Spirit of North Carolina Award

Thursday, April 9, 2024


The Spirit of North Carolina Award offers United Ways in North Carolina communities an opportunity to honor organizations and individuals who exemplify the “spirit” of their community. Winners meet specific standards of achievement and are nominated by their local United Ways. United Way of North Carolina leads the award nomination and process and presents the award annually.

Out of the total 34 winners, 12 residents, companies and institutions from Rowan County were acknowledged for their selfless contributions throughout the past year and were given a plaque from United Way of North Carolina President and CEO Brittany Pruitt Fletcher and Board Member Kevin McDonald.


Spirit of NC Award Categories & Winners

Impactful and Engaging Campaign Event or Activity

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, accepted by Lisa Lancaster and Nekita Eubanks:

During Rowan County United Way’s fall campaign, the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College came up with innovative ideas to motivate, inspire, and engage their employees. They organized employee block parties and a trunk-or-treat event to encourage giving and participation. The staff decorated their vehicles, dressed up in unique costumes, distributed prizes, and also conducted a hot dog fundraiser. Their creativity and enthusiasm helped them raise $7,273, which is $4,053 more than the preceding year. Lisa Lancaster and Judy Lee from the Human Resources Department worked together to ensure the success of the campaign.

Hexagon Agility, accepted by Don Ruddy:

During the fall campaign of Rowan County United Way, Hexagon Agility went the extra mile to increase employee giving. The company organized a 45-minute session with each department to share the United Way story through client testimonials. To motivate their team, they offered special parking spots, vacation days, and Jean days. In addition, they raised funds through a hot dog fundraiser that further improved employee engagement. Jennifer Corriher, Administrative Assistant, and Don Ruddy, Plant Manager, worked diligently to make this campaign a success. Their extra efforts resulted in raising $9,041, which was $2,927 more than the previous year.

Building Momentum and Sustainability Through Engaged Leadership or Employees

Peter Franzese:

Peter Franzese, Town Manager of the Town of Spencer, led his organization into an incredibly successful campaign for Rowan County United Way. Franzese’s tenacity paved the way as he advocated for United Way to his team and inspired employees to give back. Because of his leadership and passion, the Town of Spencer increased their number of givers and generated a 135% increase in their total campaign.

Franzese was recognized by United Way at their annual meeting where he received the Campaign Chairman’s Award, which honors a company that demonstrates corporate philanthropy and engagement through holding campaign meetings, sharing the United Way message, and engaging their employees to give through payroll deductions.

Crisis Control and Community Resilience

Rowan County United Way Into The Light Committee, accepted by Janet Johnson and David Whisenant

In 2018, a Needs Assessment conducted in Rowan County identified mental health as a significant concern. As a result, Rowan County United Way decided to focus on mental health as one of their priority funding areas. To raise funds for local accessible mental health treatment programs and services, they organized the Into The Light Suicide & Mental Health Awareness Walk in 2019. The committee behind the event works hard each year to make it a success by bringing sponsors and organizations to educate participants on various topics related to suicide.

In 2023, the committee realized that the local community needed a support group for people dealing with the grief of loved ones lost from suicide. They worked together to create the “Reaching Into The Light Grief Support Group,” which is now available for free to all Rowan County residents. The program is led by a licensed clinician who provides psychoeducation to the participants and offers them much-needed emotional support. The Into The Light Committee has worked tirelessly to make this event a success, not only by raising funds for mental health programs but also by directly impacting the lives of those who participate in the program. Janet Johnson and retired WBTV reporter David Whisenant are dedicated committee members and supporters who accept this recognition on behalf of everyone involved in making this program a reality.

Leading through the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Lens

Mark Ritchie:

Mark Ritchie, who previously served as CEO of Cheerwine, has been dedicating his time to social justice work and Christian teaching for over 15 years. Currently, he serves on the Racial Equity Rowan’s Advisory Team as Spiritual Director. Ritchie is actively involved in assisting the organization with their Deconstructing Racism Workshops, which aim to provide participants with a better understanding of racism in its institutional and structural forms. In addition, Ritchie advocates for diversity and equity transformation through St. John’s Vision for Racial Healing and by supporting Racial Equity Rowan with resources fairs and other events.

Anne Little:

Anne Little serves as the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Director for the City of Salisbury. Her primary responsibility is to develop and implement a comprehensive DEI Strategic Action Plan that promotes and nurtures equality throughout all aspects of the city. The plan includes internal workplace equity, information, education, and training, talent acquisition, management, and retention, annual planning, awareness and support, leadership by example, procurement policies, and DEI staff core team. Little has been very dedicated and worked tirelessly to make this plan possible. Her efforts have played a significant role in implementing this plan to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community.


