Celebrating WomenWe are storytellers, highlighting local female leaders who have been tirelessly committed to the cause of advancing women, the next generation of emerging female leaders who are inspired to make a difference, and those women who have weathered their own life transitions while moving forward on their leadership path.
Weekday mornings at 5:30 a.m., drivers of Link Transit’s green and blue buses start their engines for their daily routes. They’ll pick up students, employees, and other residents heading to school, work, the grocery store, or elsewhere.
It hasn’t always been so in Alamance County, and we have April Durr partially to thank. Director of Community Impact at the United Way of Alamance and the WRC 2015 Rising Star Award recipient, April has held an unwavering commitment to the idea that a public transportation system is good for business, health, and opportunity in our community, and her persistent efforts have fueled advocacy for it.
Persistence is in April’s DNA. It’s what convinced Beth Warner, an associate professor of human services studies at Elon University, to nominate April for one of the university’s first Top 10 Under 10 awards in 2011. Warner says, “Believing strongly in the power of citizens joining together to solve local problems, April never tires of participating on committees and boards, taking part in planning events, working in partnership towards social change….”
Her friends and family understand her motivation. April says they get tired of hearing her say, “If you’re not involved, you can’t voice your opinion.” Still, she emphasizes involvement is the only way to make your voice heard, and “the more people who join in, the better.”
April believes that to her very core, and her life expresses that belief. Her mom, who passed away in 2014, can be credited for the strong influence to live a life of conviction. She didn’t hide the disparities in the world from April, so a young girl grew up learning to “ask questions, push for causes bigger than [herself], and become an advocate.”
Other women who’ve helped shape April include a health café manager who took a chance on hiring a high school student; Brenda Sawyer, the supervisor who hired her at CrossRoads, her first professional position and the entry into her nonprofit career; and Suzan Evans, former executive director at CrossRoads. All have become mentors and friends, challenging April to keep stretching into new roles because “growth happens when you get out of your comfort zone.”
April’s still stretching. She’d come to North Carolina to enroll in Elon University’s human services program and after graduating, decided to put down roots here. Today, although she might caution her younger self to consider graduate studies before diving headlong into career work, April’s satisfied with the road she’s traveled.
Brightening the walls of her office are colorful images of tropical beaches and a Puerto Rican rainforest. The pictures sum up her bent toward shared experience. Preferring to do something with those who mean the most to her rather than receive a gift, April says what’s most important is time and togetherness.
She approaches community efforts the same way, and April’s roots in Alamance County have yielded time with leaders of nonprofits, law enforcement agencies, government departments, health services, and other community partners. The investment gives everyone a chance to work together, and that’s the goal. The problems Alamance County faces, April stresses, “are bigger than one person or one agency.”
She’s perhaps most excited about a united approach to one of our region’s longest running struggles: racism. Alamance Racial Equity Alliance is taking a hard, honest look at racial relations in our community. AREA’s monthly learning caucuses bring together people of color and white residents to have the difficult conversations discussions about race invoke. The training helps participants adjust their perspectives and see the world through a different lens so they may learn to listen and speak up, and not just for themselves.
“Ultimately,” April says, “we envision a community without racism.” Every day she wakes up wondering what she can do to contribute toward a society like that. And every day while repeating her mantra – “If you’re not involved, you can’t voice your opinion” – she holds out hope that more and more community members will join the conversation.
Julie Johnson is a local freelance writer who’s traveled the world but come home to her roots. Her global experience gives her a unique perspective when helping clients communicate in a 21st century marketplace.
“Be an advocate for what’s important. Stretch yourself….” These are words Heidi Norwick would tell her younger self if she had the chance. A past winner of the Founder’s Award and current president of Alamance County’s United Way, Heidi has come into her own as an advocate in this community.
When her children were young and her husband’s company downsized, Heidi took a part-time coordinator position at the budding Women’s Resource Center. Flexible enough she could keep her family a priority, the job eventually became a full-time Executive Director’s position and opened the door to a career of service in Alamance County. Twenty-two years later, Heidi remembers with gratitude, “The Women’s Resource Center was life changing for me….I grew so much.”
