Chatham County Changemakers
During Founding Day, Chatham 250 will be celebrating the many founders of Chatham County and the ways they have made positive changes in the community. Chatham 250 would like to highlight a few Chathamites who are making meaningful changes throughout the county. They are the founders of today.
Ms. Verna Nobles
The desire to make a difference all started when Ms. Verna Nobles and her husband were working at a school many years ago. They saw children coming in without socks, coats, hats, school supplies, among other necessary items. This is when the couple began accepting donations through community efforts to get the children the items they needed.
When Ms. Verna’s husband was diagnosed with cancer, he urged his wife to continue the work in their community in whatever way she could. At his funeral, Ms. Verna asked for food and donations for those in need, rather than flowers. Following her husbands’ wishes, Ms. Verna founded Bonlee Baptist Food Pantry and has been serving individuals and families in Chatham County for the past six years.
Ms. Verna’s voice is loving when she talks about the people she comes in contact with every day. “Seeing everyone’s faces and being able to just be in service to them has provided me more than I could ever give them,” says Ms. Verna. In an average year, Ms. Verna shares that they normally serve around 34 families every six months. Since the pandemic began, those numbers have skyrocketed; reaching up to 1,112 people in a single day. Ms. Verna’s love and care for the people she serves can be felt through her passionate words. “They’re not just people in line for food; the people we serve have become friends and family to me. We love them and seeing their faces light up when we serve them is why we will continue to do what we do.”
Lynn Glasser began his work as a volunteer pharmacist at Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy five years ago. This work began when he started noticing the huge disparities in income levels in Chatham County and how that was greatly affecting people’s quality of life and well-being. Lynn was constantly coming in contact with patients who had to make impossible choices between putting food on the table for their family, paying power bills, or buying critical medications for themselves.
Chatham Cares Community Pharmacy serves folks who are 200% below poverty level and in desperate need of some assistance. Lynn says that one of the most important things in his life is to be a disciple of God and that he believes his mission is to give back to those who don’t have. Lynn is passionate about the work he does. “It is so rewarding to see patients do well when you do try to reach out and help them,” Lynn says. Lynn also mentions that giving back to the community that he was born and grew up in has been an extremely rewarding experience in and of itself. Lynn says he will continue the battle of trying to help people take the leap out of poverty and into some sort of better living.
Gretchen Smith has been the president of Friends of Lower Haw River State Natural Area since 2016. Gretchen has always enjoyed getting out in nature in whatever way she could; whether it be taking walks, hiking, or visiting state and national parks. When Gretchen was younger, her parents set the example of giving back to the community in which you are a part of; her parents were constantly giving back and it has inspired her to do the same. Having lived in Chatham County for a long time, she decided that nature conservation is one of her strongest interests and decided to get involved.
Gretchen now volunteers full-time by writing grants, advocating for projects with elected officials, planning educational activities for school-aged children, and seeking donations/sponsors for conservation projects. Examples of such activities include: gaining grants for trail infrastructure projects, developing a pollinator garden, leading cleaning up efforts for the Lower Haw river and surrounding forests, providing guided hikes by experts on various topics, and overall maintaining and taking good care of the area.
Gretchen shares her experience with one of the most difficult projects the Friends of Lower Haw faced: installing a metal staircase. The project was predicted to only take eight months, but it ended up taking about a year and a half from start to finish. Gretchen recalls that there were three floods back-to-back that made the water so high that it was impossible to begin the project. Month after month went by, until finally, they could begin. Despite the never-ending obstacles, Gretchen and the team persevered and eventually they built the staircase. Now she looks onto the staircase with pride, knowing all it took to get it there.
Instagram & Twitter: @lowerhawfriends
Facebook: Lower Haw Friends
Youtube: Friends of Lower Haw River SNA
Margaret Ann Alston
Ann Alston volunteers with the AME Zion Women’s Missionary. Through this work she donates resources such as food, diapers, and information to members of the Chatham County community. The Zion Women’s Missionary has conducted several projects which have included sewing cloth masks for people in need, providing food drives, making dresses out of pillowcases for children in Africa, and leading diaper drives for Chatham County residents. Ann acknowledges that often it’s hard for people to access resources due to unavailable transportation, so they often deliver the supplies to people directly.
Not only is Ann a part of the Missionary, but she also does work with the West Chatham NAACP and Chatham Organizing Racial Equality (CORE). These groups often meet to discuss fighting injustice and have participated in protests throughout Chatham County. Ann has decided to take a bigger role in CORE as of recently and is currently organizing the 3rd annual Juneteenth event.
Ann shared that the most memorable experience she’s had in all the work that she’s done throughout the years has been the COVID-19 relief that has occurred over the past year. She said that people they were helping were so grateful because many of them did not know where their next meal would be coming from. During these unprecedented times, Ann has provided the Chatham community with essential resources, hope, and love.
