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High Country Charitable Foundation Raises Over $600,000 at Annual Dinner and Dance

By Nathan Ham

Some 200 people came to share their appreciation for the High Country Charitable Foundation at the Fifth Annual High Country Charitable Foundation Dinner and Dance that took place this past Saturday at the Elk River Club in Banner Elk.

Donation totals are still coming together but so far a total of $630,000 has been raised from donations and auction items.

This year’s auction items once again featured some fantastic jewelry, experiences and a secret auction item that ended up being a “Cavapoo” puppy, which is a cross between a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel and a Miniature Poodle. Items included four tickets to “Elton John: Farewell Yellow Brick Road” and two rooms at a luxury hotel, a golf outing in Bermuda, a white gold diamond station necklace, a food truck for 40 prepared by Chef Will Hughes at Robbins Sunset Park in Banner Elk, diamond hoop earrings, two lots of extraordinary bottles of 100 point fine wine, a day of sport fishing and island hopping around Abaco Islands, dinner for 10 at the Inn at Little Pond Farm, a behind-the-scenes tour of the U.S. Capitol led personally by Rep. Virginia Foxx and a diamond tennis bracelet.

Thanks to donations from this event and other fundraisers throughout the year, the High Country Charitable Foundation was able to provide 31 grants to non-profit programs in 2018.

“The not-for-profits would not be able to come near to what they can do today for boys and girls, the elderly, the hungry, for those in need and for animals in distress had it not been for the High Country Charitable Foundation,” said Jim Swinkola, the community liaison for the HCCF.

During the dinner, a video montage allowed grant recipients to share their gratitude and appreciation for what the High Country Charitable Foundation allowed them to do.

Just before the auction started, HCCF Founder Jim Ward was presented with a tree that will be planted in his honor for all that he has been able to do for Avery County.

“We want to say thank you, because of you and your support, the High Country Charitable Foundation has absolutely moved mountains in Avery County. You have changed the lives of animals and people forever. You are deeply and dearly appreciated and loved by everyone in this room,” said Jenny Miller, who served as the auctioneer for the event. “I have lived up here 25 years. The poverty and devastation are amazing. It is hidden, it’s down hollers, it’s humble, and you just don’t see it. But you have gone out of your way to find it with High Country Charitable Foundation. I want you to know that you have raised the level of many of these people in this count to a place of hope and dignity that they have never had before.”

The dinner took place at Elk River Country Club and was organized by Events by Elizabeth Ashley, owned and operated locally by Elizabeth Hempfling.

What Non-Profits Are Saying

Grandfather Home For Children

“We have been in Avery County for 105 years and the High Country Charitable Foundation is amazing. The foundation is the reason we have a working lawnmower, the teachers at our school have Smartboards, and our kids can sleep safely at night because we have fire panels in all of our cottages,” said Sarah Gray with the Grandfather Home for Children. “Grandfather Home cannot operate without the help of organizations like the High Country Charitable Foundation. You cannot go anywhere in Avery County and not hear about a life or a non-profit that has benefitted from the High Country Charitable Foundation. It is a wonderful foundation and at Grandfather, we are forever grateful.”

Lees-McRae College

“The High Country Charitable Foundation is an incredible gift to this community. Through the partnership and what it does to support not just folks in need and the community organizations that make a great impact here, but also help us at Lees-McRae take care of injured wildlife,” said Lee King, the President of Lees-McRae College. “The High Country Charitable Foundation made a wonderful gift to our new wildlife center that has increased our capacity for our students and faculty as they take care of 1,800 injured wildlife throughout western North Carolina.”

Feeding Avery Families

“At the present time, there is in the neighborhood of 3,000 people who are food insecure in Avery County, at least a quarter of whom are children. That means at any given time, 750 to 800 children in our county are hungry. That’s hard to justify because we certainly have plenty of food available and resources available,” said Dick Larson. “Our food distributions are a good way, but we are also looking to expand that, and that’s where the High Country Charitable Foundation factors into what we do. Basically, we have asked for money and they have provided it consistently to allow for us to expand, to allow us to add programs and reach out in different ways.”

