1000 x 90

Ashe County Young Professionals: Build, Connect, & Contribute

ACYP prides itself on offering social events where people are encouraged to meet others and build connections. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Laura Piselli, Dolly Reaves, Holly Epley, and Bailey Little. In the back row, from left are Joshua Biggers and Jason Barker.

By Harley Nefe

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Three
years later, communities are still seeing the lasting effects of that global event. However, since
then, groups have been emerging to overcome the challenges.

One group in particular is Ashe County Young Professionals, which is sponsored by the
Business and Community Development Committee of the Ashe County Chamber of
Commerce. According to its description, ACYP is a program designed to create a meaningful
network of dedicated, talented young professionals aged 21-45 in Ashe County.

“We realized that there were a lot of groups during Covid that were impacted, and we would
argue that that 21-45 group probably suffered socially as much as anyone else,” explained Rebecca Greer, Board of Directors Vice Chair and Chair of the Business and Community Development Committee.

Greer further shared that the Business and Community Development Committee actively seeks
new ways to support the business and local community in Ashe County. Some of its sponsored
programs include Leadership Ashe, Connect Ashe, Small Business Consulting Group, as well as Ashe County Young Professionals.

ACYP began around two years ago when an idea from an Ashe resident at the time, Harrison
Little, was presented in an executive meeting to Kitty Honeycutt, who is the Executive Director
of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce.

“ACYP was created to help young people find like-minded connections to form worthwhile
personal connections,” said Joshua Biggers, ACYP Committee Moderator. “Groups of people
with the same objectives are stronger together.”

Harrison Little asked if there was a way to form the group through the Chamber, and the
conversations were started.

“Our focus as Business and Community Development Chair is we want to provide resources
and guidance to make sure we are adhering to what the Chamber’s mission is, but at the same
time, we want ACYP to have autonomy,” Greer said.

The Ashe County Young Professionals’ mission is to create a platform for members to build
professional and personal relationships, become philanthropically and socially active, and
contribute to the high quality of life in Ashe County.

ACYP is sponsored by the Business and Community Development Committee of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce. From left: Bailey Little, Natasha Romans, Megan Rupard, Joshua Biggers, and Sam Holmes. Photos courtesy of ACYP.

“This is something that is greatly needed in Ashe County, and we have big hopes for this
committee to finally come to fruition,” said Bailey Little, Committee Scribe. “ACYP’s former
leaders all had the same hopes and desires for the group but had to step down due to other
personal commitments, which we completely understand. We are happy to say that the
committee is once again under new leadership, and there is a game plan for the group to have
wings and take off.”

Bailey Little serves as a co-leader of ACYP along with Joshua Biggers. The both of them have
been collaborating with Kitty Honeycutt and Rebecca Greer.

“Both Mrs. Honeycutt and Mrs. Greer are extremely supportive of young professionals in Ashe and want to see us succeed/develop our own ways to socialize and get involved,” Little said. “We believe that now, with the involvement of a steady number of committed members, ACYP will be able to be on the path to reaching its true potential and becoming a representation of the young professionals in Ashe County.”

Greer mentioned that her vision for the future of ACYP is increased membership.
“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t have an understanding of what a professional is,”
Greer said. “I like the way Joshua talks about that because he says anyone can be a
professional in whatever their position is, whether you’re running the drive-thru at McDonald’s
or you’re working at the college. Anybody can be a professional where they are, so I would like
to see a more diverse group in ACYP.”

Biggers further explained, “A young professional is someone who carries themselves with
divinity and self-respect. It’s a person who puts 110% into their job regardless of what their job
encompasses. Anyone can be a professional; it is all in your personal mindset. If you want to
be a professional and carry yourself as a professional, then you are a professional. A
professional is not a label that is given, but a descriptor that must be earned. It’s about seeing
your goals, going after those goals, and letting no obstacles stand in your path.”

Laura Piselli, who was born and raised in Ashe County, works as a registered nurse and is also
an ACYP member. She said she considers herself to be a young professional.

The natural beauty of Ashe County is what attracts many people to move to the area. Photo courtesy of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce.

“I am 26, which I think is considered pretty young. However, I think youth is a state of mind,” Piselli said. “And I am a person with professional goals, interests, and passions, but I think being a professional is also a state of mind. Whether you have a career outside of your home, or you are a homesteader, whatever you are doing is worthwhile if it gives you a sense of purpose, and you are doing it with mindfulness and care.”

One of ACYP’s newest members, Jeff Carlton, has been living in Ashe County full-time since
August of 2020. He underwrites commercial insurance for Jackson Sumner & Associates and shared that he identifies as a young professional as well.

