ASHE COUNTY — The 35th Annual Ashe County Commissioners’ Volunteer Awards were scheduled to be held April 23, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions placed in order to stop the spread, the event was postponed and eventually canceled.
The event, which is held every April during National Volunteer Week, was canceled after Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order March 16 limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.
While more than 300 nominated volunteers did not get the ceremony to celebrate and honor their work in the community, the awards were still given out to those who deserved the honors.
Terri Hopkins, Ashe County Volunteer Coordinator expressed her gratitude for the volunteers and feelings about the program.
“I am so happy to be a part of this program. I get to meet so many wonderful, thoughtful and caring people who enjoy doing for others,” Hopkins said.
A special “thank you” is extended to the following individuals, businesses and organizations that give their time and contributions to the volunteer banquet each year: Arvil Scott, Ashe County High School JROTC, Ashe County Cheese, Aubreana Lovell, Graham Caddell, Hobby Barn, Southern Market, Third Day Market, Travis Bennett and WKSK.
Gratitude is also given to Ashe County High School for serving as the venue and the Ashe County High School Cafeteria Staff for the banquet portion.
“We are very blessed to have our many volunteers. These people provide tremendous services with their time, skills, and dedication,” said Commissioner William Sands. “They provide about 1,000 hours per day and save the county tax payers several million dollars a year.”
“Their love for our people and our county is evident. Our Lord commanded that ‘We love one another.’ These people set that example,” Sands added.
The Ashe County Volunteer Advisory Board Members include Board Chair Jennifer Richardson who serves as the Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer Coordinator; Board Co-Chair Bevin South, who serves as the Director of Strategic Initiatives & Special Projects at Ashe Services for Aging; Board Secretary Kathy Elliott, who serves as a Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer; Donna Phillips who serves as a Medi-Home Health and Hospice Volunteer; Fawn Roark who serves as the Student Success & Resource Coordinator at Ashe County Middle School; Judy Current who serves as Director of Strategic Growth & Marketing at LifeStore Banking Services; Ramona Renfroe of the Museum of Ashe County History; Randal J. Cokeley of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc.;Rebecca Williams of Ashe County Arts Council and Ad Hoc Glenda Luther who serves as Director at Ashe Senior Center.
Out of the 394 nominated volunteers, 11 overall winners were chosen by the Volunteer Initiative Board.
The following people were selected as Overall Winners for 2019-2020: Becky Marsten, Dr. Linda D. Brown, Jerry, Peggy and Sarah Brandt, Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project, Project Star, Dr. Matthew Thomas-Reid, Connie Osborne, Halei Miller, Chloe Henson and Laura McPherson.
Marsten was chosen as the Lifetime Achievement winner, a suitable honor for her many volunteering efforts at the Ashe County Arts Council, Bethany United Methodist Church, Meals on Wheels, Ashe County Sharing Center, Christmas in July Festival and the Ashe County Chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization.
At Bethany United Methodist Church, Marsten is a member of both the Chancel Choir and Ding-a-Lings Handbell Choir while also serving as the President of Women of Church Organization, Secretary of Worship Committee and is a Sunday School teacher. She also was the coordinator of the 2019 Church Directory and is the church’s chief communicator through the email list.
In addition to delivering meals while volunteering at Meals on Wheels, Marsten also is a regular volunteer on Fridays at Ashe Sharing Center. Her involvement with the Ashe County Arts Council is extensive as she has served as President of the Board of Directors, a member of the 2019-20 Transition Team, a programming committee member and an ex-offico for performers of all other board committees. Marsten is also known for providing baked goods and meals for performers and offers volunteer assistance for special events.
At the annual Christmas in July Festival, Marsten has helped set up early in the morning to assist the vendors in setting up for many years. She then moves to the Arts Council booth to support and help out during the festival.
“Becky can always be counted on to volunteer with the day-to-day activities for the Ashe County Arts Council and the Ashe Civic Center providing refreshments, taking up tickets, hospitality, planning and execution,” reads an essay from the Ashe County Arts Council written on behalf of Marsten.
Brown was recognized for her outstanding effort as a Senior volunteer at Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary.
Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary is a horse rescue farm which rehabilitates abandoned, abused and neglected horses, ponies and donkeys.
A letter written by Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary on behalf of Brown describes her as a “Volunteer Angel” who has been with the organization since it began in 2011. Brown is commended for her extraordinary organizational and leadership skills which have helped transform the sanctuary from a small struggling grassroots start up 501©(3) into a financially viable horse rescue which is now capable of housing and caring for 18-22 horses regularly.
