Chamber Announces 2020 Community Award Winners

Posted By: David Jackson Chamber News ,

With the business portion of the 71st Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Membership Meeting presented in August, the organization is pleased to announce its 2020 Community Award Winners.

A total of nine awards are being presented to local leaders and organizations that played a significant role in the High Country’s response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two new honors have been added in 2020: The #KeepBooneHealthy Award for Community Leadership and the Kathy Crutchfield Citizen of the Year Award.

Silver Linings, an hour-long documentary detailing Boone and Watauga County’s COVID-19 response, will provide an account of the challenges endured throughout the pandemic and told through the achievements and experiences of this year’s award winners.

The program debuts Thursday, December 17th, at 7PM on Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and will air locally on Skybest TV and AppTV. Full broadcast details and archives of the annual meeting programs will be made available at BooneChamber.com.

The 2020 Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting and Awards Presentation is presented by First Horizon Bank with additional sponsorship support from Peak Insurance Group, and Spangler Restoration.

2020 Community Award Winners

Wade Brown Award for Community Involvement: Watauga County Schools Child Nutrition & Transportation Departments

With COVID-19 spreading across the country, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced the closing of public schools to in-person instruction in mid-March. The Watauga County Schools Child Nutrition & Transportation departments quickly re-tooled their operation to provide fresh meals to school-aged children throughout the county.

Thanks to Federal and State funding flexibility, the Child Nutrition Department created remote sites where families could receive meals throughout the week. The Transportation Department used school busses to reach those with transportation barriers, ensuring children of all ages, and in all locations, had access to fresh food regardless of school enrollment.

 These efforts helped serve over 250,000 meals to Watauga County children and families from mid-March through July.

The Wade Brown Award for Community Involvement is the Chamber’s oldest award, dating back to 1979.  Named after the first recipient of the honor, this award recognizes a significant contribution through community engagement. The award is sponsored annually by Boone Golf Club.

Ben Suttle Special Services Award:  Todd Hendley, Ransom Pub

Todd Hendley attended a meeting in early March focused on community food distribution challenges created by the pandemic’s impact. Hendley and brother Doc pooled the resources of Ransom Pub and Wine to Water to create a food box program.

Each box contained a week’s supply of 40-meals along with personal hygiene materials. The boxes were then distributed to families in need, starting with service industry workers who were quickly displaced from jobs resulting from the impact of the economic shutdown.

Hendley created a pool of volunteers, consisting of local residents and non-profit agencies, to assemble and distribute the boxes. The crew navigated COVID-19 protocols to organize food supplies provided by area vendors and local businesses, filling boxes each week with fresh chicken, deli meat, Stick Boy bread, along with fruits and vegetables.

In its first week, the program provided 16,000 meals to area residents. In late-spring, Cornerstone Summit Church provided extra space to help the operation expand its fulfillment capacity. From mid-March through early December, the program has distributed over 175,000 meals, and is still providing boxes weekly to those in need. Boxes are distributed throughout the county by volunteers or made available for pickup at Cornerstone Summit Church each week.

The Ben Suttle Special Services Award, named for the former Boone Town Councilman, recognizes the spirit of volunteerism in the community.

everGREEN Award for Sustainability: High Country Food Hub

The High Country Food Hub was founded in 2016 to boost distribution within the local food system. In February 2020, the High Country Food Hub’s online farmer’s market generated weekly revenue of $4,300, serving just over 100 customers with goods and products from 60 local growers per week.

As the COVID-19 impact was felt, a peak of 521 customers was attained in late April and a single-week revenue high of $30,128 was collected May 2nd. Since the spring spike in demand, numbers have held steady, averaging 320 customers each week from July to present and 1,343 new customers for the year.

The High Country Food Hub onboarded a significant number of producers in 2020, from around 60 businesses at the beginning of the year to 82 businesses at present. Several area restaurants were able to distribute ready-made meal kits to help continue their operations while their in-person restaurant service was slowed or suspended.

The High Country Food Hub also provided a new market for producers who routinely delivered food directly to the restaurant community. The staff worked to quickly expand freezer space and dry-storage at a critical time, allowing farmers to continue to bring food and other products to customers who were craving a contactless environment.

The High Country Food Hub’s enhanced profits have been used to hire more staff and purchase more equipment, working hard to ensure that 84% of what is sold through the operation goes into the pockets of local producers.

The everGREEN Award for Sustainability is presented to a business, organization, project, or person who has furthered the inclusion and integration of sustainable development principles. This annual award is sponsored by Mast General Store.

