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Chamber names Athena Award winner

Caroline Long was honored as the 2014 Athena Award winner on Thursday. Caroline Long was honored as the 2014 Athena Award winner on Thursday.

Caroline Long, a Hendersonville mom who turned her own struggles and questions about raising two children with autism into a nationally recognized school for autism treatment, was recognized as the 2014 Athena Award winner for her contributions to the community and her mentoring of other women.


Long began working to create the St. Gerard House for children with autism near downtown Hendersonville in 2009, primarily using her own financial resources. In the four years since the St. Gerard House opened, more than 400 students and family members have been helped and served by the school's early behavioral intervention program. She is reachable after hours, before hours and on weekends to mentor moms struggling with an autistic child.

The Athena Award puts a premium on women helping other women, and Long's example was in mentoring moms like herself who have questions, anxiety and concern about their children. One of the programs she started, a weekly family support night, has comforted hundreds of parents with factual information and fellowship among kindred spirits dealing with the same challenges at home. Long's program has let them know that they're not alone.

"I had no idea," Long said after receiving the award. "Someone asked me if I had written a speech. I said, 'For what?' I'm very humbled by it. Just listening to the other nominations, I'm saying, 'Wow. Wow. Wow. Surely she'll get it.'

"I'm one of seven children so when someone got an award (her parents) downplayed it. I never really put a lot of emphasis on awards."

Long said she feels that St. Gerard House should share in the honor.

"I feel grateful for St. Gerard House getting this award because it is great recognition for the work being done there and the team that we've put together, and I think it will be good for everybody there. I think the attention will be good for St. Gerard House."

Long initiated and attends after-hours support groups for families struggling with children with autism. Says a friend, "She is a hero on many levels; as a parent, mentor, community member, philanthropist and professional and I am blessed to call her a friend." Co-workers and mothers say Caroline is a mentor and leader who inspires them every day. Says one,"She leads our team by example – she models hard work and honesty. Her leadership is always encouraging and not condemning."

Caroline wasn't paid for her work as executive director of St. Gerard House until recently – at her board's insistence. Before St. Gerard House, Caroline and her ex-husband co-founded Immaculate Baking Co., a Flat Rock cookie company that gained national fame for selling its chunks to Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and was later sold to General Mills. Using her Master's degree in media arts, she also founded Mountain Media, a video production business for summer camps and local businesses. She used the profits from the cookie company to build the school. Notes Rachael Cushing. "She took her own time and resources to build something for others."

In addition to founding three innovative businesses and raising two children with autism virtually single handedly, Caroline has always made time to give back to the community. She was the founding president of Hands-on! A Child's Gallery's board of directors, serves on Immaculate Conception Catholic Church's Pastoral Council, volunteers with the traditional school her autistic children attend, serves on the Board for the Bell Foundation that supports area camps, started three community outreach programs for St. Gerard House, served on the Family Support Network of WNC, the Arts Council of Henderson County and the Folk Artists Foundation.

St. Gerard House, which carefully documents its findings, is gaining recognition as a national model for autism therapy. Caroline is also spearheading an international Rwandan Sisters Project to bring missionaries from Africa to St. Gerard House to learn how to help children with autism in Rwanda.

Long was nominated by Elizabeth Moss, the director of community affairs and outreach for Pardee Hospital, who also nominated the 2012 Athena Award winner, Myra Grant, and the 2013 award winner, Annie Fritschner. Other award winners were Joyce Mason of Four Seasons Compassion for Life (2011), Pat Shepherd of Pat's School of Dance (2010), Ragan Ward, then of Carolina 1st Bank (2009) and Robin Reed, of the Bares It All breast cancer awareness campaign (2008).

Nine women plus the whole county were nominated for the annual Vanessa Y. Mintz Athena Award, which recognizes women leaders who contribute to the community while also advocating for and mentoring other women.