Some of Brown’s responsibilities year-round include writing grants and individual proposals as well as organizing and conducting the annual fundraising event “Beer for My Horses.” All of these responsibilities handled by Brown provide life-changing opportunities for abandoned, abused and neglected equines through improved facilities, proper feed, veterinary care, farrier care, etc.
According to Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary in their nomination letter, there is no job too big or small for Brown’s skills and she has done everything from mucking out stalls to doctoring any animal needing help. She has also been responsible for over $100,000 in charitable giving to the sanctuary.
“Linda Brown is kind and compassionate to those around her. Her love includes the animals and all people lucky enough to have her light in their life. We are blessed that Dr. Brown applies her significant abilities to help the horses of Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary,” the letter reads.
The winners of the Family award were Jerry, Peggy and Sarah Brandt who were nominated by The Ashe County Little Theatre.
Jerry has spent numerous volunteer hours at the Ashe Civic Center helping with set up and break down of events, assisting with the organization of tools and supplies as well as the everyday physical labor of building whatever is needed. He has also worked backstage at the theatre moving scenery, creating special effects and herding actors.
The letter describes him as a mastermind at set building, electrical work and facility maintenance. He is also recognized for always having a creative, straightforward solution to any problem.
Peggy has contributed many volunteer hours including the organization of inventory, house managing and ensuring people are doing their job while encouraging other people to volunteer. She has worked backstage at the little theatre often being a backstage child wrangler and utilizing her organization skills to help make a show happen.
“As a volunteer, her creativity and sewing skills are put to use making costumes, props and set dressing,” the letter reads.
Sarah is described as a bright young lady who loves people. She often volunteers with house managing, ticket taking and providing hospitality.
“She loves theater and enjoys being on stage but can be found volunteering backstage, helping younger children and always being part of the team,” the letter reads.
The Brandt family also volunteers at Bethany United Methodist Church, the Ashe County Sharing Center and the Ashe County Arts Council.
The Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project was selected as the winner for the Faith-Based Entity and were nominated by the Ashe Baptist Association.
Many people, aside from all nonprofit agencies and school employees that are involved contribute to this project and its success.
Businesses donate toys, groups donate books, people purchase wrapping paper and individuals bring boxes for wrapping as well as others providing snacks and drinks for volunteers. In addition, school clubs and church youth groups volunteer to wrap, move and prepare the gifts for distribution to families.
“It’s no small undertaking; numerous hours of preparation, and coordination, and organizing, long days of standing and wrapping fits, and carrying heavy black trash bags with not just one gift but several for each child. The hard work is quick forgotten when someone comes in on distribution day with teary eyes trying to express their gratitude for the gifts they are receiving. Single moms, single dads, grandparents, and sometimes a mom and a dad that are in a hard place with medical issues or out of work; just trying to make a decent life for those children that are in their care,” the letter reads.
Many volunteers return year after year and some that were helped as children are now adults volunteering to share the same blessing that was once offered to them.
“Project Star,” which is organized by Appalachian Senior Programs was the winner for the corporate/business category.
“Project Star” has been sponsored by Appalachian Senior Programs for the past 18 years and serves as a Christmas project for senior citizens residing in the county that are in need.
The project is a collaborative effort, which brings the entire community together. Agencies within the county submit names, which are all kept confidential, of senior citizens who are in need to Appalachian Senior Programs. Each number, along with four or five items the senior may need or want are typed on a star to hang on Christmas trees in different businesses throughout the county.
Those who wish to participate choose a star, purchase the items and return the items to Appalachian Senior Programs where they are bagged and distributed to the agencies to be delivered to senior citizens.
“During the 2019 Christmas season, 248 senior citizens received gifts of which many requested only food and warm clothing, many things we take for granted each and every day,” the letter nominating “Project Star” reads.
During the past year, 31 senior citizens received heating and or fuel assistance and throughout the past 18 years, “Project Star” has paid more than $40,000 in fuel and heating bills. This is in addition to delivering more than 4,000 gifts at Christmas to senior citizens most in need as well as homeless and developmentally delayed people in the community.
Thomas-Reid was the individual volunteer winner for his commitment to volunteering to teach the game of chess and so much more to students in all of Ashe County’s elementary schools.
He was nominated by the students and teachers at Blue Ridge Elementary Schools because of the key role he has played in the lives of many fifth and sixth grade students.
He is known as “Mr. Matt” among students and he has a special way of helping students realize their potential through the game of chess and teaching them problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“Even though many of the comments focus on the game of chess, we all know and see Mr. Matt’s dedication to being a mentor for at-risk students. This past December, Mr. Matt organized a chess tournament at the Ashe County Library with all of the elementary schools. The looks of excitement, dedication and determination on all of the students’ faces was something else to see. Anyone could walk into that room and witness the critical thinking and problem-solving going on by the students,” reads the letter submitted on behalf of Thomas-Reid.