Building a Legacy of Community Engagement through Volunteerism

Catawba College Dead Athenian Society (DAS), accepted by Miles Lester and Victor Mendoza:

Catawba College’s Dead Athenian Society (DAS) consists of male students who aim to foster fellowship, service, and growth in social and spiritual aspects. Membership to the society is by invitation only. DAS members host and assist with social activities on campus, participate in community service activities, attend overnight retreats, and assist with special events. The society is committed to volunteering and has provided countless hours of volunteer service to Rowan County United Way. They have actively participated in events such as the Into The Light Suicide & Mental Health Awareness Walk and the Service Above Self Youth Awards. Additionally, they participate in Catawba College’s Day of Service, which coincides with United Way’s Day of Caring event.

DAS recognizes and incentivizes its members with various opportunities, such as professional networking, becoming leaders for different positions (events, membership, service, and alumni relations), graduating as a DAS alumnus, and most importantly, being part of something greater than oneself.

Their commitment to service was most evident during the Into The Light event, where despite the inclement weather and an early start, DAS members demonstrated a positive attitude and assisted in the setup of the event, ensuring that there were no delays. DAS leads by example as volunteer champions and inspires us all to lead a life of service.

Investment in Long-Term Sustainable Impact

F&M Bank, accepted by Kristen Maxwell:

F&M Bank has been a strong and steadfast supporter of Rowan County United Way for many years. The bank has always prioritized working alongside the organization to create systemic and sustainable change in the Rowan County community. As a philanthropic leader, F&M Bank supports United Way as well as other nonprofit organizations with their time, talent, and treasures. They have helped revitalize neighborhoods, partnered with organizations to provide access to healthy foods and education, and much more.

In addition to raising much-needed dollars for the United Way campaign, F&M Bank also volunteers and sponsors events such as Day of Caring and Into The Light Suicide & Mental Health Awareness Walk. Steve Fisher, the CEO of F&M Bank, has served the organization in various capacities, including on the Board of Directors. He also advocates for United Way’s new initiative called “The HUB: A Center For Collaboration”. The HUB will serve as a space for organizations, businesses, and community leaders to pool resources and collaborate to create long-term strategies for change. Fisher leads efforts in this endeavor, speaking at events, and serving as Chair of the cabinet involved in the project.

F&M Bank has always remained community-focused, helping not only United Way but countless other organizations and initiatives.

United Way Community Ambassador

Miriam Ramirez:

Miriam Ramirez has been an active supporter of Rowan County United Way for more than a decade. Currently, she holds the position of Executive Director at Capstone Recovery Center, a faith-based rehabilitation center for women, which is funded by United Way. As a volunteer and donor, Ramirez has dedicated countless hours to supporting the organization. In the 2023-2024 Campaign Cabinet, she led the nonprofit division and met the fundraising goal. She arranged testimonials, volunteered at most campaign events, and helped staff with various tasks, including translations for marketing materials. Her passion for helping and loving others is contagious, which helped Rowan County United Way raise over $1 million for the fundraising campaign.

Mark Lewis:

Mark Lewis has been involved with Rowan County United Way for almost 30 years, and during that time he has held numerous positions. He has served on the Board of Directors for a total of 14 years, including a term as Board President. He currently holds the position of Secretary-Treasurer. Additionally, he has been a dedicated volunteer for the organization’s fundraising campaign, serving in roles such as Campaign Chair and Campaign Cabinet Member. Lewis has always been passionate about supporting United Way in any way he can, even participating in a Ms. United Way Beauty Pageant! He takes every opportunity to inspire others to contribute and has encouraged his daughter to give back to the community since she entered the workforce.

Kevin Auten:

Kevin Auten, a retired Sheriff, has made a significant impact on the Rowan County community through his 30 years of service in law enforcement. During his tenure as Sheriff, he witnessed first-hand the impact of United Way on the community. After retirement, he continued to serve his community through volunteerism. He joined the Rowan County United Way Board of Directors and approached his responsibilities with passion and enthusiasm. Auten served in the 2023-24 Campaign Cabinet for the first time and was responsible for overseeing the Special Gifts division. He wrote letters to hundreds of individuals requesting their support for United Way, adding personal notes to each one. Auten’s words and reputation in the community inspired many, and his efforts led to a successful fundraising campaign. In addition to this, Auten has given his time to other United Way partnerships such as the Service Above Self Youth Awards, where he served as an Usher. At this event, and throughout the community, he continues to influence others to make a difference.

Jim Behmer:

Jim Behmer has been an active volunteer with Rowan County United Way for the past 20 years. During this time, he has taken on various roles within the Campaign Cabinet and has previously served as Campaign Chair. He is currently Vice-President of the Board of Directors and has received the organization’s Jackie Award in 2017 and Helping Hand Award in 2018 for his outstanding contributions.
Additionally, Behmer is a valuable member of the Public Relations Committee and offers his insights and talents whenever possible. He regularly volunteers at United Way’s events such as Day of Caring, Into The Light and others. He has also shared his DJing skills by playing music during the organization’s radio show campaign event. He is a well-rounded individual who goes above and beyond to show his support for United Way and advocates for the organization wherever he goes.


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Salisbury, N.C. 28144


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