Dan Meyer Partnership Award: Boone Drug, Inc & Go Postal in Boone

With businesses and consumers all seeking supplies like hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and other forms of PPE, those in more critical need of these necessary items were finding them hard to obtain. When Appalachian Regional Healthcare System put out a plea for donations of hand sanitizer for use in their facilities, Boone Drug, Inc. quickly responded with a locally sourced option.

The Boone Drug team worked on compounding their own hand sanitizing agent, and using USP protocols, they developed a locally-made hand sanitizer that was fully compliant with the health and safety requirements needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Once their “recipe” was set, they produced and bottled a supply quickly, but lacked the ability to properly label their stock.

The design team at GoPostal in Boone entered the project and produced detailed labels that contained all necessary health and safety information to meet distribution standards. They printed the labels in-house and created an assembly line to tag all of the supply Boone Drug produced. Then also assisted with the expedited local distribution of valuable hand sanitizer to area healthcare facilities.

The Dan Meyer Community Partnership Award recognizes a community leader for their efforts to bring multiple parties together for a common cause. Meyer served as President/CEO of the Chamber for 12-years before retiring in August of 2016. The award is sponsored annually by LifeStore Bank.

Alfred Adams Award for Economic Development: Watauga Opportunities

Watauga Opportunies, Inc produces a variety of products within three manufacturing divisions: medical devices, custom plastic thermoforming, and packaging/subassembly. They also serve as a non-profit community rehabilitation program providing vocational training, job placement, employment opportunities, community opportunities and residential services to adults who have barriers to employment and community inclusion.

With dedicated space to assemble test tubes and other equipment for the medical industry, the Boone-based organization has become a major contributor to the nation’s much needed COVID-19 test kit supply.

Working with Sarstedt, Inc out of Spartanburg, Watauga Opportunities, Inc received an initial order in March to assemble 750,000 collection sample vials for use in COVID-19 test kits. Just one month later, Sarstedt returned to order 1 million vials. As demand continued to increase, Watauga Opportunities began to hire staff at a time where many other industries were forced to shed workforce.

Now with a standing order for nearly 2 million vials per month, Watauga Opportunities, Inc completes a significant step in the supply chain that provides COVID-19 test kits to the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, and North Carolina-based Lab Corp. In early December, the staff in Boone passed the 10 million mark of vials assembled.

In addition to their enhanced manufacturing work, Watauga Opportunities continues to offer a wide array of vocational services for people with disabilities in a variety of virtual and in-person settings. Their Pre-Employment Training Services reach students in 25 high schools from Asheville to Sparta, providing students virtual job training and other curriculum to prepare them for life after high school. 

WOI staff have partnered with some businesses to provide socially-distanced work plans to allow for in-person employment to continue, or have provided alternate programming in a virtual setting to continue to distribute their vocational services. Close to 750 Watauga Opportunities clients are served by the agency annually.

The Alfred Adams Award for Economic Development recognizes individuals and/or organizations who have worked for the orderly growth and development of Boone and Watauga County. Adams served as a local banker and provided an influence on many Chamber committees in the organization’s formative years. This award is sponsored annually by Wells Fargo.

#KeepBooneHealthy Award for Community Leadership: David Jackson, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors established the #KeepBooneHealthy Award for Community Leadership in 2020. This honor will be given annually to a person or organization whose leadership has been pivotal to maintaining the health and vibrancy of our community. The award is aimed at recognizing leadership that rises above the work of any one business or agency in order to unite and mobilize business, government, non-profit, and civic partners toward an improved quality of life for our entire community. 

The inaugural recipient of the #KeepBooneHealthy Award for Community Leadership is David Jackson, President/CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jackson and the Boone Area Chamber staff worked throughout the pandemic response to connect local businesses and individuals with information and resources while working to communicate details surrounding the ever-evolving stack of Executive Orders, ordinances, support programs, and regulations.

The Chamber created the #KeepBooneHealthy campaign to aid in distributing public health messages related to the pandemic response, to communicate the value of local purchase decisions as businesses adjust to new economic challenges, and to consider strategies aimed at helping the High Country economy quickly rebound once the impact of the public health crisis subsides.

Jackson led a staff that enhanced communication with local businesses as government loan and support programs were deployed, created virtual events and roundtables to discuss relevant business operations topics, and continue to connect businesses with local healthcare and government contacts to ensure operational stability as regulations and guidance continues to evolve.

Baker/Jones Woman of the Year Award: Yolanda Adams

At a time where communication is critical, Yolanda Adams has worked to connect families throughout Watauga County with trusted information and timely resources.