“I consider myself to work in a professional field and to still be pretty young,” Carlton
explained. “I just turned 30 this month, but when I look to my mentors, in my field and in my life, they are great examples of how hard it is to define ‘young.’ Sometimes there is a negative connotation. For instance, you may consider someone to be inexperienced, but I prefer a definition that includes a passion for life – in the sense that I’m striving to be a young professional for a long, long time.”

Carlton said he is passionate about culinary explorations and outdoor recreation, and the
beauty of the area is what caught his attention in addition to the wonderful people that he has
had the fortune of getting to know. He learned of ACYP through an invitation from another

“Since the community and the county have treated me so well, I feel like it’s my duty to be an
active member in any way that I can,” Carlton said. “I hope to connect with, learn from, and
share unique experiences with other area professionals, be it through charitable opportunities,
social events, or professional networking. I believe it to be very important to uphold community
values and to work towards a more prosperous and positive future.”

Piselli found out about ACYP through Little, who has been her friend since middle school.
“I decided to join this group because I believe in the power of community. Community is a
resource. It is something that can be so grounding for people’s day to day lives, therefore
having an impact on their mental health and the way they may function in times of crisis,”
Piselli said. “It can also create a ripple effect if we choose to use the power of community for
the common good. ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is such a wonderful saying that I think
should also be applied to various stages of our life. It takes a village to make career choices. It
takes a village to move to a new house. It takes a village to get through a break up. It takes a
village to find my unique role in the big picture. It takes a village to get through life!”

Jason Barker, Communications Coordinator for ACYP, can be found posting flyers around town inviting people to get involved in the community. Photo by Joshua Biggers.

The level of peace and the comforting sense of knowing everyone in the small town are some of Piselli’s favorite aspects of Ashe County.

“Finding a sense of community in a county like this is not difficult,” Piselli explained. “You need only to be willing to put yourself out there. I love how friendly everyone is, and the culture of Appalachia, which is difficult to sum up, but I would say people here take pride in where they are from. Their family trades, southern hospitality, and being tough yet loving people. Passing people in the store, folks say hello and ask how your family is doing. Even as I am driving up my road to my house people will give the infamous ‘finger wave’ as they pass by. The beauty of the mountains is a close second favorite part of living here. There is no place more beautiful in the world to me than the meadows, mountains, streams, and hollers of the Blue Ridge. Hiking trails, kayaking the New River, or simply sitting in my backyard on a beautiful day is as close to paradise as I can think of in a place like this.”

Biggers, who has lived in Ashe County for nearly four years and appreciates experiencing all four seasons and the many outdoor activities, also heard of ACYP through the word of mouth grapevine.

“I saw a group that had a lot of potential but lacked some direction, and they were in need of someone to take a leadership role, so I volunteered,” Biggers described. “Being a professor, it is my job to see what students are capable of and then showing that to them and making them want to achieve it. Getting through to us young people can be a daunting task, but I like a challenge so I accepted the role.”

Little joined ACYP in April 2022 when she attended her first meeting after hearing about the group from one of her friends who was a member.

“I was instantly intrigued and contacted the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce for more information and upcoming meeting dates,” Little shared. “As a young professional, it sparked my interest to hear of such a group in our community. Growing as a leader is something that I make an effort to work on in both my personal and professional endeavors. I believed that by joining this group as a member, I would grow as a leader and be able to give back to my community, which is also something I am passionate about. When I joined ACYP, I never imagined that I would end up being one of the leaders of the committee or that it would happen so quickly. However, I am happy to be in this position and have the opportunity to help build the foundation and complete the groundwork for its future.”

Jason Barker, who is the Communications Coordinator for ACYP, also joined last year.

From left: Sam Holmes, Abbey Holmes, Bailey Little, Dolly Reaves, Laura Piselli,
Katie Krogmeier, and Joshua Biggers. Front: Jason Barker. Photo courtesy of ACYP.

“I am happy to be back this year with a new set of people, a new outlook on how we would like
to approach keeping our members involved for the long haul, and new things that we hope to
accomplish,” Barker said.

Little further explained that the redefined mission of ACYP, first and foremost, is to get out and

“We are still experiencing some lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Little said. “It
was a long two years where people of all ages experienced loneliness and felt shut off from
society. Some of us still fall victim to that rut, especially if we get into the routine of only going
to work and coming home. We need an extra layer of socialization, in addition to our
relationships with coworkers and families. ACYP can be that!”