Parent to Parent Family Support Network of the High Country

“Our program supports families who have children with all different kinds of special needs, children with significant health issues and also families where there has been a death of a child. We serve seven counties, including Avery County. The High Country Charitable Foundation has helped us be able to build that circle of support around families,” said Karen Hayes, Director.

Avery County Humane Society

“We have had approximately 2,000 animals saved in the last two years. We have a spay and neuter program that is very successful. We do not receive county, state or federal funding, which makes the help we receive from the High Country Charitable Foundation so important. We have to raise every dollar that we spend to help the animals in Avery County. The help the High Country Charitable Foundation has provided us has been invaluable. The foundation gave us a grant where we were able to purchase commercial laundry equipment, which has changed the world for us. We no longer have equipment that breaks down on a daily basis and we have been able to spend more time with the animals and less on laundry,” said Gwynne Dyer, Director.


“With the funding from the High Country Charitable Foundation, we have been able to rehouse anywhere from 7 to 10 families after experiencing intimate partner violence. With this funding we have been able to provide rent deposits, electric deposits, water deposits, and typically first month’s rent to help a survivor get on their feet and move forward,” said Tiffany Moon, Avery County Services Coordinator for OASIS.

Mediation and Restorative Justice Center

“We don’t have enough resources to overcome the epidemic that we’re facing and drug treatment court in Avery county is the most comprehensive program that I know of. It’s really important to keep these programs operational,” said Marisa Cornell, Executive Director.

Board Members

James J. Ward, III (Founder, Chairman)

In Loving Memory of

Harold T. Pontius

April 27, 1930 – August 26, 2015

Delbert Williamson

John C.B. Smith

Barbara Smith

Phil Myers

Kim McPhail

Stan Kirschner

Bonnie Lowrey Huff

Marty Herndon

James Ferguson

Jack Erdody

Ginny Burton

Katherine Church

John Brabson

Barry Blake

Florio Abbate

High Country Charitable Foundation 2018 Grant Recipients

Lees-McRae College (X-Ray Machine for wildlife center)

The Jason Project

Hospitality House

Volunteer Avery County

Kiwanis Club of Banner Elk Foundation/Avery High Key Club

Blue Ridge Partnership for Children

Spirit Ride

The Hill Center

WAMY Community Action

Western Youth Network

Williams YMCA of Avery County

Feeding Avery Families

Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Reaching Avery Ministry

Avery County Special Olympics

Hunger & Health Coalition

Yellow Mountain Enterprises

Historic Banner Elk School

Avery County Habitat for Humanity

Avery Humane Society

Casting Bread Food Pantry

Children’s Hope Alliance

Crossnore School

Mediation & Restorative Justice Center

The Avery Cooperative Extension Center – Heritage Park

Mountain Alliance for Teens


Parent to Parent Family Support Network

Avery County Chamber of Commerce

Avery County EAV (Shop with a Cop)

Avery Project Christmas


Guests socialized in the cocktail area at the Riverside Grill and Bar.
Table settings in place for the upcoming dinner and auction.

Guests take their seats as Jim Ward welcomes everyone to the event.
Jim Ward presents gifts to the board members.
Guests watch the heartfelt video of non-profit organizations talking about what a difference that the High Country Charitable Foundation grants have made for them.
Rep. Virginia Foxx talks to the crowd about the behind-the-scenes tour that will be led by her personally. This was one of many items auctioned off at the event.
Guests raise their paddles for auction items.
Left to right: Toni Littleton, HCCF Founder Jim Ward, and auctioneer Jenny Miller.
Auctioneer Jenny Miller bidding up the auction items.
Jim Ward thanks the guests for another successful night of giving to the High Country Charitable Foundation.
The surprise auction item was a “Cavapoo” puppy.
After the auction, the guest band The Extrordinaires had the guests dancing the rest of the evening away.