Avery County October 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

“There are two Avery Counties. There’s one Avery County, with lavish vacation homes, ski slopes and golf courses. We are here to represent everyone else,” Jennifer Warren, executive director of Western Youth Network (WYN), told the Extra Miles Tour when it journeyed to the Elk Park Town Hall to learn more about the area.

The WYN works across five counties in North Carolina’s High Country (Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Watauga and Wilkes) to prevent, or minimize the consequences of, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The organization targets the root causes of trauma and promotes collaborative community action to heal children who have accumulated ACEs. Five core areas of engagement deliver trauma-informed interventions: community health programming; engagement to promote academic success; after-school activities; summer camps; and mentoring.

Tiffany Moon, WYN’s Avery community health coordinator, presented some county data that underscored the importance of this work:

  • 57% of children live in low-income households.
  • 66% of children receive free or reduced lunches.
  • 50% of survey respondents mentioned being directly impacted by substance use.
  • 7% of high school seniors had experienced homelessness.

WYN’s diverse array of programming nurtures and empowers children to avoid, or break out of, generational cycles of trauma, and our hosts specifically singled out their mentor program as a point of pride. Program Director Angela McMann invited one of their mentors, Jack Culotta, to share his experiences.

Mr. Culotta works closely with two children, both impacted by the drug crisis. He meets with them after school, takes them to lunches and parks, helps them with their work and much more. And he’s just one of many dedicated, rigorously vetted adults who’ve committed to the program. Last year, the program tallied more than 3,000 mentor hours. This is important because research on child development shows that a single safe, stable and nurturing relationship with an adult can transform a child’s life.

“Just showing up is the most important thing,” Mr. Culotta told us.

WYN’s programming is addressing the issue of childhood trauma from all angles. They have invested in programming to “educate the educators” in Youth Mental Health First Aid, and to recognize and respond to children who might’ve started to accumulate adverse childhood experiences.

The day’s discussion eventually settled into a lively talk about the area’s lack of prenatal care, professional shortages for oral care, the area’s rising teen suicide rates, food security (“Until recently, residents in Avery County had better access to alcohol than fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Ms. Moon), lack of childcare options and more.

Near the end of the conversation, Dr. Tunde Sotunde commended the organization for how much it is able to accomplish on a modest budget: “What you’ve built here is a model of best practices for supporting children.”

Following the discussion in Elk Park, the Extra Miles Tour van took winding roads across hills and through shady valleys to Newland, on the southern side of the county, where we stopped off at Crossnore Communities for Children.

In 1913, two medical missionaries arrived at the same spot and decided to establish a small schoolhouse. Their goal was to create more opportunity (and improved access to health care) for children and families in one of the state’s most remote areas. Today, the campus – which has expanded to include several cottages, administrative and meeting facilities, a coffee shop and more – serves children and families impacted by the child welfare system.

Crossnore has become a national model for trauma-informed care, providing a responsive continuum of care that includes therapy services, family preservation, foster care and adoptions, and youth independent living. CEO Brett Loftis, JD, explained that the organization actively recruits and trains foster parents, but the residential campus in Newland (there’s another in Winston-Salem) is an important resource in three key circumstances:

  • When siblings enter the foster care system, the goal is almost always to keep them together. Placing them in foster homes can be a challenge.
  • When older youth in foster care crave more independent living, the Crossnore campus offers cottages and employment opportunities.
  • When trauma-related behaviors disrupt a foster care placement, the residential campus provides a space for more individualized support.

The Avery County campus is also home to the Marjorie Williams Academy, a licensed charter school serving residential children. The school follows the Sanctuary Model of Care® and embraces a “whole child” approach to education.

Last year, both campuses served a total of 250 children, and Crossnore’s support for these children doesn’t wrap up when they leave the campus. Crossnore continues to serve as “home base” for those who choose to pursue higher education, and the organization sets as a goal to help each student to graduate from a two-year or four-year degree program debt-free.

Crossnore doesn’t just serve the children impacted by the child welfare system. It provides three levels of innovative programming designed to serve the child’s best interest and, when possible, keep families together.

  • Family Foundations offers long-term, sustained support for families at risk of separation to help them build the resources they need to address challenges before they lead to family separation.
  • The Homebuilders® program steps up the intensity of Family Foundations and works with families facing imminent risk of separation.
  • Bridging Families® focuses on helping sibling groups in foster care to reunite with their families. This program uses professional foster parents who are trained to mentor both children and their parents, modeling the skills that create a healthy, safe and supportive home environment.

The organization’s reach extends beyond the families it serves. Crossnore works across the state and well beyond to build a culture of resilience. Its Center for Trauma Resilient Communities has engaged more than 150 agencies across six states to help them learn and put into practice the latest scientific, evidence-based approaches to trauma-informed care.

The day the Extra Miles Tour visited Avery County was near ideal: The air was brisk, skies were blue and the sun shined brightly on leaves that were just starting to slip into their autumn colors. It was hard to imagine a better place to be. Thanks to the resourcefulness and commitment of organizations like Western Youth Network and Crossnore Communities for Children, many more children will see the same beauty in their home communities.

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 12/23