Community Profile

Avery County Young Professionals; Ashe County Young Professionals Bailey Little and Harley Nefe cheer on Joshua Biggers as he competes in the 2023 Blue Ridge Brutal.

The Young Professionals of Avery, Watauga & Ashe:The Power of Collaboration

By Steve York

There are many familiar adages lauding the value of teamwork, of pooling resources, of combining talents and of building collectives. Examples: “The whole is more than the sum of its parts,” “A home is more than a collection of bricks,” and “The Beatles were more than just John, Paul, George and Ringo.” Or, as Margaret Mead once stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world.”

Although it’s tough to top the above “wise sayings”—especially Margaret Mead’s— here’s another: Collaboration ignites inspiration, imagination, and innovation. That notion seems to be a common takeaway from the spirit and initiative that link three individual groups called “The Young Professionals” of Avery, Watauga and Ashe counties.

Each group enjoys an affiliation with, and strong support from, their respective Chambers of Commerce. Yet, by their youthful makeup, their dynamics and their core aspirations, these groups are unique in focus. And the spirit that motivates these Young Professionals is enhanced by and clearly spelled-out in their very moniker…Young Professionals.

While varying a bit from group to group, the defining age range for membership runs from around 20 to 40 years old, with some starting at 21 and some extending the upper limit to age 45. Collectively, they share a mutual commitment to furthering their own professional goals while giving back to their communities and promoting the overall prosperity of the entire High Country. And in the process, they are receiving notable acclaim and awards for their contributions.

The more recently ignited of these groups is the Avery County Young Professionals, whose motto is, “The next leaders of Avery start here.” The group’s head, Dalton Kilby, recalled, “When my wife and I moved to Banner Elk in 2020, we noticed there weren’t enough existing organizations or gathering locations for younger full-time residents in our community. Because of this, we felt like there weren’t many folks our age in Avery County. However, since starting Avery County YP group, I’m happy to have been proven wrong. We do exist. We just needed a space to come together, meet each other, and start making connections.

“The Avery group was started by me in August of 2023 with help from the Avery Chamber of Commerce,” Kilby continued. “We are a group of 20 to 44 year-olds that either work or live in Avery County and are passionate about entrepreneurship, community, and the future of Avery County. Since August, we have formed a Board of Directors, have recruited over 40 members, and have held six events. One of our most noteworthy successes was raising over $2,000 for the local non-profit, Western Youth Network, during their annual Festival of Trees. We plan to make this an annual effort moving forward,” he added.

“We connect young professionals with opportunities to engage and make a positive impact in Avery County and beyond,” said Kilby. “Our programming for this year includes events to help achieve this mission. Monthly ‘Meetup’ events are centered around education, networking, volunteerism, and just-for-fun social gatherings. Fundraising opportunities that we’ve identified so far consist of teacher/classroom grants for Avery County Schools, routine volunteer work at our local non-profits, entrepreneurial grants for new businesses in Avery, and collaboration with local government and civic entities to participate in decision making for the future of the county,” Kilby concluded.

Next door to Avery in Watauga County we have the High Country Young Professionals, or “Yo-Pros,” a name they’ve adopted for their group. Their stated goal is first and foremost to connect like-minded individuals across Western North Carolina. As their mission quotes, “We’re a dedicated group of professional young adults under age 40 serving in various industries across the High Country. The Yo-Pros are reshaping the High Country’s business and social landscape, one networking event at a time.”

Carrie Henderson, Committee Chair of the Yo-Pros, noted that the High Country Young Professionals has been in existence for quite a while but has been refreshed more recently. “We reformed our group in February 2023 and held an official launch that May. This past year we mainly wanted to work on gathering a group of like-minded young professionals and get the word out that the High Country Yo-Pros were back!” noted Henderson.

“To be clear, since our Boone Area Chamber of Commerce reaches beyond Boone, our group isn’t limited to people within Boone, and they don’t have to be a Chamber member to join. We welcome anyone from across the High Country,” she added.

The High Country Yo-Pros meet the first Tuesday of the month, generally between 5 and 7 p.m. depending on the date and specific location. Their free meetings offer a variety of agendas such as workshops, professional seminars, leadership coaching, and idea sessions, and occasionally they feature live local Young Professional musicians.

Currently boosters of area organizations like eco-friendly Blue Ridge Conservancy and MountainTrue, the Yo-Pros plan multiple community projects, partnerships and charitable events this summer. And, following in the footsteps of previous “Rising Star” award winners Danielle Neibaur in 2022 and Ashli Kemo in 2023, the group is proud to note that several members were nominated for the “4 Under 40” awards this year (winners to be announced at the annual awards ceremony on April 24). 

Up in Ashe County, the Ashe County Young Professionals organization is sponsored by the Business and Community Development Committee of the Ashe Chamber of Commerce and is currently headed up by co-leaders Joshua Biggers (Moderator) and Bailey Little (Scribe and Social Media Coordinator). Although originally started in 2021, previous leaders were drawn away for other commitments and memberships had dropped. So, when Biggers and Little were invited to assume leadership in late 2022, it was an opportunity for them to help rebuild.

“One change we made was increasing the amount of time we spend together as a group each month,” noted Little. “Previously, we had only one and felt that wasn’t enough. So, we decided to have our regular organizational meeting plus social gatherings. As a result, our members not only show up for social events, they also come to volunteer, to give back to our community and to help with monthly planning,” she added.

Examples of their “give back” include a volunteer cleanup project at the Todd community garden plus initiatives to help support their local VFW, Ashe County Habitat for Humanity and the Ashe Food Pantry, to name just a few.

Summarizing the Ashe Young Professional’s agenda, Moderator Biggers noted, “Our group stands as a key driver for Ashe County’s future growth. We’ve successfully integrated volunteering, networking, and mentoring into the core of our foundation. And we take pride in our 20+ active members—a diverse group of men and women ages 21 to 45 years old from worldwide backgrounds—who are consistently engaging in nine or more volunteer events each quarter. We meet the first Wednesday of every month; we also have one social event each month and do multiple volunteer opportunities per month. Those dates are not set because we schedule them the month prior at the planning meeting,” he concluded. As exemplified by these three Young Professional groups, collaboration does indeed ignite inspiration, imagination and innovation, plus…meaningful community involvement. For membership guidelines, meetings and community project information, make contact at: [email protected] for Avery County, for High Country Yo-Pros, and [email protected] for Ashe County.

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