Piselli added, “It’s important because loneliness and lack of purpose is something we all can
experience. Post-college life can leave people floundering because no one is laying it out for
you anymore, and it is your time to make life what you want it to be. You aren’t surrounded by
people with similar interests and struggles anymore. A group like this can assist in that
transition period and provide purpose and community.”

Members of ACYP meet regularly to discuss community and social issues, build relationships,
and plan events to benefit needs in the county.

“I hope members gain friends first and foremost,” Biggers said. “Next, I want them to gain a
feeling of fulfillment in helping people around Ashe.”

The group gets together around two to three times each month.

“We at the Chamber all agree that what ACYP is doing right now – building those connections,
having those social events, getting back out together – is really key,” Greer said. “The goal in
mind is for them to be contributing back to Ashe too, whether it’s through volunteer
opportunities or organizing events, but we understand that that base, that familiarity, and those
friendships have to happen first.”

Barker shared that there is a reason why socializing is a big part of the group.

Ashe County Chamber of Commerce staff, from left, include Kathleen George, Natalie Lea, April Colvard, and Kitty Honeycutt. Photo courtesy of the Chamber.

“Those who work together should also enjoy having a good time together,” Barker said. “A
work/play balance is very important in life and can sometimes be hard to achieve. Having
social outings as a group creates a reward program also, which helps to keep members
involved and doing things together. Those who do not wish to participate in the community
outreach events, will not get to enjoy our social outings. Social outings become a privilege –
one earned through involvement and consistency.”

To help build those friendships, members of ACYP have participated in various activities
together like escape rooms, game nights, and enjoying each other’s company at local

“We do need to make sure that we are compliant with regulation since we are a subcommittee
of the Ashe Chamber of Commerce,” Little said. “In the past, there was a big focus at ACYP
meetings on everything we needed to be working on or doing. It is great to be community
involved, but we do not wish for this committee to overwhelm people or add to the stress
everyone is already experiencing as they navigate careers and personal lives. We do want to
give back to the community, of course, but we plan to do this realistically and do not want it to
be the sole focus of our meetings/social events. We will all work together as a group to plan
projects to benefit the Ashe County community using all of our talents, connections and skill

Bailey Little and Sam Holmes are proud members of ACYP, and they look forward to others joining the group. Photo by Joshua Biggers.

And all members of ACYP come from a wide variety of backgrounds. For example, Little has lived in Ashe County for 16 years, as she moved to the area from her hometown of Key West,
Florida, during the summer before 4th grade. She attended Appalachian State University, and now works as an Administrative Assistant at the district level for Ashe County Schools.
When asked what her favorite part about living in Ashe County is, Little answered, “The people and sense of community.”

“It brings a sense of comfort to know that when you go anywhere, there is a possibility you will see someone you know,” Little said. “It warms my heart when I see people helping each other,
whether it be holding the door open for people or covering a portion of someone else’s grocery bill when they are short on money. Even if people do not know you personally, they will often
still smile and wave or greet you in some fashion.”

Barker, who is an entrepreneur, moved to Ashe County six years ago after he fell in love with
living in the mountains back when he attended Western Carolina University. He agreed with
Little about the appeal to Ashe County.

“The laid back atmosphere, the small town feel, and the amazing people that I have gotten to know since I moved here are the best parts,” Barker said.

The Ashe County Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit voluntary membership association that serves as the unified voice for nearly 500 member businesses, individuals, and nonprofits in and around the High Country. Photo courtesy of the Chamber

The overall sense of community in Ashe County is what inspired a lot of members to participate in ACYP.

“ACYP is a great opportunity for young people to meet new like-minded individuals,” Barker described. “I also believe that with the outlets we have in the area for young people to do things, an outlet that allows them to brainstorm on ways they can help the community, and then take action to make those things happen is very important. This helps them work as a team, turn ideas into actionable accomplishments, and grow as people. Members get a chance to grow as people and feel like a part of something bigger than them, and the community gets to reap the rewards of this group, as our goals are to give back to the community in as many creative ways as we can come up with.”

In honor of Friday the 13th, Ashe County Young Professionals put their minds and skills together to complete the spooky challenge of beating the Escape Room at Great Southern Gothic in 55 minutes. Photo courtesy of ACYP.

As far as future events, there are many upcoming opportunities where members will be able to get involved in the community and contribute, such as by working with local food pantries and Generations Ashe.

“I would like to see a wide range of opportunities for serving the community,” Carlton shared. “Such as, but not limited to, river clean ups, food drives, and planting flowers at the hospital, parks, and other public places. There are also opportunities for coat drives, assisting in vocational programs, and tutoring/mentorship. Anything that can be done to help any segments of the community that are under-served – I think we need to show up for them. Whether it’s drug treatment, inmate services, promoting health screenings, providing educational programs for financial literacy, or advocating for nutrition and wellness, I think the possibilities are endless.”