Here are the nominees and biographical sketches:

Susan Donoho Adell, vice president and marketing director of Clean Streak in Mills River, has helped turn the single mop and bucket cleaning company she started with husband Horace Adell Jr into one of the state's largest 'green' cleaning companies. With the help of Susan's leadership and marketing skills, Clean Streak has been certified by the state of North Carolina as a Historically Underutilized Business and certified for membership in the Green Business Bureau and ISSA, an international cleaning industry association. "When it comes to marketing and creativity, Susan Adell isn't just an example, she is the leader to follow!" says her nominator. '"No" or "I can't" are not words you will find in her vocabulary. She sets a high standard for herself and everyone around her.'
In the community, Susan served with Fletcher Business Association and then helped her own community of Mills River start the Mills River Business Association. She has served as president of the Mills River Business Association for the last two years. She started a "Gift A Child," a local Christmas gift drive to "ensure no child wakes up Christmas morning without a gift." She also works on food drives throughout the school year for needy children. Her nominator describes Susan's personal leadership this way: "As a hard working mother of two and grandmother of four, Susan sets the example for all women in the business world today ... When other women see how Susan Adell strives every day to accomplish her goals, break down barriers and achieve excellence in all aspects of her life, it pushes them to obtain the very same outcome ... success!"


Bessie Bright, a former teacher's aide and one of the first women furniture sales in the area for Brunson Furniture and later Spearman Furniture, is a 35 year member of the Hendersonville Business and Professional Women's association. She has served as its president four times and as the district president for the group three times. As the group's president in 1984, she helped establish and raise money for four scholarships honoring former charter members. "While working at Brunson Furniture, Bessie took courses in furniture sales, layout and design and shared the information with other sales staff," her nominator says. "As one of the first women furniture sales people in the country, she soon was a top seller. "
Bessie is also a lifetime member of the Ladies Auxiliary to Hedrick Rhodes Post 5206 Veterans of Foreign Wars – she has served on all of the auxiliaries committees and has chaired most of them – served as the Public Relations Committee chair for the VFW Auxiliary, received a national award while serving as the VFW's state public relations committee chair person, chaired the VFW Community Woman of the Year event for 20 years and was named VFW Woman of the Year in 2012. What's more, Bessie served as president of the Hubert M. Smith American Legion Auxiliary Unit 77 for four years, assists with the Girls' State program that educates high school juniors about government, is a charter member and past chair of the Benevolence Committee of DOES DROVE #258. She also serves in the local Daughters of American Revolution chapter, on the 4-H Advisory Committee where she teaches young girls to sew, and works with Mainstay, Storehouse, Interfaith Assistance Ministries, the Lions Club and is active in Hendersonville First Baptist Church.

Dr. Shannon Dowler, the chief medical officer at Blue Ridge Community Health Services, is described by her nominator as a "champion for access to quality health care for all" through her work at the health center and in the community. Shannon has spent over a decade working with nonprofits whose missions are to provide care for underserved people. "She works tirelessly to break down health disparities, a task she will tell you is her greatest challenge in working with the population" (BRCHS) serves. "While many BRCHS patients are uninsured, her goal is to treat each patient she sees with the same respect and level of care you would find in any medical practice." She also volunteers in the BRCHS Clinica en el Campo, a migrant outreach program and in the Mountain Area Health Education Center (MAHEC) residency program. She speaks Spanish and is certified in the area of child sexual abuse. She has presented the topic of "Adolescent Sexuality and Sexually Transmitted Infections" to physicians locally and at the state level and to local teen groups in Henderson County. Shannon's community service and leadership includes serving with the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians since 1999 and as its president in 2012 and 2013. Dr. Dowler's other service includes: the NC Department of Health and Human Services Physician Advisory Group since 2011; on the board of Care Share Health Alliance since 2012; as a past member of Buncombe County Medical Society Foundation, NC Institute of Medicine Task Force on the Mental, Social and Emotional Needs of Young Children and Their Families, and as chair of a Playin' It Safe girls' health event.