Also noted in the letter is his selfless love of at-risk students and his dedication to the students at BRES.
Osborne was selected as the winner among National Service nominees and is a volunteer with the Appalachian Foster Grandparent Program.
While volunteering, Osborne provides one-on-one tutoring for children who need extra help with subjects including reading, math and spelling at Blue Ridge Elementary School.
She is 71 years old and has been involved with the program for the past two years. The benefits reaped from the Foster Grandparent Program is a three-fold process. The children benefit from the love and extra help from the Foster Grandparent, the station benefits from a caring volunteer always ready to help and the Foster Grandparent benefits from the love that is returned from the children.
“The kids come in and the first thing and last thing they do each day is hug the Foster Grandparent. The volunteers help to fill a void in a child’s life. Although Connie has not been in our program very long we feel she is the true definition of what a Foster Grandparent volunteer should be,” reads the letter nominating Osborne.
Also in the letter, Osborne is described as a wonderful asset to the second grade classroom she volunteers in. She checks students’ daily folders and homework to make sure its been completed, assists students while they are working independently and plays review games or participates in math activities with small groups.
“If Grandma Connie is not at school when the students arrive, they immediately ask where she is and why she isn’t there. She is a vital asset to our classroom. Our students are always making pictures for her, giving her little handmade gifts and lots of hugs,” reads the letter.
Miller was selected as one of the winners in the youth volunteer category for her service at Southern Sun Farm Sanctuary.
In the letter of nomination, Miller was described “an all-together extraordinary young person who will become an exceptional young woman.”
As a little girl, Miller always seemed to be at her best and most comfortable when surrounded by animals. By the time she was nine years old she starting coming to the rescue any chance she got.
While volunteering, she does whatever needs to be done from mucking out stalls and filling water buckets to washing and grooming horses and ponies.
Some of her favorite animals she cared for are mentioned in the letter and include a three-legged donkey taken by Animal Control from an abusive owner who had left the donkey with a broken, unusable leg. Miller was extremely shy around people at the time and developed a trusted bond with the donkey.
One rescue that was exceptionally special to Miller was a horse named Apple Jack who she wished to adopt. Apple Jack was an older horse that became extremely ill and eventually succumbed to a fatal disease.
“But until then, Halei would come out each day she could after school to care for the old horse and finally holding his big head in her lap as Apple Jack was humanely euthanized. She said she didn’t want him to be alone. She wanted the horse to feel loved. On that day Halei taught the adults and children alike what real courage and compassion is about,” reads the letter.
Henson has always had a heart for service. When she was in pre-school she began making little trees out of scrap pine cuttings and wood she gathered at her family’s tree lot. She would share these “little trees” with children who visited the lot to strike up friendships.
By the time she was 7 or 8 years old, she worked with her grandpa Bill Henson to improve the trees using fresh product instead of the scraps. She came to her mother Dana with the idea to travel to town to sell her trees.
She walked from store to store, asking store owners if they would like to purchase one of the trees for $1. The owners of The Hotel Tavern took an interest in Henson and purchased a little tree to put on each table in the restaurant. They also spoke with her about how she began this project and motivated her to make and sell the trees for charity.
“She has been selling trees and giving to charity for 3 years now. She donated $765 to St. Jude her first year, $1,000 to Pender County Topsail Elementary School Hurricane Relief Fund her second year and $1,500 to St. Jude her third year,” reads the letter nominating Henson.
Frosty’s Choose and Cut in West Jefferson allows Henson to sell and deliver her trees at their site and has substantially helped her increase her giving. She works many cold afternoons, weekends and snow days making and delivering “Chloe’s Christmas Trees” with her grandfather.
McPherson was nominated for her outstanding work as Director of Volunteers at Ashe County Public Library.
She has been employed at the library since 2014 and works as the library’s Adult and Teen Services manager where she directly supervises two other employees and oversees the management of volunteers.
“Laura is a liaison to our community, serving on committees and boards that partner with the library in various ways. After completing a local leadership program, she found ways to become more involved with outreach and strengthened partnerships in our county. She served on the Chamber of Commerce’s member services committee; another way to get word out about library events and learn how our library can help satisfy needs of the community,” reads the letter of nomination.
McPherson has joined a community action group called “Hands Up for the Homeless” and helped coordinate a drive to provide essential cold-weather items for those experiencing homelessness in the county.
