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We, Mountain Projects: Vivian Bumgarner

When Vivian Bumgarner arrived at Mountain Projects 36 years ago, the first impression she made was of a willingness to roll up her sleeves and get right to work.

The Executive Director at the time, George Carpenter, recruited her from a landscaping crew.

“Can you read a tape measure?” he asked. She said she could, and before she knew it she was measuring and cutting plexiglass for Paul Tapp’s weatherization and rehab crew.

“Right after Paul was hired, the two of us tackled cleaning out the foyer in the former Mountain Projects building on Old Balsam Road,” says Bumgarner. “It was a mess, as there was insulation, bees, trash and debris everywhere. It took us about three days to do it, but we got it cleaned.”

Years later, Tapp told her that after that project, he knew she’d be a huge asset to the organization. Now Vivian is Mountain Projects’ Housing Rehabilitation/Weatherization Manager. Her unit served 91 families last fiscal year.

“I love helping people with their homes,” she says. “We weatherize homes, making their homes warmer, help them with roof repairs, water and well system, electrical repairs, handicap ramps and so forth.”

The repairs her crew perform are largely for elderly, disabled, and low income clients, and help them stay in their homes longer and with a greater quality of life.

“One of my best memories was of two little elderly ladies in Canton,” says Bumgarner. “They didn’t have a bathroom, only an outhouse that they had used all their lives. We did lots of work on the home and built a bathroom with running water. Later, when we went for an inspection, this little lady grabbed our inspector by the sleeve for a full bathroom tour, complete with flushes of the toilet.”

“She was so excited to have a bathroom. No longer did they have to go outside in the middle of the night, in freezing weather, rain or snow. Now they had the luxury that most of us do. This is why I do what I do!”

Bumgarner grew up in a hard-working household. 

“We had to help with cutting wood, working on cars, running cattle or just whatever was needed,” she says, “so I was used to working outdoors in the rain, snow or sunshine.” 

“I feel like I might have lucked up on getting this job,” Vivian says. “But I have worked very hard to get where I am today.”

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We, Mountain Projects: Angie Gass Roberson & Cayson Tiedge

Cayson Tiedge recently won high academic honors at Sylva’s Smoky Mountain High School, including National Honors Society, New Century Scholars and 4-H Youth Leadership Council. Now he attends the University of North Carolina on full scholarship and plans to pursue a degree in Psychology.

His academic path, though, started many years ago in Angie Gass Roberson’s Head Start class behind the high school on Fairview Road, where Cayson, then quiet and shy, was one of his teacher’s favorite children. She’s extraordinarily proud of his achievements.

One of many longtime Head Start teachers in Haywood and Jackson Counties, Angie is proud of the many relationships she’s built.

“I was a single parent of a child with disabilities, so I know what that feels like,” she says. “I know how much it means to receive help when you need it – it’s priceless – and I’m someone who wants to give back. I’m grateful for all the people who have helped me succeed.”

That gratitude translates into a generous and warm style of teaching.

“I want kids and their parents to understand that they are precious to me, that they matter,” Roberson says. “That they can come to me or the other teachers and we can relate to what they’re going through. I’ve had parents to come in and need to vent because they don’t have another adult to talk with. I listen the best I can. The most important thing about my job is being emotionally and mentally present for my families.”

Some students are at a disadvantage, Roberson points out, and occasionally Head Start is the only place a child might get a hot meal. Although the pandemic has restricted some activities for the short term, Roberson and other teachers, along with parent volunteers, often assemble food and clothing boxes for families in need. Within the framework of the program, employees work to meet the needs of the whole family.

“I hope the community will support these programs,” says Roberson. Make a financial contribution. Go to Sylva Linings and purchase things for your home. We are getting these children prepared for a positive future and when covid is out of the way, Lord willing, Head Start will expand the number of kids and families in our programs. I can’t think of anything better to invest in the future of our community. This is not just my job. This work is in my heart.”

We, Mountain Projects: Cynthia Solesbee

We, Mountain Projects is a gallery of staff going above and beyond to serve their community.

Founded as a Community Action Agency in 1965, Mountain Projects has a 140 person staff and serves the community with 21 different programs.

Many staff of Mountain Projects have served the organization for decades, including Executive Director, Patsy Davis, “Mountain Projects staff bring their hearts and their expertise to work everyday and together, we make western North Carolina a better place to live for the entire community. I like to think of our staff as heroes and I don’t think of that as an exaggeration.”


