wnc honors awards

To be a part of the WNC Honors Program, a community center or organization must apply for and meet the eligibility requirements of the program.

Each November, the WNC Honors Awards ceremony is an opportunity for community clubs across the mountains to celebrate together and receive recognition, cash awards, and promotions for the work they have accomplished during the year. It also gives all members an opportunity to learn about best practices from across WNC.

This year's WNC Honors Awards ceremony occurred November 11th, 2023 with over 260 community leaders and members in attendance. Community centers from fourteen Western North Carolina counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians were honored for their efforts to serve their residents’ social, economic, and health needs in the last year. Sixty-seven community centers received a total of $64,000 in cash awards, made possible by our generous sponsors. Each community club received $730, and 25 communities received additional monetary awards.  

Community clubs were recognized at one of four levels of achievement based on their capacity to serve:  Trillium, Mountain Laurel, Redbud, or White Oak. Those that excelled in offering impressive programs to serve their residents won extra cash awards of $250 for Best in Class at the Trillium level, $500 at the Mountain Laurel level, $1000 at Redbud, and $2000 at the White Oak level. Twenty-five communities received a Trillium certificate with 7 receiving Best in Class at that level. Thirty-four community centers were honored at the Mountain Laurel level, and 13 received Best in Class. There were six communities at the Redbud level this year, and 3 Best in Class. Two communities were awarded at the White Oak level, and both received Best in Class awards. 

WNC Communities also presented two President’s awards and the time-honored Calico Cat awards. Lastly, one community was presented with the WNC Communities Impact award in partnership with Dogwood Health Trust.

Members of the Upward Community Club receive a plaque for 50 years of the club's participation in the WNC Honors Program. 

President’s Awards

The President’s Award is presented to communities at 25, 50, and 75 years of participation in the WNC Honors Program. This year, we had two awardees to recognize for their long-term dedication to improving community wellbeing.

Little River Community Center in Transylvania County and Upward Community Club in Henderson County have both participated in 50 years of the WNC Honors Program. 

Calico Cats

The Calico Cat awards are given annually to two community clubs who, through their volunteer and fundraising efforts, made the most significant improvements and renovations to their community center over the past year. The artwork for these unique awards was done by FiredUp! Pottery in downtown Asheville.

Newly rennovated Event Room at Ebbs Chapel Community Center

Calico Jr.

This year’s Calico Cat Jr. went to the Upper Laurel Community Organization of Madison County, which runs the Ebbs Chapel Community Center. The facility was originally built for a school as part of FDR’s New Deal from the Great Depression. After the school closed in 1974, it sat vacant until the county realized the building’s potential.

Upper Laurel Community Organization recently obtained a lease of the building. The immediate goal was to renovate the building into their new community center, one room at a time, as funds were available. Fundraisers such as the annual Blackberry Festival every July helped to provide funds for continued work. Renovation involved taking the walls down to the exterior rock, then adding new insulation, wiring, sheetrock, paint, and light fixtures, plus refinishing the original hardwood flooring. 

This year, renovation work included combining two classrooms into a 1332 square foot Event Room, and creating an outside door and loading dock. They also began renovating an adjacent room for a certified kitchen, with help from a grant from T-Mobile. Not only will this kitchen be available to those renting the event space, but also to small local businesses to use the facility to prepare value-added products.

Calico Sr.

This year’s Calico Cat Sr. went to Bill’s Creek Community Center of Rutherford County. 

When the new board started working in June of 2022 after COVID, the future of the Bills Creek Community Center looked uncertain. The facility and grounds were in need of serious repairs. In addition, people new to the area had never heard of Bills Creek Community Center and long term neighbors thought the Center was no longer a place to go.

Four volunteers spent 10 days scrubbing and disinfecting literally every single inch of the one-story, 1800 square foot building from floor to ceiling. All cabinets were emptied, scrubbed, and re-varnished.

Volunteers cleaned up the outside grounds, and they spruced up the ballfield, which has now become a new dog park.

Most challenging was the crawlspace, which had been taken over by rats and snakes. The duct work was too damaged to repair; it needed to be replaced by a professional. While running a fundraising campaign, volunteers also promoted awareness of the community center’s history with articles for the Lake Lure and Forest City newspapers, and by speaking with different local groups. Fortunately, they attracted the attention of Larry Pritchard, who owns Pritchard Heating and Air. As a boy he was very active at the center, and he agreed to replace all the duct work at his cost.

They also upgraded their small bathrooms to make them handicap accessible, with help from a grant from the Cannon Foundation. 

In addition to making impressive progress on the repairs, Bill’s Creek developed a Facebook page and website to show off the “new” community center. They attracted people into the center with a series of free events, and by the summer of 2023, they had a solid number of rental bookings on the calendar.

Bill's Creek Community Center received the Calico Cat Sr., presented by Dean Kanipe, President of WNC Communities.

Newly renovated kitchen at Bill's Creek Community Center

Impact Award

This year marked the second year of the WNC Communities Impact Award. This prestigious award recognizes a community’s substantial and measurable efforts to improve community members' well-being. As part of the award, WNC Communities and Dogwood Health Trust offer a site visit and consultation with the awarded community to help them identify ways to move toward their goals.

The 2023 Impact Award went to Upper Laurel Community Organization of Madison County, for their work in a unique partnership that enables their rural community to gain much easier access to healthcare.

The Upper Laurel Community Organization partnered with the Center for Rural Health Innovations (CRHI), a NC non-profit that provides liability and malpractice insurance, electronic health records, and a physician collaborator, plus a network of other clinics for shared learning. Upper Laurel runs the  Ebbs Chapel Community Center, which now hosts the Outland Family Clinic as part of CHRI’s Health-e-Neighbors program. An additional partnership with a local church helps to cover monthly costs and supplies, while the Ebbs Chapel Community Center supplies the space, heat, and electricity. The community center provided the space and volunteer coordination to convert an outdated school classroom into 2 exam rooms plus a waiting area for a health clinic. 

In 2022, which was only their second year of operations, this innovative partnership provided free, convenient medical care to 329  patients in their community. Congratulations to Upper Laurel for their outstanding efforts and collaboration to help transform their community’s access to high quality, convenient, and affordable healthcare! 

Exam room at the Outland Family Clinic, in the Ebbs Chapel Community Center

Waiting area of the Outland Family Clinic

Members of Upper Laurel Community Organization accept the Impact award, presented by Heather Parlier of Dogwood Health Trust (far left) and Jennifer Ferre, Executive Director of WNC Communities (far right).