Daisey, at the age of 17, has already accomplished more than some adults have in their lifetime. Daisey will be a first-generation high school graduate, but it doesn’t stop there. Daisey was accepted to all nine colleges she applied to but has made the decision to attend UNC Chapel Hill for a degree in Social Work.
Upon entering high school, Daisey decided to join as many clubs as she possibly could in the hopes of seizing every opportunity that was available to her. Her parents did not know much about the educational system, so Daisey took it upon herself to discover what she wanted to be a part of. Daisey is currently captain of the tennis team, a member of the Hispanic Liaison’s Orgullo Latinx Pride Youth Group, Beta Club, Leo Club, Teen Court, Yearbook Club, Student Government, and American Health Occupations Education Student Organization. Her volunteer activities through these clubs have included: handing out masks in low-income communities, bell ringing for Salvation Army, working in a food pantry, helping freshmen get adjusted to high school, among many other things.
Daisey explains how she has developed a deep awareness of how important cultural identity and pride is through her work within these groups. She has met many people she wouldn’t have come into contact with otherwise, and she is really grateful for that, as she has learned so much from them. Daisey has enjoyed coming together with people that are all different races, ethnicities, and ages and working towards a common goal: to help their community feel safe and cared for. Daisey says that through her participation in these groups, she has gained self-confidence and leadership skills. She remarks “I used to be shy and reserved and now I have really come out of my comfort zone and feel comfortable speaking up in front of large groups.”
Kevin is a 17-year-old student at Jordan- Matthews High School and is a member of the Hispanic Liaison’s Orgullo Latinx Pride Youth Group. When the Mountaire Farms plant was being built, many people were forced to leave the homes they have lived in for years in order to make room for the new factory construction. The Latinx Pride Youth Group signed petitions and held events to raise awareness and money for those residents. Although the residents still had to move out of their homes, through the efforts of various volunteer and advocacy groups, the families ended up receiving some compensation. Kevin really enjoyed advocating for members of the Siler City community, giving a voice to those who feel they don’t have one, and plans to continue his advocacy work in the future.
Kevin is the second oldest out of his six other siblings, which he says has been a driving factor in his leadership skills. Kevin says his number one focus in his advocacy work in the future will be on mental health awareness after struggling with his own mental health in the past. When his mental health began to spiral in high school, he was able to receive help. He began to meet other young people who were going through similar issues as him and realized he wasn’t alone in this struggle.
Through this experience, Kevin gained the resilience to continue on and share his story so that he can help others in the community who may believe that they are alone. His goal is to help them realize that there are other people going through challenging times. Despite all these struggles, Kevin has decided to use his voice to raise awareness, decrease the stigma surrounding mental health, and build community and support surrounding these issues.
Quentin Murray is the President of 3 Rivers Coalitions and the Moncure-Haywood Events. Quentin has worked with several populations within the community – ranging from middle schoolers to elderly adults. Through his work, Quentin has provided middle and high school students the opportunity to tour local colleges. Quentin’s voice is cheerful when he recalls the story of one 8th grade student who was sure she was going to go into the military. After four years of participating in the college tours around Winston-Salem State University, she decided to apply. Four years later – she ended up graduating with honors!
Quentin goes on to say that a lot of his favorite memories in the work that he’s done have occurred during the Legends Ball – an event to celebrate the elders within the community. The event spotlights and celebrates residents who grew up in Chatham County. They dress up, eat a really good meal, and bring awareness to the history and proud moments within the community. During the evening, Hall of Fame Awards are given to those in the community that are turning 90. Quentin is joyful while he talks about the events that he has been a part of.
Quentin’s hard work has provided community members with food truck events that include live music ranging from bluegrass to country. Quentin stresses that these events are to bring the community together and that anyone and everyone; no matter your age, race, religion, are all welcome.
Ella is a Northwood High School senior who has lived in Chatham County her entire life. She loves living in Pittsboro and plans to go to UNC Chapel Hill to major in Journalism upon graduating. Ella is the co-editor of The Northwood Omniscient - Northwood High School’s student news magazine and is a part of the Chatham 250 communications team.
One of Ella’s proudest moments is that she was named alternative for NC Journalist of the Year. This achievement provided her with a scholarship for college and helped her get into the UNC Journalism School. She also spends her time volunteering with Girl Scouts, Kiwanis Club, Key Club, and Chatham 250. Ella is joyful when she talks about the volunteering she has done in the past, stating that she has fallen in love with serving others. Make sure to keep an eye out for Ella’s name in newspapers, magazines, and articles in the future!
Thank you to Chatham County MSW intern Shannon Lomasney for preparing these Chatham County changemaker profiles!