Tiffany Ervin, owner of Morning Glory Productions and Elite Repeats Boutique, an upscale consignment store in Hendersonville, has a diverse work history and "continually strives for and demonstrates excellence, creativity and initiative in her business life," say her nominators. She has worked with the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, the South Carolina Organ Procurement Agency, Pardee Hospital, the University of South Carolina Upstate, co-hosted a morning radio show in Western North Carolina and served as a freelance host for special projects at WLOS-TV13 and WMYA-TV40. She is the sole proprietor of Morning Glory Productions, which specializes in helping nonprofits and small businesses with marketing and advertising. She frequently emcees for local groups and has presented programs such as "What Miss America, College Football and Your Service Club Have in Common," and "When Your Plate is Full" to help women of all ages maximize their potential for success and personal growth.
With Elite Repeats, Tiffany strives to greet every customer by name and believes everyone deserves "high-end" treatment. Community service is one of Tiffany's passions. She currently serves as President of the Four Seasons Rotary Club where she has increased the club's focus on supporting Special Needs Sports and programs to help local veterans. She has served on the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors since 2006, chairs the Chamber's Major Events Committee, co-chairs its Total Resource Campaign Committee, and has served on its Business Services Task Force and the Chamber Business Expo Committee. She served as the first woman chair Salvation Army's advisory board in Henderson County and was honorary char of the Henderson County Relay for Life in 2008. She also is the former executive director of the Miss Hendersonville, Miss Asheville and Western NC Scholarship. In that capacity, Tiffany has helped mentor hundreds of young women by providing guidance and encouragement and building confidence and poise. Among her honors and awards: Volunteer of the Year (Miss NC Pageant), Volunteer of the Year (American Red Cross of Henderson County); Chair of a Red Cross Runway fundraiser and Rotarian of the Year in 2010 for Four Seasons Rotary Club. Say her nominators, "Tiffany must have been given extra hours in each day that the rest of us don't receive, and she spends those hours lending her talents and passion to local and national community service organizations."

Nicole Foxworth is a physician's assistant who works for Blue Ridge Community Health Services who "believes in providing high quality health care to the underserved in the community," especially those involved in local agriculture. An integral member of BRCHS's Clinica en el Campo, Nicole volunteers her time to provide medical assessments to farm workers in the fields during the busy summer harvest season, a time when she is also busy with her three children. When it comes to community service, "Nicole is usually the first to notice a need in an organization and often works quietly to meet the need without fanfare or acclaim for herself," says her nominator. She served with the Junior Welfare Organization in Hendersonville for five years and as its president in 2010 to 2011. As president, Nicole started a fundraiser to help serve disadvantaged and special needs children in Henderson County and met with teenage girls once a month at the Boys and Girls Center to provide them information on health care, job skills, interviewing skills, study skills and financial management to empower them to lift themselves out of difficult circumstances. She currently serves on the Children and Family Resource Center's board and gives generously to support its programs for low income parents. She also has served on the Henderson County Education Foundation board from 2009 – 2012, working to support school based health centers. "Nicole Foxworth would never seek attention for the giving that she does out of her desire to serve and her faith. She meets the needs that she sees rather than turning a blind eye to failures of public assistance to help disadvantage persons."

Donna Gibbs is the founder and director of counseling at A Clear Word Counseling Center for Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville. She assists individuals, couples and families in the Henderson County area in their struggles with life. Also a published author, Gibbs is a frequent public speaker who strives to give women hope, guidance and encouragement to reach their full potential and help their families and others experience a better quality of life, says her nominator. "Donna has an uplifting attitude and personality that spills over into the lives of others." She is a licensed professional counselor, a national certified counselor, a board-certified professional Christian counselor and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. She has grown Mud Creek's counseling program since she was hired in 1998 into a team of five counselors. Donna, also a member of Mud Creek Baptist Church, sings in the choir, has taught Sunday school and organized and leads an annual marriage counseling retreat. She organized a team of counselors after a recent crime spree of careless shootings to counsel the community and schools during tragic situations.

