Occupation: Assistant General Manager, Courtyard by Marriott and President, North Carolina Jaycees
Where do you live in Catawba County?
I live actually right in downtown Conover. I live in a loft apartment that is owned by a friend of mine. It's great living in downtown Conover. It's very cool. I'm actually the only resident that lives in downtown Conover. I like getting up on a Saturday morning and going to all the little shops in Conover. Now the 1877 Restaurant is right next door to me, so it's really cool. It's kind of urban but not, because it's a small town and it's very quiet at night. I like that too.
How did you get into this line of work?
I have a degree in hotel and restaurant management. After I moved here, I came in one rainy day to see if they had something available. Brian, who was and still is the GM, was working the desk that day and hired me. I started as a front desk clerk and then moved my way up to assistant GM. I was at the Fairfield for a while as their GM and then came back here during the renovation.
What do you like about working in the hospitality industry?
I like that it's different every day. You know when you take those tests to find out what your strengths are? My strength is change. Even though I've worked in the same place for 15 years, there's always something different going on. I like being able to meet people from all over. We get guests from all over the world for all different interests, from Corning and CommScope to furniture. There's still a lot of furniture manufacturing here, and people come to buy furniture. We've had royalty from England who have stayed here while buying furniture from the Furniture Mart. Sometimes we get celebrities in here, so it’s pretty cool to be in Hickory and meet those people.
What prompted you to get involved in the industry?
I always tell people I knew what I wanted to do when I was 16. My family took a vacation through the Blue Ridge Mountains and we stopped in Blowing Rock. The Green Park Inn is what made me want to be in the hospitality industry. I can remember it exactly. When we went inside and looked around, it was really cool. I thought then that I wanted to do hotel and restaurant management.
How did you get to Catawba County?
I actually grew up in western Pennsylvania, but my mom is originally from Catawba County. She was born here. My grandparents, my great-grandparents, and my great-great-grandparents were all from Catawba County. My grandmother and all of her family are from the Claremont area. My grandfather, his family is from the Mountain View-Hickory area. I have very deep roots in Catawba County.
When I graduated from college, it was right after 9/11 and there weren't a lot of hospitality industry jobs. My grandma in Claremont said, "Why don't you come to North Carolina?" I've always loved North Carolina. It's always been like a second home, so I moved here without a job. I was 23. I didn't plan to stay in this area, but there was something... I guess maybe the family tie kind of got me. Forging relationships and making them stronger with this part of my family has been interesting, particularly as an adult. That's kind of what kept me here.
How did you meet people and get connected?
I actually had two friends who moved with me from Pennsylvania. One of them moved back to Pennsylvania, but the other still lives in the area. She met her husband here and is still here.
I grew up in a very rural area, and one of the things I really liked about Hickory and the surrounding area is that it was just big enough that it had everything that I really needed. I didn't have to go two hours away to find a decent mall. Even to go to a Walmart in my hometown, it took 30 minutes to get there. There was just enough activity going on that I didn't feel like I was in a big city, but I also felt like it was more than where I came from.
I lived here for about three years and had made friends with some people I worked with before I joined the Jaycees. I met a whole new group of people and found out so much more about our area just through the Jaycees. That’s really what kept me here, that tie and those friendships I made through the Jaycees.
What has your involvement in the Jaycees been like?
I found out about the Jaycees because my roommate joined. She worked for the Humane Society at the time, and when the Jaycees did Hickory Alive the Humane Society would do lime and orange sales to pair with the beer. I went and helped her work one of them. The Jaycees came over and talked to us, and she ended up joining. She kept saying, "You need to come check this out. I think you'd really like this," because I've always been community minded. My parents were always involved in something in the community, so that’s always been our life.
The first meeting I went to, everything they were talking about and all the different things they were doing just really excited me. I joined and within three months I was on the board of directors. Through all of that I really got to know a lot of people in the community that I didn't know. I got to meet like the mayor and the Downtown Development Association and the County people. I got to meet all kinds of people that I wouldn't necessarily get to meet otherwise and it just opened up this whole new world of things. I joined because I wanted to be involved, but I stayed because of all the relationships and the friendships I've made.
You’re now serving as North Carolina President for the Jaycees. How did you work all the way up to where you are now?
It's been a long process. I started out on the board of directors. The president at the time, who is one of my best friends now, saw something in me. She kept saying, "I think you're going to be president of our local organization some day," and two years later I was president of the Hickory Jaycees. From there, I had a couple roles on the state level.
