The winners of the Annual Spirit of Our Community Awards were announced at the Chamber’s Annual Meeting and Celebration on Thursday, November 15 at The Orchard Restaurant Event Barn. A ticket to the event included abundant hors d’oeuvres catered by The Orchard Restaurant, entertainment provided by Steve HOTt of HOTt Acts and Sugar Cloud Baking Company “Berry Bramble Bars” as a take home treat to all attendees. Sponsors for the event included Entegra Bank, Hattler Properties, Landmark Realty Group, and Zoller Hardware Gifts and Gadgets Mercantile. The Chamber is delighted to share the following as the 2018 Spirit of Our Community Award winners.

This year’s Evergreen Award, presented to an individual, business or other organization whose work reflects respect of natural resources and the value of sustainability, was presented to Southern Highlands Reserve for their dedication to sustaining the natural ecosystems of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the preservation, cultivation and display of plants native to the region and by advocating for their value through education, restoration and research and their unparalleled Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative. The reserve was also noted as the first organization in Lake Toxaway to receive this award.

The Businessperson of the Year award is presented to a business representative who has leveraged commercial resources to support community initiatives in an extraordinary manner. This year the award was presented to Sam Lupas of Landmark Realty Group. Sam led the Highlands Cashiers Hospital Board through concerted examination of the proposed Mission acquisition by HCA Healthcare, the nation’s largest health care system and is one of only a select few recently appointed to the Dogwood Health Trust, funded by the sale of Mission.  He and his board colleagues will be responsible for investing upwards of $75 million per year into our region to promote health and wellness among all citizens, starting with a $15 million contribution over three years to our local Highlands Cashiers Hospital foundation board.

Educator of the Year award is presented to a teacher or administrator who has uniquely promoted character development and motivation as a foundation for future success and was bestowed to Donna Smith of Cashiers Valley Preschool for her pivotal role in shaping the youngest minds at Cashiers Valley Preschool. She presents learning as fun and makes the children excited and eager learners throughout their lives.

The 2018 Volunteer of the Year award, presented to an individual or in this case a couple who have generously given of their personal time, talent and/or financial support to improve the lives of those in the community, was awarded to Vicky and Rick Robson. Recognizing the enormous needs of our community, Vicky & Rick have make extraordinary commitments to provide emotional, financial, and educational support to many in need. Their involvement extends to the Boys and Girls Club of the Plateau, Blue Ridge Education Foundation, Hampton School Board, Blue Ridge Kindergarten, Hampton Day Care, Rotary Club, First United Methodist Church, Mountain Youth Charities, Junior Appalachian Musicians Program, Cashiers Historical Society, and Circle of Hope, an organization dedicated to addressing the underlying causes of poverty by supporting families and individuals in Cashiers and Glenville as they work toward sustainable economic stability and reduce trauma in the lives of at-risk children.

This year’s Arts & Culture Advocate of the Year award, presented to an individual, business or organization that promotes artistic enhancement or cultural awareness was bestowed to Justin Allman of FireMoss Pottery. In his local ceramic studio, Justin relies on hand-building and wheel-throwing techniques to create pottery that stands on its own as visual and textural pieces that reflect regional NC themes. He serves as the Cashiers Area representative on the Jackson County Arts Council and is involved in the Rotary Club of Cashiers Valley, He is responsible for bringing the coveted "Pots on the Green" pottery festival to the Village Green. He has shown his talents at The Bascom, Dillsboro Arts Festival, teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School and works hard to actively promote Cashiers as an art destination.

The coveted Citizen of the Year award, presented to an individual who has significantly and positively impacted community development through vision, innovation and leadership—was awarded to Vanna Cameron for her unparalleled legacy of generosity, compassion, enthusiasm, commitment and service to her community. Vanna’s charitable support has spanned decades as a Charter Member of the Valley Garden Club, leader on the steering committee responsible for the development of the Albert Carlton Cashiers Community Library, Chair of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina-Cashiers Community Fund (the state’s first affiliate fund), and as Editorial Chairman of The Cashiers Area: Yesterday, Today & Forever, pictorial history publication. In 1993 she was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Cashiers Valley where she recently celebrated 25 years of service, during which she has worked faithfully on the annual arts and crafts shows, winter coat drive, meal programs, Alzheimer research, community center greenhouse construction, Summit Charter and Blue Ridge School programs. She has been an active volunteer at the Community Senior Citizen’s Center, for Cashiers Cleanup Days, in the Chamber’s Beautification Committee, as a member of the United Methodist Church, and much, much more.