Caroline T. Knox, an attorney with the Van Winkle Law Firm who specializes in elder law, is regarded within the firm as a leader. She is one of only 14 certified Elder Law Attorneys in North Carolina and is a board certified specialist in Elder Law by the North Carolina Bar. At Van Winkle she serves as a Process Group Leader, working to help attorneys improve their work models, become better leaders to their staff and increase client service. As part of her elder law specialty, Caroline supervises an associate attorney, a legal assistant and two paralegals, focusing on team building, open communications and group-based problem solving. She stays up to date on elder law, estate and trust practice to better serve the community and her clients. She speaks frequently to local support groups, church congregations and community groups about issues faced by elderly residents of our community. In all of her interactions with clients, Caroline "advises and guides her clients with the care and compassion clients need in difficult times and serves as an example to other attorneys both within her firm and in the community." Within the firm, Caroline is viewed as a mentor. Kathleen Rodberg, her nominator says Caroline has "exceeded all expectations I had for a mentor. When I began practicing law, Caroline took time out of her extremely busy day to assign projects to me that allowed me to build an excellent knowledge base for my respective practice areas." Caroline also takes younger lawyers with her to observe and participate in numerous speaking engagements she presents in the community. "As a female working in a profession that is largely dominated by males, Caroline serves as a shining example of what hard work and determination can accomplish over time." The mother of three children, Caroline makes time to attend Girl Scout meetings and her children's athletic and school activities.

In 2001, Brenda "BJ" Ramer channeled her passion for hands-on-learning and the ocean into a project she named Team ECCO, now a Hendersonville marine science education center and resource for students in Western North Carolina. Initially working out of her kitchen organizing snorkeling and diving trips to Florida for students interested in the sea, Team ECCO's founder and director now leads a center with more than 20 tanks displaying more than 75 different fish and marine animals on Main Street in downtown Hendersonville. Last year, under BJ's leadership the Team ECCO Ocean Center and Aquarium welcomed over 9,000 visitors and provided marine education and encounters for more than 2,000 students and provided dozens of free programs to local special needs groups. She has done this all on a purely volunteer basis – Team ECCO has no paid staff. As part of Team ECCO's mission, BJ mentors children and young women to become leaders and give back to the community, says her nominator. "Always inspiring young women to be adventurous and experience all that life has to offer, BJ has always led by example."
Using a grant, BJ developed a learning lab and classroom she shares with public school students, home school groups, special needs groups and others. In early 2013, BJ led the charge to raise funds to purchase the only touch tank west of Charlotte to provide mountain children and students the opportunity to touch and feel sea animals and marine life. She has inspired several young women to pursue their dreams at the nationally acclaimed Marine Biology program at UNC Wilmington. One of those young women says BJ opened her eyes to the wonders of marine biology. "Brenda challenged me to become a leader and to give back to my community. She expected excellence and gave me opportunities to grow my own leadership skills." A former public school teacher, Ramer is also involved in community service. Her service includes the Henderson County Special Olympics, the Flat Rock Playhouse Board of Trustees, serving as a 15-year benefactor of Flat Rock Playhouse, a Henderson County YMCA Board Member, a Healing Place rape crisis board member, a member of the Henderson County Travel and Development Authority and a former member of the Henderson County Travel and Tourism Board.

The Great Community of Henderson County: Hendersonville Lightning columnist Matt Matteson nominated the greater community of Henderson County because it has "hired, promoted and supported women in professional occupations including lawyers, physicians architects, engineers, accountants, Realtors and others. Women in Henderson County hold key management positions in the US Postal Service Social Security Administration, businesses, community theater, care facilities, clergy, media public relations, urgent care, tourism and many others. More than half of the nonprofit agencies are run by women executive directors. Women hold appointed positions as town managers, police chiefs, assistant district attorneys and 23 public schools – more than half – have women principals. What's more, the current president of Blue Ridge Community College is a woman and Henderson County's Assistant County Manager is female. "In a community with so many women in leadership positions, it would be difficult to single out any one individual. In community service, the Hendersonville Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs have enjoyed 10 women presidents between them, the 2014 Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors is a woman and many of the grand marshal of the King Apple Parade was a woman. In the last five years, Vision Henderson County leadership program has graduated 60 more women than men. The nominator noted that a man may also win the Athena award although it occurs infrequently. "This nomination for a greater 'community ' recognition would make a positive statement without taking away from any one person of either gender."