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High Country Caregivers Executive Director Advises Avery Commissioners of the Organization’s Existing and Upcoming Programs

By Tim Gardner

High Country Caregivers Executive Director Jacob Willis told the Avery County Commissioners at their regular monthly meeting on August 1 in the County Administration Building in Newland about the existing programs the organization has in Avery County and upcoming programs that will be implemented with grant funding recently received.

Willis noted that all these programs will greatly benefit Avery Countians who qualify for such assistance, as the commissioners Martha Hicks (Chairperson), Tim Phillips, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., Blake Vance and Dennis Aldridge agreed.

High Country Caregivers currently is devoting much of its work to helping grandparents who are raising their grandchildren or other kinship caregivers as a result of the Opioid drug crisis, Willis said. 

He noted that Avery is currently the second largest county in terms of the number of clients the organization serves.

“Currently, we’re serving 52 families in Avery, and I know there’s a lot more in the county who need our help,” said Willis, who became High Country Caregivers Executive Director in 2019.

The organization currently provides various forms of assistance to families including paying for legal fees and essential items the children need, helping pay bills, paying the fees for children to get involved in recreational activities and giving each child $250 worth of Christmas presents every year, Willis said. 

This fall, High Country Caregivers will also host a hiking adventure through Snakeroot Ecotours and an overnight camp for the children in Avery County.  Then in December, a business incubator program will be initiated by High Country Caregivers. In that program, children will learn skills to prepare them for adulthood, such as how to sew, bake, cook, change a tire and vehicle oil, balance a checkbook, open a bank account and related skills, according to Willis.

“I think our programs can be life changing in most positive manners for many of these kids,” he said.

Avery County Manager Phillip Barrier, Jr. holds the High Country Caregivers in highest esteem and how they’re benefiting Avery County.

“Jacob and his staff are as good as you’ll find in their chosen field of work and they have helped so many needy individuals—especially children– in our county,” Barrier, Jr. said.  “The High Country Caregivers organization also has an excellent and very dedicated Board of Directors most dedicated to providing forms of care to so many people.  On behalf of the commissioners and all our county’s residents we extend deep gratitude to High Country Caregivers for all their help.

“I strongly encourage anyone who can use their help to contact them as it’s their sincerest desire to help all they can.”

Willis has a vast background in addictive behavior therapy and counseling. He worked 10 years as clinical chaplain at Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, an 856-bed facility. He also worked as the Director of Philanthropy and Marketing for Compassionate Care of Western North Carolina.  And Willis is a past Chairperson of the Mitchell County Board of Social Services and Board of Commissioners.

Willis’s staff has decades of combined experience and expertise in their chosen profession and consists of Marty Wilson (Program Director); Caroline Johnson (Kinship Navigator); Nathan Brown (Public Relations and Media Outreach Specialist); and Pana Columbus (Community Relations/Program Director).

Founded in 2006, High Country Caregivers Foundation became a model entity for strengthening the quality of life for older citizens and their families through partnerships with government agencies, other nonprofit community agencies, private enterprise and academic resources.  It serves Avery, Watauga, Mitchell and Wilkes, NC counties.

The High Country Caregiver Foundation worked to help the High Country Area Agency on Aging fulfill the mandates of the federal Older Americans Act of 1965. In 2018, the High Country Caregivers Board of Directors, along with the local Area Agency on Aging, recognized the need for the High Country Caregiver Foundation to become a true standalone non-profit organization. The High Country Caregiver Foundation had grown into the leading resource for grandparents raising grandchildren in the High Country. With both parties in agreement, High Country Caregivers Foundation became simply High Country Caregivers — the board of directors seeing the founders’ vision to be a true standalone, non-profit organization come to fruition.

High Country Caregivers continues to take the lead role in the High Country for coordinating and advocating for the development of a comprehensive community based service to meet the needs of the region’s caregivers, and to respond to issues confronting the rapidly growing older population and their families.

For more information about the High Country Caregivers organization and the programs and assistance it offers, call (828) 832-6366; go to its offices at 895 State Farm Road, Suite 400-B in Boone from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; or log on to its web site (highcountrycaregivers.com).