Along with her department, she hosts an annual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program to coordinate appointment for community members with Friends of the Library and volunteers. Last year, the library’s VITA program was credited with helping participants receive over half-a-million dollars in refunds.
Since the library is considered to be the campus library to the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College, McPherson also serves as a connection to students and teachers there. She recently designed a special program for teens called “Stories to Service” which provides meaningful volunteer experiences integrating reading, service opportunities and leadership while encouraging participants to be lifelong learners who view the library as an epicenter for information and community engagement.
The winner of the Group/Team nominees were the Ashe Memorial Hospital Volunteers.
Team members have volunteered with AMH anywhere from a couple of months to 20 plus years for a combined 164.5 years of service. These volunteers assist in many areas of AMH including the Medical/Surgical Floor, Monitor Bed Unit, Labor & Delivery, Surgical Day Center, Physical Therapy, Emergency Department Registration, Emergency Department, Out Patient Registration, Scheduling, Human Resources and Mountain Hearts Center.
The team was nominated by Human Resources Supervisor, Teresa Patrick, who expressed how the team goes above and beyond when it comes to helping both community members and AMH.
The recognized volunteers include Dorothy Vannoy, Linda Crest-Cooper, Charlene Wilcox, Ronald Huber, Walter “Walt” Peterson, Timothy Roten, Addie Fairchild, Gwynita Steele, Sam Howell, Pamela sawyer, Mary “Midge” Presnell, Pamela Guion & Governor, Jo’anne Kuszaj, Robert “Chip” Ritchie, Katy Easley, Della Jones, Michael Sawyer, Jane Huber, Lois “Cookie” Parker, Frank Ward, Tamela “Tammy” Cooper and Alexis Treadway.
“I cannot imagine what our county would be like without our many volunteers who provide unselfish countless hours serving and sharing their time and talents without any expectations for recognition or compensation,” said Commissioner Larry Dix. “Words just do not come close to expressing our appreciation to them.”
2020 Ashe County Commissioners’ Volunteer Awards nominees
Mary Zell Absher
Dr. Linda D Brown
National Service Nominees:
Betty Ann Miller
Virginia Sue Roten
Nathaniel D. Miller
Robert F. Miller
Alexis Noelle Taylor
Austin Reed Taylor
Olivia Lynn Taylor
American Red Cross Blood Mobile
Appalachian Foster Grandparent Program
Appalachian Senior Companion Program
Ashe County Arts Council
Ashe County Heart Association
Ashe County Little Theatre
Christmas in July Festival
Jim’s Corner Furniture
Medi Home Health & Hospice
We Care Planning Committee-BROC
West Jefferson Community Partnership
Director of Volunteers:
Faith-Based Entity Nominees:
Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project
Bald Mountain Baptist Church Senior Encouragers
Bethany United Methodist Church
Fletcher Memorial Baptist Church Youth Group
Glendale Springs Presbyterian Church
Green’s Chapel Singers
Mt. Vernon Baptist Church Choir
Reverend Dennis Washburn
Reverend Dominick Mongiove
Reverend Steve LeaShomb
Riders of Faith of North Carolina
Shelter Baptist Church
Temple Baptist Church Choir
The Parise Brigade
The Parish of the Holy Communion
Warrensville Baptist Church Ladies Group
Warrensville Methodist Church
West Jefferson First Baptist Church
W.J Baptist Church – Men’s Group
W.J. First Baptist Church – Mission Friends Group
W.J. First Baptist Church – Mission Kids Group
Jerry, Peggy & Sarah Brandt
Ashe County Arts Council Transition Team
Ashe County Veterans Honor Guard & Auxiliary
Ashe Memorial Hospital Volunteers
Ashe Senior Center VITA Program
Carroll Jolly & “Molly Jolly”
Fiddlesticks Youth Jam
J.J. Johnson & “Twinky”
Jefferson Breakdown Band
Jefferson Lodge #38
Medicare SHIIP Program
Pam Guion & “ Governor”
Ron Smith & Family
Sarah Borders & Friends
Tri-M Music Honor Society
Luz Maria Chico-Soto
Tamela “Tammy” Cooper
Rose Ellen Farrington
Guy Graybeal Jr.
Kwi Su (Kay McNeill)
Robert D Miller
Pearl E. Osborne
Lois “Cookie” Parker
Jakolia (Cookie) Parsons
James (Jim) Parsons
Walter “Walt” Peterson
Dr. Matthew Thomas-Reid
David H. Richardson
Robert “Chip” Ritchie
Jennifer S. Russell
Pamela J Stamper
Sydney Marie Taylor