By Jan Todd
WAMY Community Action’s executive director Melissa Soto was celebrated for her thirty years of service at a surprise party held in her honor at The Beacon in Boone on Sunday, July 24. Staff, family, former clients and other supporters toasted Soto and spoke of her contributions to the organization and to the community.
“Melissa is dedicated to the clients we serve and the staff she leads,” said Allison Jennings, director of development at WAMY. “She is a wonderful role model and inspires us all to do our best.”
WAMY is a Community Action Program, established in 1964 to help low-income families in Watauga, Avery, Mitchell and Yancy Counties. Its programs are designed to fill gaps in the community between the needs of the low-income population and the services that are already available.
The nonprofit’s history includes the creation of transportation authorities, senior centers, Head Start and other initiatives that branched off to operate as other organizations. WAMY programs adapt to the needs and priorities of the community, which may change from year to year.
Most recently, WAMY is addressing the area’s housing crisis by funding and performing necessary repairs on homes for those in need. Soto said, “Many of our clients are elderly or disabled and live in homes that need roofs, electrical repairs or structural repairs. WAMY feels that making the repairs allows people to remain in their homes longer and avoid unnecessary long-term care expenses.”
WAMY also administers the Mountain Adventures Summer Day Camp in Valle Crucis; a free community garden and food pantry in Avery County; and the Total Family Development program providing clients assistance with employment or education goals.
Soto began working at WAMY in 1992 as a case manager in a job training program. “I had a desire to work with clients one-on-one to help them navigate through the journey from being unemployed to finding a meaningful career. I loved the interaction with people and the ability to inspire hope in someone who didn’t think they had options or a future,” Soto said.
Soto was named executive director of WAMY in 2012. She manages a staff of approximately 20 employees across a four-county area, leads fundraising efforts and community outreach and manages agency grants.
“My staff members are the true superheroes of WAMY,” Soto said. “They give their jobs everything they’ve got. Not only do they all make monthly donations back to the agency, but they have worked on housing projects, served food, painted school walls and cleaned client homes.”
Former WAMY client Cameron Moser —who is now a medical social worker with Hospice and a member of WAMY’s board of directors — described Soto as a “humble, kind and selfless presence” at the organization. “Melissa treats everyone like she’s known them for years. She cares about each individual and always finds a way to solve problems,” Moser said.
Soto attended Appalachian State University in the late 1980s, studying accounting and business management. Prior to joining WAMY, Soto worked at the Region D (High Country) Council of Governments, administering job training programs across a seven county area.
“For the past 30 years, Melissa has devoted her career to helping others by offering them the tools and resources needed to overcome poverty,” Jennings said. “Her vision, wisdom and leadership have changed the lives of thousands of people in the High Country and made our community a better place for us all to grow and thrive.”
The Melissa Soto Honorary Fund has been established. All donations given in her honor will support WAMY’s poverty-fighting programs. To donate, visit WamyCommunityAction.org or contact Allison Jennings at email@example.com or 828-264-2421 ext. 107
Gifts made in Melissa’s honor can also be mailed:
WAMY Community Action
225 Birch Street Suite 2
Boone NC 28607