Adams primarily serves as Family Resource Coordinator for Watauga County Schools, but assists a number of agencies including Town of Boone Police, Watauga County Department of Social Services, and the Children’s Advocacy Center in communication with the Latino community.

As school operations changed and new government programs were announced, Adams served as a valuable information conduit, making sure families were able to keep up with the quickly evolving landscape and stayed connected with resources. She also advocated with State and Local governments to provide COVID-19 related safety information in a bilingual format in public places.

Adams has long been a connector between the Latino Community and local businesses. In 2020, she started Q’Pasa Appalachia, a bilingual video podcast series that served as a vehicle to teach Spanish-speaking residents about products and services provided by local area businesses, while  giving those businesses a chance to break the language barrier to connect with new audiences. With over 60,000 views in less than 7 months, the channel has been a helpful tool for Adams to pass detailed information to the Latino Community about issues like local school operations, business openings, and recreational opportunities.

In addition to her voice as a connector, Adams provides translation services for families in a variety of settings. She has been a long-standing advocate for improved relations between the Latino Community and local law enforcement agencies, starting Coffee with a Cop as a series of in-person engagements aimed to enhance understanding of culture between both groups.

The Baker-Jones Woman of the Year award is named for long-time Chamber volunteers Gillian Baker and Susan Jones. This award honors an inspiring member who exemplifies the qualities of leadership, mentorship, and community involvement. This award is co-sponsored annually by Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Blue Ridge Energy.

Sue W. Wilmoth Award for the Advancement of Tourism: Lenny Cottom, Hawksnest Snowtuubing & Zip Line 

As North Carolina worked toward easing restrictions in its Stay-At-Home order in late Spring, local tourism businesses were busy implementing new health and safety protocols.

Lenny Cottom was quick to implement customer and staff safety protocols at Hawksnest Snowtubing and Zip Line and became a local leader in encouraging other businesses to redesign operations with COVID-safety procedures in mind.

Cottom was a steady voice in discussions with local municipalities about calls for enhanced ordinances and guidelines. He maintained that local businesses were used to changing their operations to fit various situational demands and High Country businesses could be counted on to serve visitors within established guidelines, promote safety among staff, and encourage safety for all when interacting with our local communities.

Cottom serves as a member of the Boone Tourism Development Authority Board of Directors.

The Sue W. Wilmoth Award for the Advancement of Tourism is named for the former Chamber Director, who used her influence in tourism promotion to capitalize on the region’s natural resources while balancing progress with preservation. The award is sponsored annually by the Boone and Watauga County Tourism Development Authorities.

Kathy Crutchfield Citizen of the Year Award: Jennifer Greene, AppHealthCare

The Boone Area Chamber of Commerce is pleased to present the inaugural Kathy Crutchfield Citizen of the Year Award.

Crutchfield was a tireless organizer, volunteer, and advisor to numerous non-profits in the High Country Community. She was instrumental in the creation of the annual Back 2 School Festival, which was founded on the belief that every child deserves to start the school year feeling confident and prepared. The annual effort provides school supplies, new shoes & socks, backpacks, haircuts, activities, and helpful information to Watauga county students.

“Kathy’s Corner” is an annual staple at the event, named in honor of Crutchfield’s effort to collect thousands of pairs of shoes and shoe gift cards over the years to ensure all children had access to a new pair of shoes each year at the Back 2 School festival.

Jennifer Greene, Public Health Director/CEO for AppHealthCare, is the first recipient of the Kathy Crutchfield Citizen of the Year Award.

Greene has served as the public face of the COVID-19 response over the past year, providing public health and safety information over AppHealthCare’s three-county service area. She leads a staff that works closely with the community to outline evolving health and safety procedures, and coordinates response efforts with local emergency management agencies and other community partners. Greene also coordinates the daily distribution of date regarding case trends, testing metrics, and other data points used to inform the community about the COVID-19 public health impacts.

As the pandemic impact evolved through the late spring, Greene and her staff created the Show Your Love campaign. Using positive and proactive messaging to inform residents and visitors about public health and safety guidelines, the effort promoted consistency in signage, verbiage, and other messaging throughout Ashe, Alleghany, and Watauga Counties.

Greene participated in State-level discussions that led to the deployment of enhanced contract tracing methods and tools used by public health agencies across the North Carolina. She has provided countless daily situation reports to local and State government officials, local education partners, area businesses, and residents. Her team established procedures to help businesses confidently asses staff and customer impact when faced with a COVID-19 exposure.

Her efforts to direct AppHealthCare’s COVID-19 response come on top of directing a team over 100 employees that provide daily community, environmental, dental, nutritional, and mental health services over a three-county area.