In order to decide on what community service events to partake in, it’s a team effort – members discuss potential ideas and work together to reach out to various community leaders to plan out the best options.

“The purpose of ACYP is to work with local businesses and organizations to boost the economic development needed to propel the next generation into success,” Barker said. “It’s
to work as a group to accomplish our goals, to learn how to work together for a greater good, and to shape the future of this place we call home. We are young, intelligent, and filled with
drive. We plan to put our minds and bodies behind doing things that are helpful to the community while also growing ourselves. Members will gain skills in how to communicate, how to work as a team, and hopefully along the way, how to develop a sense of comradery.” Carlton agreed and said, “I would like to see this group evolve into a successful well-oiled machine that serves the community and its members alike. ACYP is a diverse group of individuals eager to make a positive impact in their community and in their own lives.”

Greer shared that she looks forward to when she sees the group be recognized for who they
are in the community and the impact that they are making.

“I want to hear people out in the community talking about ACYP and telling others about it
because they need to be involved,” Greer said. “That’s what I want to see because I think then
we’ll truly see the impact, and we’ll see more people involved and being part of the

As far as the future of ACYP goes, Biggers shared that his vision is to see a path for younger

“ACYP will soon be an everyday term around Ashe,” Biggers described. “When people see a
sign, they will say, ‘I know them; my grandson helps them.’ ACYP is important because the youth are the future. That’s not just an expression, it is a fact. We have to help the youth find ways to help and connect with the local community, and this is the best avenue. ACYP aims to develop meaningful and purposeful relationships between the future leaders of Ashe County.”
Barker added, “My vision is to see this group create a way forward for those who will come behind us, to lay the groundwork for what this group will grow to become, and to use this group as a vehicle for creating our future negotiators and change makers.”

When speaking about his fellow group members, Barker said, “I can see many great talents in each member, and I look forward to seeing them use those talents to help push our message and to do great things in the community.”

With everyone having different experiences, Biggers explained that “each member of ACYP brings their own flare. Each member offers their own ideas, which allows ACYP to be multifunctional as well as multidimensional.”

However, ACYP couldn’t have formed without the involvement and dedication of leadership and members alike.

“I am appreciative of our leaders taking on the challenge of running this group in their already busy lives, and I am very appreciative of how positive and kind everyone has been so far,” Piselli shared. “It has already helped me to meet new people, make new friends, and have a
new sense of purpose. I hope to continue to make new friends, be a friend to others, and spread some joy and love throughout this community by helping others and just enjoying life

People are encouraged to experience Ashe County’s four-season climate, charming towns, and unforgettable natural scenery. Photo courtesy of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce.

Little added, “I would like to say that I appreciate my fellow group members. I appreciate their trust and them believing in me. One of our group members has told me repeatedly that they are so happy that Joshua and I took over the group and that it is here in Ashe County. So far, as a group, we are enjoying getting to know each other and sharing ideas of what we can do to
support local businesses and organizations. It is really special that people in their 20s and 30s
are both present and future-minded and want to make a difference in the county they live in. I
admire everyone’s passion for their professions as well. We have a diverse group of people
with knowledge in various fields. I think that is a strength, and I am excited to see what we will
accomplish by working together.”

For individuals who are interested in joining Ashe County Young Professionals, they are encouraged to contact Joshua Biggers at joshuaacyp@gmail.com or Bailey Little at baileyacyp@gmail.com to learn about the process. People can also learn more about ACYP by visiting the social media platforms @ashecoyoungprofessionals on Instagram and Ashe County Young Professionals on Facebook. There is an annual fee of $30 for Ashe County Chamber of Commerce members and $40 for non-Chamber members to join ACYP as well as an application form. Membership includes invitations to all gatherings and ACYP events. For more information, call the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce at 336-846-9550.

Ashe County welcomes all to come and explore downtown West Jefferson. Photo courtesy of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce.

“This group cannot be successful or reach its goals without dedicated members who have a
passion for serving Ashe,” Carlton said. “I would encourage anyone who is making a life in this
community to take a moment and find a way to give back through service. If ACYP doesn’t feel
like that right fit, find what is, but if you’re even mildly interested, come join us for a meeting
and help shape our future.”

Little extended Carlton’s invitation and said, “We want to continue 2023 strong and begin the
transformation of this group into what we as a collective would like it to be. We want to allow
those who are interested and dedicated to the committee and its future success to be as
involved as possible. Come to our next meet up, introduce yourself, share your ideas, and have