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Appalachian District Health Department social worker Trish Lanier, right, reacts with surprise when named the 2012 Great Friend to Families as Jen Hayward left, prepares to present her award. Photo courtesy of The Children's Playhouse.

Originally published: 2013-02-04 11:05:32
Last modified: 2013-02-04 11:07:24

Nominations open for 'Great Friend to Families' award

by Sherrie Norris

The High Country is known for its community outreach, especially to its youngsters and their families.

In an effort to recognize those who go the extra mile to make a difference, the staff and volunteers of The Children’s Playhouse in Boone are once again preparing to recognize “hometown heroes who offer sustained contributions” to the well being of young children and their families in the area, said the organization’s board president, Tara Stollenmaier.

Several of these High Country residents will be honored on Sat., Mar. 2 as “Helping Hands” and “Helping Hearts;” one of the honorees will receive the overall “Great Friend to Families” award, a piece of local art and $500 to donate to the High Country nonprofit organization of his or her choice.

The celebration luncheon will be held from noon to 2 p.m. at the High Country Homebuilders Association Plaza.

What does it take to be a “hero?”

According to Stollenmaier, “Helping Hands” awards celebrate professionals who, over the course of their careers, have shown extraordinary dedication to improving the lives of children and families.

“Helping Hearts” awards recognize individuals who have touched the lives of children and families through generous philanthropy and/or outstanding volunteerism,” she said.

Who Are The Heroes?

Within the past four years, dozens of community activists and faithful volunteers have been nominated for the “Great Friend to Families Award” — and for as many reasons, said Kathy Parham, executive director of The Children’s Playhouse.

During the inaugural event, in 2009, Judith Winecoff, children’s librarian at Watauga County Library was among 16 nominees to receive the first Great Friend to Families award and designated the Hunger and Health Coalition as recipient of her $500 charitable donation.

In 2010, the award went to Pat Morgan, a longtime community volunteer who, for decades, gave of his time to read to children in local elementary schools, organized many events benefitting families, and took numerous rural children on educational trips to Washington D.C. Morgan designated his monetary award to enhance the children's collection of books at the Watauga County Public Library. Morgan was one of 20 individuals nominated for the award.

The 2011 Great Friend to Families Award was shared by two dedicated community volunteers, but kept in the same household when Dick and Joan Hearn were named winners. A dynamic duo, the Hearns are known for their far-reaching impact through High Country nonprofit agencies, ranging from the Watauga County Public Library "Reading and Rolling" program, to the High Country United Way, to the Guardian Ad Litem and many others.  The Hearns were part of a 19-nominee pool.

For 2012, the Great Friend to Families Award took on a new look with Trish Lanier of the Appalachian Regional Health Department named the overall winner after receiving recognition in the “Helping Hands” category with the following individuals: Jim Atkinson, Nancy Blair, Barbara Case, Heather Jordan, Crystal Kelly, Margaret Mullins, Gay Lynn Williams, Mary Willis, and Joan Zimmerman.

An additional division provided the opportunity for the following individuals to be honored as  “Helping Hearts:” Susan Bolash, Christopher Clark, Kathleen Collins, Rebekah Cummings, Beth Darnell, Carolyn Garland, Betty Green, Jack and Karen James, Jo Anne Jenkins, Diandra (Lynn) Patterson, Bob and Wimmy Powell, Kim Roberts and Catherine Wilkinson.

“We feel lucky to learn about all of these tireless workers for families (each year) and we try to make them all feel special—from telling their story in the luncheon program to giving each award winner a flower arrangement and a certificate,” said Parham. “What touches the honorees the most, I believe, is the knowledge that their friends and neighbors took the time to nominate them."

Nominate your "Hometown Hero"

Parham encourages the community to think of that “special someone” who deserves recognition and to nominate that person in the category that best describes the majority of the individual’s contributions.

“We want those making nominations to mention additional volunteerism or paid work which adds to our overall understanding of what makes the person so deserving of recognition,” she said. “Please note the length of time the individual has served families in the High Country and if he or she has worked in more than one capacity, or worked with more than one organization.”

Nominations must include full contact information for the nominee and nominator, and the names and contact information for at least three people who support the nomination.

More information and nomination forms may be accessed online at http://www.

Those without Internet access may stop by The Children’s Playhouse or call Parham at (828) 263-0011 for more information.

Nominations must be submitted by Feb. 15 via email to ( or mailed to Great Friend to Families Award Committee, c/o Kathy Parham, The Children’s Playhouse 400 Tracy Circle Boone, NC 28607.

Award winners will be chosen by a distinguished committee of local leaders, including previous award winners, Parham said.

About the Awards Luncheon

The awards luncheon will be held from noon to 2 p.m. on Sat. Mar. 2 at the High Country Home Builders Plaza, 755 NC Hwy. 105 By-Pass in Boone. Tickets are $20, of which $15 is tax-deductible, and may be purchased through the Playhouse website.

“Anyone who has attended these events knows what a great opportunity it is to honor some of the hardest working, most selfless individuals in our community,” said Parham. “Plus, the award is more meaningful to the honorees if their supporters and nominators also attend.”

Proceeds from the luncheon will allow the organization to keep the facility “educational and enticing to children and accessible to all families, regardless of income level,” Parham said.

The Children’s Playhouse

Described by some as “a creative play space for families,” and others as “a nonprofit children’s museum,” The Children’s Playhouse is one and the same. Serving the High Country since 2002, it was established by a group of local citizens who wanted an enriching play environment for children from birth to age eight, while at the same time, giving parents and caregivers the “friendly support” they needed in the important job of raising children.

Founding board members Ann Kiefert, Beth Darnell, Kathy Parham, Cathy Riggs and Heidi Campbell have watched and worked faithfully through the years to see the playhouse become what it is today.

Located in a renovated house in Boone, The Children’s Playhouse offers a variety of child and family-friendly areas that promote education, creativity, health and happiness through arts, crafts, music, drama and various skill and team-building opportunities, as well as individualized development and other age-appropriate activities.

“We serve as an informal ‘town square’ for the High Country,” Parham said, “a place where natives and newcomers, out-of-towners and locals, experienced parents and eager first-timers —and people of all classes — are brought together to share the joy of playful learning with their children.”

The organization’s success is measured primarily through an annual parent survey, the most recent of which found responders reporting overall improvement in their children’s social skills, interaction, self-confidence, emotional maturity, creativity and ability to solve problems — and that participation helped to prepare the children for success in school.

One-hundred percent of adults surveyed indicated that the educational resources and support they receive helped to increase their understanding of parenting skills and helped them become more effective parents and/or caregivers.

The Children’s Playhouse is supported in part by grants from the Janes and Barnickel Foundations, the Town of Boone, the High Country Women’s Fund, the High Country United Way and Kiwanis Club.

Admission to the playhouse is $5 per person.  A one-year passport membership, for $125, includes admission to the Playhouse and free or reduced admission to more than 150 other children’s museums nationwide. Scholarship memberships are available for families meeting income guidelines.