West Marion community leader honored for her activism

Paula Swepson Avery, co-chair of the West Marion Community Forum, was one of those recently honored with the 2017 CoThinkk Community Leadership Award at a ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. CoThinkk is an organization that “brings together community leaders who care about the economic and social well-being of communities of color in Asheville and western North Carolina.”

A grassroots leader from McDowell County was recently honored for her commitment and activism in the West Marion community.

Paula Swepson Avery, co-chair of the West Marion Community Forum, was one of those recently honored with the 2017 CoThinkk Community Leadership Award at a ceremony at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. CoThinkk is an organization that “brings together community leaders who care about the economic and social well-being of communities of color in Asheville and western North Carolina.”

As part of this award, Avery will also participate in the CoThinkk leadership program to strengthen alliance building and collaboration efforts in her community.

A short biography on the website for CoThinkk describes Avery as part of a long line of rural activists and a third-generation resident of Marion who cares deeply for her community.

“Paula has over 25 years experience in the manufacturing sector and community development,” reads the online biography. “She currently serves as the coordinator of the West Marion Community Forum supporting community members on collaboration and developing local solutions to issues related to healthy eating and active living, affordable child care, county-wide transportation, affordable housing and youth empowerment.

“Paula and her four sisters were raised by a very strong, loving mother after her father passed away. She has four children, two girls and two boys and 18 grandchildren. Paula loves life, making people smile, making a difference in her community, attending church and spending time with family and friends. She tries to live by the words of a gospel song, ‘If I can help somebody along the way, then my living will not be in vain.’”

Avery told The McDowell News this recognition is for all of the West Marion community.

“I couldn't lead this great work without my co-chair Dawna Goode Ledbetter and our community supporting and standing with me,” she said. “We know now that West Marion is not only a geological location, it's also a state of mind that we hold it deep in our heart and want to see nothing but great things to continue to happen.”

The West Marion Community Forum established the “Keeping it Fresh” garden to promote healthier eating and has a free transportation service for community residents. It is also working on home improvement efforts. The forum seeks various ways to improve the lives of those who live in West Marion.

Avery said she wanted to thank Vickey Stinson for her nomination and her hard work to make this project a success. She also thanked rural community development strategist Mary Snow for nominating her and “for her caring spirit and the way she has put her heart and soul into our community in ways no one has ever before.”

“Without (Snow’s) vision on how to make us comfortable enough to speak truths and want changes for the betterment, I'm not sure we would as successful as we are now,” said Avery. “And the last thing I need said is I accepted this award on behalf of the West Marion community and we know that there ‘Ain't No Stopping Us Now’ and we truly understand that ‘It Takes a Village’ and we have a very powerful one.”

Avery was joined by other leaders from the West Marion community as she received this award in Asheville.

She is now in a six-month training period to build her skills and network with other award recipients. This training provides workshops and peer-to-peer activities along with leadership seminars from professional experts.

CoThinkk seeks to:

• Build and strengthen a leadership pipeline of African-American and Latino individuals that are focused on social change for Asheville and western North Carolina

• Create and support new leadership opportunities within traditional and nontraditional institutions in Asheville while building new alliances to focus on issues unique to communities of color

• Build the capacity of leaders of colors to serve in important roles within the region and build an intentional community engagement strategy that is focused on inclusivity, equity, and diversity.

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