awards, the new Youth Leadership Award and the President’s Award. Carson Community Development Association in Macon County received the Calico Cat Sr. award and the Caney Fork Community Development Council in Jackson County received the Calico Cat Jr. award for their significant efforts toward the improvement and upkeep of their existing community centers over the past year. The competition for these awards is always strong. Caney Fork Community Center’s Ryleigh Stevens took home the Youth Leadership Award for spearheading a youth-led effort to purchase and coordinate meat deliveries to families in need in their community. Additionally, Leicester Community Center of Buncombe County received the President’s Award for 50 years of participating in the WNC Honors Awards.

Generous sponsorships from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, Harrah’s Valley River Casino & Hotel, Duke Energy, Biltmore Farms, Inc., First Citizens Bank, The McClure Fund, Buncombe County Farm Bureau, New Belgium Brewing, Carolina Farm Credit and Wells Fargo brought in $44,800 to award to the 66 community centers and clubs participating in the 2021 WNC Honors Awards.

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