She maintains close ties to the center, even now, and is especially excited about the upcoming Herb Festival. She loves that it lets her put her passion for gardening to good use, and she’s become a faithful volunteer, modeling her belief that you ought to “do what you love and share it with others!”
Heidi’s become so good at living that belief that Alamance Chamber President Mac Williams calls her “a thoughtful, caring, and committed leader serving Alamance County with distinction.” Joining the United Way as Director of Community Impact in 2012, she stepped into her current role two years later. Williams points out the “critical human services” Heidi manages, noting her efforts “to improve community conditions around education, health, and employment.”
Heidi attributes much of her personal and professional growth to other influential women. Hesitant to name names, lest she leave someone out, she says she’s drawn on the leadership of Jean Anderson and Linda Barron as well as the founders of the Women’s Resource Center: Becky Mock, “B” Holt, Tennala Gross, and Dr. Martha Smith-Trout. Calling these ladies “pioneers in our field,” Heidi heralds them as women dedicated to the community whose “passion [has been] inspiring.”
She also points to Alamance County’s Susan Osborne, Stacie Saunders, Tracey Grayzer, and Kathy Hykes. They, along with the founders mentioned above and the current United Way staff, are blazing a trail of empowerment Heidi feels privileged to walk.
When asked why she cares so much about Alamance County, she smiles. The community embraced Heidi and her family when they moved here, and she has a strong desire to help others sense that same connection. In fact, she believes we all have a responsibility to work toward that end.
Her role allows her to make connections every day, perhaps the most satisfying aspect of her job. A few weeks back, for example, Heidi watched an inmate hold his 10-month old daughter for the first time when he graduated from a GED program funded with grant money. She participated when Women United presented Leader in Me, a leadership-training initiative for students, with an anonymous gift for expansion into Haw River Elementary School.
Being the vehicle for connecting those who have a passion to do something with those who have the means is part of why Heidi gets up every morning. “I don’t think of it as a job,” she emphasizes, because the rewards of a life devoted to service return to her day after day. She insists she’s gained more than she’s given: “I feel very blessed in this opportunity.”
Heidi sees a glimmering horizon for Alamance County. The United Way’s new location allows more opportunity for support of Burlington’s downtown, and a shifting focus on collective impact for approaching local issues has her believing we’re entering a new season, a time when silos come down and everyone works together for the same goals.
The dream? Alamance County as a home where those who need mental healthcare get access to it, kids involved in youth violence find their way out, and those who feel they don’t have a voice discover it and the community they’re seeking. Heidi’s staking her future on the possibility of this dream becoming a reality, and she hopes you’ll join her in making it happen.
Julie Johnson is a local freelance writer who’s traveled the world but come home to her roots. Her global experience gives her a unique perspective when helping clients communicate in a 21st century marketplace. https://www.johnsonwriter.com/
While she has lived in Caswell County all of her life, she was born in Alamance County and attended Alamance Community College. Shannon has held several positions in Alamance County including her current position as Community Educator for Hospice & Palliative Care Center of Alamance-Caswell. She is passionate about her work striving to help patients and their families with accessing the right care, at the right time, in the right way.
Shannon Pointer has had over 17 years of nursing experience working in a variety of clinical and community settings. She completed a graduate certificate in Nursing Education and a Master of Science in Nursing with a major in Nursing Systems/Populations and concentration in Community and Public Health Nursing from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She obtained her undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and her ADN from Alamance Community College.
When asked why she cares about her community and why it is important to be involved, Shannon mentions her personal mission, “to empower and support all to be successful in spite of any difficulties they may encounter”. She supports this community professionally as well as personally, through helping connect others to available resources that may help all along their journey. Her passion comes through loud and clear! “I feel it is important for people to know that they can accomplish anything. While the road may be difficult and barriers may be in the way, we must succeed in spite of our difficulties, not fail because of them. My motto is: “She did all she could…and she did it”. I want to leave this world knowing I did everything I could for myself, my family and my community, with the time I had.”