My first term as local president was 2009. About five years later, in 2014, I realized our organization was changing and really needed a strong leader to come in and help boost it up. So in 2014, I was president again of the Hickory chapter. We grew from 20 members to 40, and we went on to become one of the top 10 chapters in the nation. I was one of the top 10 presidents in the nation as well that year. My chapter allowed me to do that. It allowed that growth.
I kept thinking about being state president, but I knew it was a big responsibility. We had a national convention in Las Vegas last April, and I decided to run for president. It's been fun ever since. We have 20 chapters in North Carolina, and I've already visited 10 of them in the first three months. I'm still staying connected with our local chapter, too.
When you think about how the Jaycees give back to the community, what does that look like?
We look at issues our community is facing and find little ways we can help alleviate some of those issues. We’re young, active citizens, so we look at things from the standpoint of what’s going to drive other young, active citizens here or keep them here. That's why we've done things like Hickory Alive, and now Conover Alive, events where people can come out and enjoy themselves.
We also do other things. We have a project called Christmas for Teens, which is one of my favorite programs. We provide Christmas gifts for 20 to 30 teens in the area. Years ago, we learned that there are a lot of programs at Christmastime for children, but once they get to a certain age they're kind of left out of some of those programs. We work with Social Services, but this past year we worked directly with people in need. We found out what they needed what they wanted and did a little bit of both. Some of these things are heartbreaking, like a winter coat or shoes. We really like to get them what they want, too, because we want them to have a good Christmas. Their parent or guardian can come and actually help wrap the presents. That made it even more meaningful, because you actually make that connection with the parent or guardian. You see how thankful they are to not have to worry about providing Christmas for their child.
What do you love about living in Catawba County?
There's so many things I love about living here. Like I said before, it kind of has that big town/small town feel. I can go to eat and I see people I know, but I also meet new people all the time. Sometimes I still meet family members I didn't know. I went to a game with a friend of mine a few years ago, and one of the guys he tailgates with said his family was from the Claremont area. It turned out his grandfather was my great-grandmother's brother. I knew who his grandfather was and who his dad was, I just had never met him. I am related to a lot of people here.
I also like the fact that it's very close to the mountains, and I love the mountains. It's beautiful here. It's beautiful here in the fall and in the spring and in the summer and even in winter, because I like a little bit of snow but I like it to go away.
We’re close to Charlotte, and you can get to the beach in four hours. In Pennsylvania I couldn't do that.
I like the people around here. To me it's just a fun area to live in. I know a lot of people think there's not a lot for younger people to do, but I beg to differ. Sometimes you just have to go out and find it, but there are plenty of things to do.
I always like to tell people that our family is NASCAR royalty, because my mom was a Jarrett. My grandfather was Ned Jarrett's older brother. There was some of that tie in coming here, too, because I've always loved NASCAR.
It sounds like you have a really deep family history here.
I went to the Catawba County Historical Museum, and as I walked through, I recognized names from my family tree. In one hallway, they had a picture of my grandmother's sister. She was a professional basketball player for Haynes Industries. And I'm thinking, "That's Aunt Millie!” Then they had a picture of my grandmother when she was very young with a group of kids in the Claremont area whose picture had been taken on Victory in Europe day. They were all on a fire truck. I had seen that picture before because my grandma had it. It was cool that it was actually there in the museum. My great-grandfather, my grandmother's dad, owned a store in downtown Claremont. There are people who still remember the store, and they tell me what a good person he was. It’s really cool to see and hear those things.
What advice would you give that 23-year-old who's moving into the community today?
Join the Jaycees! My advice would be, go out and find your own fun. Go out and find your own idea of what the area is about. So many times you hear people say, "Oh, there's nothing to do here," and that’s just not true. There is a lot to do here. The advice from me is just to get involved and find something you're passionate about, because anything you'd be passionate about, you're going to be able to find it here. And if not, create it yourself.
When I look back, I moved here when I was 23. That’s when a lot of people are very mobile in their lives and careers. When I moved here, I immediately felt a community. I immediately felt comfortable, that this was where I wanted to be. There have been times I've thought about moving back to Pennsylvania because my parents are getting older, and a big part of my family still lives there. But when I visit, after a while I miss home. This is home to me. This is what I have made my home, and I get homesick. I used to be homesick for Pennsylvania, and now I'm homesick for Conover.
Interviewed March 22, 2018