Cynthia Solesbee’s client, a Haywood County farmer, suffered catastrophic injuries in an ATV accident a few years ago. After helicopter rides, brain surgeries and rehabilitation, she was presented with a bill that exceeded one million dollars.

Her family was distraught. “We’ll have to sell our farm to pay for this!” her husband said.

Fortunately, Cynthia, in her role as a Certified Application Counselor for health care insurance at Mountain Projects, had earlier convinced her to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and had guided her through the process. As a result, the total payout for the family was less than $1,000.

Here’s the story in Cynthia’s words:

“When the Affordable Care Act started in 2014, I ran into a friend at a Christmas party and convinced her to come in to see her options of health insurance coverage. 

She’s a farmer, and at first, didn’t see the value of having health insurance, but she did finally decide to enroll. 

That November in 2014, near Thanksgiving, she was headed to  a friend’s house on her ATV when the ATV hit a large hole and flipped over on top of her.  She was unconscious, and thankfully, her husband found her before she bled to death. She had a brain injury and numerous broken bones. MAMA took her to Asheville where she underwent several brain surgeries and was subsequently put in an induced coma.

I knew I had to re-enroll her for 2015, so I received permission to have her husband enroll her. I went to the waiting room at Mission hospital in Asheville, to enroll her, and met her husband. The first thing he said to me was, with a worried look on his face,  “Cynthia, we’re going to have to sell our farm to pay for this!”

I explained that the most they would have to pay out of pocket during the whole year would be $750!  Her hospital bill was well over a million dollars due to the number of brain surgeries, and then the amount of rehabilitation she would need.  She’s doing great now. She still has her farm and she makes the best chèvre cheese from goat’s milk I’ve ever tasted.  She still tells me often that she is so thankful she took my advice to look at the insurance.  It saved their farm.”

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Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership Welcomes Executive Director Heather Boyd

When Heather Boyd gave birth to her daughter, Casey, she suffered severe complications which threatened her life. She went through 11 liters of blood on the operating table, which is no small thing, given the body only holds about five.

Two years later Heather and Casey are fine, but one of her takeaways from that experience and her long recovery had to do with – housing? Yes, housing.

Boyd was recently hired as Executive Director of the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership (SMHP), a division of Mountain Projects, which is making strides to create affordable essential workforce housing in Haywood and Jackson Counties, and to provide pre-purchase homeownership counseling to young people starting their careers in fields like healthcare, teaching, firefighting and policing.

Boyd remembers the hard working hospital staff that saved her life, and particularly the intensive care nurses that helped she and Casey recover.

“If you get sick, you want people working in your community hospital who are well trained, happy in their job and who care about your well-being, right?” asks Boyd.

“You want someone who is steady and capable to keep your family member alive. Affordable housing is the cornerstone of our communities. Providing assistance to these workers and helping them own their own homes provides security for these families and positively affects the entire community.”

Without affordable housing, all essential professions in our community are impacted. Recruiting suffers, and retention is difficult, with workers coming and going without settling in.

Boyd is the first Executive Director of SMHP, which was founded in 2019 and has made steady progress since then, raising over $215,000 for initial operations, then organizing an affordable housing consortium with HUD and creating a network of strategic partnerships.

She brings both practical experience and life experience to the job. A Transylvania County native and mother of six children, she worked her way through school at Blue Ridge Community College and A-B Tech.

Since 2011 she’s built an impressive resume in banking, with a primary focus on lending and affordable housing. She began work in 2017 as a housing counselor with the Housing Assistance Corporation in Hendersonville, where she won accolades for both counseling and lending and won the Louise Mack Housing Counselor of the Year Award in 2019. Her experience prior to 2017 included stints with United Community Bank, Sharing House, First Citizens and Ecusta Credit Union. She holds numerous certifications.

Boyd credits her professional climb to mentor Marianne Festa, to longtime involvement with Western Carolina Community Action and to United Way Rising Leaders.

Boyd says her background includes plenty of hard work, struggle and personal financial growth, which she says helps her empathize with her clients. A single mother for part of her life, she put her kids through Head Start and helped care for her brother, a combat veteran, and mother, all while working and continuing her education.

“If I can do it, anyone can!” she says.

Mountain Projects Community Action Agency seeking contributions to an Emergency Fund to assist neighbors in need

Media Contact: Patsy Davis, Executive Director/828-452-1447 or Angeline Schwab/828-550-9336

WAYNESVILLE AND SYLVA – Mountain Projects 31 Days of Giving Campaign is seeking holiday contributions to support the well-being of families experiencing poverty in Haywood and Jackson Counties. 