Shannon says that life itself has had the biggest influence on her because it isn’t always easy. “What we think will happen may not happen, and what we think will continue to exist may stop and we have to find ways to deal with the changing waves and paths of life.” She learns from others who have mentored her to be her best self, to be flexible and to be a great listener. “We learn more by listening than by talking. Also, try to see the good in all. While we may not agree with each other all the time, working together through effective communication and collaboration, we can accomplish so much more than working in division and negativity.” Shannon states that her husband of 17 years is a constant source of her support with encouragement through good and bad times. “Having that person in your corner makes the rough days a little better. He constantly tells me that there is nothing that I cannot do and that helps give me the strength to continue making a difference in the world.”
If you know Shannon at all, you know she makes time for physical activity. “I must make time for myself in order to give my best to others in my life. My one hour of time a day in the gym reduces the stress of the day and helps me to feel a better sense of overall wellness.” Her special interests are triathlon training, golf, inshore and offshore fishing. “I always set goals for myself and try to achieve them. Goals help to keep me motivated. I set a goal to complete a full marathon and did it! I set a goal to complete a triathlon and did it! Who knows what will be next?” I don’t think we will be surprised.
What is her advice to her younger self? “Take time for YOU, so you can be your best for others. Rise above the struggles and succeed in spite of them. Make the most of your talents, abilities and each day that you are given. What you have planned may not be where you end up, but do believe everything happens for a reason and a specific purpose. Set goals, but also be flexible when the path takes you in a direction you least expected because it may be right where you were meant to be.”
Her biggest excitement is what the future holds for her daughter. “She wants to be a large animal veterinarian and I am so proud of what she has accomplished so far and what she will continue to do in the future. I enjoy watching her grow! There is so much more to do and many ways I can continue to make a difference so I cannot wait to see what lies ahead!”
“I’m a native of Alamance County,” said Jackie Cole, Program Director of the North Carolina Therapeutic Riding Center and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Lutheran Retirement Ministries (Twin Lakes). “I was born and raised here and was taught to be involved in my community as a child, and so the transition into my career of serving others was an easy transition.”
Cole is a member of several additional boards in Alamance County, while also organizing Meals on Wheels within her church. She balances these responsibilities while prioritizing her family. “You should always have to make time for your family and for yourself – just the simple things like enjoying nature and working in your garden. You should never lose sight of those things.” Her easy smile brightens at the mention of her husband, Steve and her son, Parker.
She recalls her parents’ influence as being the most significant throughout her life, but also recognizes the impact of the many people she comes into contact with every day. “Everyone I come across is a sort of mentor. I choose to learn from the both positive and negative actions of people – and I’m still learning. You give your 100 percent and you might not be the best, but you’re giving your best. I learn every day from those I work with and those around me,” Cole said.
Cole chooses to view her many roles not as jobs, but as opportunities to do what she is most passionate about: changing the lives of adults and children within the community. “The NC Therapeutic Riding Center currently serves around 74 adults and children each week. Twin Lakes consists of a large senior population, which I love to serve. I’m most passionate about these two things, although I would like to dabble in public education again after having been a board member for 12 years, yet I don’t know what that looks like moving forward,” Cole said. “Opportunities just seem to find me!” Her warm, friendly personality welcomes those opportunities that come along.
Jackie Cole has made it a priority to pursue a service-oriented life, particularly within the nonprofit sector and is excited about the continued success and growth of Twin Lakes and the NC Therapeutic Riding Center. Ultimately, Cole looks forward to future opportunities to assist and come alongside others and a thriving community within Alamance County.
“If no one was involved in serving the people of Alamance County, this county would go backwards. Rather than turn a blind eye or only complain, we must be involved in the community,” Jackie said. “Everybody needs to find a purpose in their community and serve in the best way they can.”
