Clockwise, from top left, are new board members Clarissa Ashe, Ann Lukens, and Paul Worley.
January 8, 2024
Nantahala Health Foundation recently welcomed three new volunteer board members, expanding its membership from 12 to 15. New board members are:
- Clarissa Ashe of Sylva, a first-generation Mexican American, was born in Tucson, AZ, and has lived in Western North Carolina since age 16. A graduate of Western Carolina University, Ashe earned a degree in International Business. She has been employed by the Jackson County Health Department since 2004, first as a foreign language medical interpreter (Spanish is her first language); and since 2009 as the department’s Business Officer.
- Ann Lukens of Murphy is a 20-year semi-retired paramedic who continues to work with Hiwassee Dam and Unaka volunteer fire departments and as a medical first responder. A former Red Cross disaster volunteer, she has been deployed to 14 national disasters, largely in the southern U.S. Formerly a social worker in hospitals and child protective services in New York and Georgia, her specialty was geriatric services. Lukens holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from St. Michael’s College in Vermont and an associate degree in emergency medical sciences from Tri-County Community College in Murphy.
- Paul Worley, a native and resident of Murphy, is Vice President of Workforce and Economic Development and directs the Continuing Education Programs at Tri-County Community College. He also serves on the Economic Development Agency for Cherokee County where he works with new and existing businesses to locate them in the county or to expand their existing footprint. Worley earned a master’s degree in education and Two-Year College Administration from Western Carolina University after earning a Bachelor of Business Administration from Montreat College.
At its most recent Board of Directors’ meeting, the following were elected to serve as officers for 2024:
Re-elected for a second year into the chair role, Lisa Leatherman of Franklin was one of the original members of the foundation’s board. As a Duke Energy employee for more than 30 years, Leatherman currently serves as its Local Government and Community Relations Manager. A member of the Rotary Club of Sylva, she also serves on boards for Mountain West Partnership, Southwestern Community College Foundation, Mainspring Conservation Trust, Macon County Department of Social Services, Macon County Community Foundation, Macon County Recreation Commission, Smoky Mountain Host and Western Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology Dean’s Advisory Board. Leatherman’s past board service includes the Macon County Department of Social Services, Macon County Community Foundation and Macon County Recreation Commission.
“It is an honor to have served as a founding member – and now chair for a second year – of Nantahala Health Foundation,” Leatherman said. “The opportunity to partner with nonprofits, agencies, local governments, and community leaders in the six westernmost counties in Western North Carolina to influence the health and well-being of fellow citizens is humbling and motivating.”
Roger Plemens of Franklin was re-elected into the Vice Chair role for the health foundation. Retired from the former Entegra Bank, Plemens remains active in his community. In addition to his service on the health foundation board, Plemens has been active in his community, previously serving on the board of Angel Medical Center, on the Macon County Chamber of Commerce, as president of the Franklin Daybreak Rotary, as a board member of Western Carolina University Foundation, on the North Carolina Bankers Association and currently serves on Macon County’s Economic Development Commission.
“Working toward the betterment of my community has always been important to me,” Plemens said, “and because the work we’re doing at Nantahala Health Foundation is guaranteed to pay dividends for us all well into the future, I would encourage anyone interested in leaving a lasting legacy on this community to get involved with our mission.”
Graham County School Superintendent Angie Knight of Robbinsville was re-elected secretary of the health foundation. A native of North Carolina, Knight grew up in Lenoir and moved to Robbinsville in 1983. A graduate of Robbinsville High School, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Education, master’s degree in Special Education, and her doctorate in Educational Leadership all from Western Carolina University.
“Having spent my entire career in education, I have learned that all community issues are interconnected, including community health and wellness,” she said. “I enjoy actively participating with the other NHF board members to make decisions that benefit all our communities.”
Jane Kimsey of Franklin, the health foundation’s founding chair, was elected to the treasurer’s role. Before her retirement in 2015, Kimsey served 33 years with the Macon County Department of Social Services, 26 as its director. During her DSS tenure, she served on numerous local, regional and state professional boards related to health and well-being.
After retirement, Kimsey continued to serve in leadership roles on the local hospital board and two low-income housing boards, resigning from those boards to serve on the NHF Board. She is a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from N.C. Governor Pat McCrory in 2015 and received both the Outstanding DSS Director Award in 2011 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 from the N.C. Association of County Directors of Social Services.
A ninth-generation resident of the area that became Macon County in 1828, Kimsey says her “love of my mountain home community, my commitment to service, and my desire to help people help themselves are the reasons I decided to serve on the health foundation’s Board of Directors.”
The remaining members of the board are:
- Alison Cochran of Bryson City, director of the Swain County Health Department;
- Ollin Dunford of Forest Hills, head varsity basketball coach at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva;
- David Garrett of Whittier, director of the regional Southwestern Workforce Development Board;
- Debbie Mauney of Brasstown, Clay County’s manager; and
- Barbara ‘Sunshine’ Parker of Sylva, associate justice of the Cherokee Trail Court in Cherokee.
About Nantahala Health Foundation
Nantahala Health Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that partners with other nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties and the Qualla Boundary to improve health and wellness outcomes for all. By addressing the root causes of health inequities and by removing barriers to health, NHF’s impact is broadly felt in its partnerships with regional change-makers.
Since its establishment in 2019, Nantahala Health Foundation has employed its grantmaking programs to invest more than $3.46 million in support of some 175 programs, all of which have contributed a total regional mobilization of more than $15.6 million and improved thousands of lives. NHF’s operations, which were launched with a modest $15 million investment under the direction of a volunteer board of directors, require public support to continue to serve as one of Western North Carolina’s most influential health-related philanthropic entities.
Those who wish to learn more about their work within the region and how best to support it are invited to visit their website at NantahalaHealthFoundation.org or call 828.634.1527.