Executive Director Patsy Davis encourages the community to get involved in this campaign to protect our region’s most vulnerable. “It does a heart good to help a neighbor in need, and to give to causes we care about,” Davis says. “We are asking for your help to meet the growing need this year and we appreciate people giving what they can. Every contribution, every act of generosity counts.” 

The Mountain Projects Emergency Fund was established to address the urgent and immediate needs of neighbors in crisis. Generally, these folks need a stabilizing solution to avoid traumatizing situations for themselves and their families. Some recent examples include:

  • A pregnant woman requesting weekend emergency shelter to avoid sleeping outside
  • A Head Start family facing utility shut-off due to pandemic-related unemployment
  • Meals for low-income senior citizens over weekends and holidays
  • Home rehabilitation for individuals without running water or working toilets
  • Diapers for babies whose parents are in-between paychecks
  • A mattress for a veteran who lost all belongings in a house fire

On a daily basis, the Emergency Fund helps Mountain Projects clients resolve short-term crisis situations, so our staff can then help the client access life-changing services.

Mountain Projects also provides: meals and food boxes for the food insecure, preschool for low-income families, heat & weatherization for people in need, housing rehabs that remedy unsafe housing, accessibility for seniors and the disabled, affordable housing for the essential workforce, substance abuse prevention services, access to affordable healthcare options, transportation for veterans, seniors, students and the disabled.

Donations will help our community make it through a challenging winter. Here’s the link to give: https://mountainprojects.org/?product=support-urgent-needs

Founded in 1965, Mountain Projects was chartered as part of President Linden Johnson’s War on Poverty and currently serves more than 12,000 people each year. Ninety-seven percent of clients served by Mountain Projects are the working poor, disabled, elderly or handicapped. The organization employs 140 staff members and maintains offices in Sylva and Waynesville

As a Community Action Agency, Mountain Projects supports and implements programs designed to improve social, economic, educational, health, emotional and environmental aspects of life for families and individuals in the western mountain region. Those initiatives range from Head Start and food assistance to a variety of programs for senior citizens, and from public transportation to housing rehabilitation. 

For information and stories about Mountain Projects’ work in Haywood and Jackson Counties, visit MountainProjects.org and Mountain Projects’ Facebook page.

To donate, visit MountainProjects.org, call 828-452-1447 or send a mail-in contribution to Mountain Projects, 2177 Asheville Road, Waynesville NC 28786.

Mountain Projects Emergency Fund

The Mountain Projects Emergency Fund was established to address urgent and immediate needs of neighbors in crisis. Generally, these folks need a stabilizing solution to avoid traumatizing situations for themselves and their families. Some recent examples include:
  • A pregnant woman requesting weekend emergency shelter to avoid sleeping outside
  • A Head Start family facing utility shut-off due to pandemic-related unemployment
  • Meals for low-income senior citizens over weekends and holidays
  • Home rehabilitation for individuals without running water or working toilets
  • Diapers for babies whose parents are in-between paychecks
  • A mattress for a veteran who lost all belongings in a house fire
On a daily basis, the Emergency Fund helps Mountain Projects clients resolve short-term crisis situations, so our staff can then help the client access life-changing services.
  • Mountain Projects also provides:
  • Meals and food boxes for the food insecure
  • Preschool for low-income families
  • Heat & weatherization for people in need
  • Housing rehabs that remedy unsafe housing
  • Accessibility for seniors and the disabled
  • Affordable housing for the essential workforce
  • Substance abuse prevention services
  • Access to affordable healthcare options
  • Transportation for veterans, seniors, students and the disabled
Your donations will help us through a challenging winter. Here’s the link: https://mountainprojects.org/?product=support-urgent-needs

Health Insurance Counseling at Mountain Projects

Open enrollment for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act lasts until December 15, 2020, and Mountain Projects offers free insurance counseling with western North Carolina Health Insurance Marketplace certified application counselors until enrollment closes.

New health insurance companies are in our area for 2021, offering more plans, so explore all the prices and benefits before you enroll. 94% of applicants receive financial assistance!

The project is made possible by support from the K.B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation.

Schedule your appointment by calling 828.452.1447, or click here for more information.

31 Days of Giving for Mountain Projects!

Starting on #GivingTuesday (Dec. 1) and throughout December, Mountain Projects, a nonprofit charitable organization, will be raising emergency funds to support food, heat and shelter for underprivileged people in our community. #31DaysofGiving #mountainprojects

The Nantahala Health Foundation is offering a match for all donations at this link.