High Country Caregivers’ Executive Director briefs Avery Commissioners on the organization’s existing and upcoming programs

By Tim Gardner

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

Willis noted that all of these programs will greatly benefit Avery Countians who are eligible for such assistance, as agreed by Commissioners Martha Hicks (Chair), Tim Phillips, Wood Hall (Woodie) Young, Jr., Blake Vance and Dennis Aldridge. .

High Country Caregivers currently devotes much of its work to helping grandparents raising grandchildren or other caregivers in the wake of the opioid 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 serve 52 families in Avery, and I know there are many more across the county who need our help,” said Willis, who became executive director of High Country Caregivers in 2019.

The organization currently provides various forms of assistance to families, including payment of legal fees and essential items needed by children, assistance with paying bills, payment of fees for children to participate in recreational activities and giving each child $250 in Christmas gifts each year, Willis said.

This fall, High Country Caregivers will also host a hiking adventure through Snakeroot Ecotours and an overnight camp for children in Avery County. Then in December, a business incubator program will be initiated by High Country Caregivers. In this program, children will learn skills to prepare them for adulthood, such as sewing, baking, cooking, changing a tire and oil for a vehicle, balancing a checkbook, opening a bank account and related skills, according to Willis.

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

Avery County Executive Phillip Barrier, Jr. holds High Country Caregivers in high regard and how they benefit Avery County.

“Jacob and his staff are as good as you will find in their chosen field of work and they have helped so many in need, especially children, in our county,” Barrier, Jr. said. “The organization High Country Caregivers also has an excellent and very dedicated Board of Directors who are primarily dedicated to providing forms of care to so many people. On behalf of the commissioners and all residents of our county, we express our deepest gratitude to the High Country caregivers for all of their assistance.

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

Willis has extensive experience in addiction behavior therapy and counseling. He worked for 10 years as a clinical chaplain at the Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution, an 856-bed facility. He also worked as director of philanthropy and marketing for Compassionate Care of Western North Carolina. And Willis is a past chairman of the Mitchell County Board of Social Services and Board of Commissioners.

The Willis 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/Director of Programs).

Founded in 2006, the High Country Caregivers Foundation has become a model entity for enhancing the quality of life for older adults and their families through partnerships with government agencies, other nonprofit community agencies, private businesses and university resources. It serves Avery, Watauga, Mitchell and Wilkes counties in North Carolina.

The High Country Caregiver Foundation has 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, along with the local agency on aging, recognized the need for the High Country Caregiver Foundation to become a truly stand-alone non-profit organization. The High Country Caregiver Foundation had become the primary resource for grandparents raising grandchildren in the High Country. With the agreement of both parties, the High Country Caregivers Foundation became simply High Country Caregivers – with the Board seeing the founders’ vision of being a truly self-governing, non-profit organization come to fruition.

High Country Caregivers continues to play a leading role in the High Country to coordinate and advocate for the development of a comprehensive community service to meet the needs of the region’s caregivers and to address issues faced by the elderly population in rapidly growing and their families.

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

Aubrey L. Morgan