Graham County October 2022


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

We opened our visit to Graham County in the parking lot of Robbinsville High School. Graham County has around 8,000 residents according to the last census, and it is also a county full of natural beauty. The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is one draw to the area — given that it is a uniquely large old-growth forest managed by the park service.

Graham County Schools superintendent Angie Knight met us in the parking lot of the high school and walked us over to the high school’s food truck. Knight shared that the food truck was a COVID-19 response tactic designed to take food to school-aged children in need when the schools closed. Today it serves as a tool for community pride by continuing to provide food for families at key community events. The truck was funded in part by the Blue Cross NC Foundation.

Our next stop was the media center for the high school. As we entered the lobby, we couldn’t help but notice the crowded trophy cabinet at the front of the school celebrating the high school’s numerous state championships in football.

The high school’s culinary department welcomed us with a delicious breakfast of mini-biscuits, quiche and pastries. The Exceptional Children’s class for Robbinsville High School runs a coffee shop for the school, and they welcomed us with coffee and apple cider.

We dove deep on health, education and economic development over the course of the conversation that followed.

Key health issues in the county include the obesity and smoking rate, relatively high rates of cancer and access to care according to Lorita Eller, a nurse with the Graham County Health Department. One issue that Eller pointed out is the lack of access to mental health care: “People have to be in the emergency room for two days to receive a mental health assessment. This system just isn’t working.”

Local minister Eric Reece noted this continues a long tradition of lacking medical care: “Primary care has long been ‘dial 911’; preventive care is much the same. And then you end up in the emergency room.”

Other challenges include social isolation, a lack of full-time recreation and healthy food, and internet access.

Despite the challenges, Knight and Reece ended our meeting on a high note.

“We can see the elementary school from the front door of this school,” commented Knight. “The connection across our community comes from the size of this community. Our ability to scale solutions is amazing because of our proximity.”

The downside of size, according to Reece, is that Graham County doesn’t always end up on the radar of national and statewide organizations that could help the county. With that in mind, Reece pointed to our trip as an example of what could be possible.

“You are here to show that you care,” declared Reece with a smile.

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.

All other trade names are the property of their respective owners.

U39702, 1/23