While you might think county government is an occasionally dry topic for social media, Michelle Mills sees it exactly the opposite. As Alamance County’s Public Information Officer, a role she took on at the end of 2016, Michelle is charged with making government interesting and accessible.
“Are you kidding- there is always something exciting going on in our community” Michelle said. “Alamance County always has a lot going on, and making sure people are knowledgeable and have access to services is job one.”
A finalist for the Rising Star Award at last year’s Leading the Way, Michelle left Alamance Public Libraries after more than five years in a variety of roles including Branch Manager at Graham Library and Associate Director of Community Relations. During that time, she led the County’s effort to obtain a book mobile and advance the StoryWalk Project, an initiative of the United Way of Alamance County.
She decided to take on the Public Information Officer position as a strategic move. She has also started grad school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seeking her Master’s Degree in Public Administration. When she successfully completes the master’s program at UNC Chapel Hill in 2018, it will be her third graduate degree, joining a Master’s degree in Education from Pensacola Christian College and a Master’s degree in Library Science from Rutgers University.
“I am a passionate learner,” Michelle said. “But I am not just an academic – I am also someone who needs to be getting my hands dirty making a difference in my community.”
Committed to being a public servant, she sees making a lifetime commitment to Alamance County – an incredible commitment for someone born in Korea and raised in Connecticut so still a relative newcomer to our community. But it is par for the course based on the feedback from her peers, who see her as an emerging leader who will make a big difference for the people of Alamance County. And for now, she sees doing that one Facebook post at a time.
“The next generation of local leaders are online, and we need to meet them where they are,” Michelle said.
We agree, hence the launch of this blog! WRC celebrate Michelle Mills for her commitment to our community and for fighting the good fight for the eyes of constituents on social media.
As noted by someone who knows her well, Linda Barron “wakes up every day with the gusto of a John Philips Souza march.” There is perhaps no more fitting tribute to a woman who has been a one-woman-band in every sense of the phrase since she arrived in Burlington nearly 17 years ago.
Linda got her sales and marketing training during her 20-year career at International Paper. As founder of L. Barron & Associates, a manufacturer’s rep company, Linda moved in 2001 from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Burlington, NC to be closer to her largest customers which included Cato, Shoe Show, Nordstrom, Belk and Saks. Her honey, John, a native of Burlington, owned a home here. Linda told him that Burlington is where she wanted to grow old together.
From the moment she arrived, Linda was a presence in the civic life of Alamance County. She joined the Chamber of Commerce, even though none of her customers were in the immediate area.
“I did it to meet people,” Linda said. “I’m not someone to wait around to be discovered – I’m a take charge kind of gal.”
And take charge she did, joining the board of Women’s Resource Center and serving as its Board Chair, a position she would serve in again in 2014-2015, ultimately serving as its acting director for six months while the organization sought a new Executive Director. Then as a true mentor, Linda took the new WRC ED by the hand and led her all over Alamance County to introduce her to the community. Susan Watson keeps her close by on speed dial as a sounding board for advice, source of inspiration, hugs and laughter. She has been active in Alamance County Democratic Women and served in leadership roles with Alamance Reads. Linda has been recognized on a state level with the NC Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service and was a 2016 nominee for the Founders’ Award of Women’s Resource Center in Alamance County.
In 2015, Linda was called upon to once again lend her business savvy to an organization in need – her own church, Holy Comforter Episcopal where she became board chairman of their dual language, multicultural playschool.
“At 66 years old, and having never gotten around to having any kids or grandkids of my own, I was suddenly the overseer for 25 three- and four-year olds,” Linda said. “What an eye opener!”
Last year, Linda retired from L. Barron & Associates, which had pivoted in 2004 to focus on the “geography, geology, chemistry, production and distribution of packaging as it related to wine.” She maintains a passion for wine, and works with her honey to run a 3rd Wednesday Wine class for Alamance Arts.
Cheers to you, Linda! We celebrate your tremendous impact on our region and your tireless determination to make your community a better place to live. We are lucky to call you a friend!