Cashiers resident, Melanie Jones, has received a Governor’s Volunteer Service Award—the highest designation of appreciation for distinguished volunteer service to the people and the state of North Carolina.
Unaware that she had been nominated by a group of local community members, Jones was presented with the award during a recent board meeting of the Blue Ridge Free Dental Clinic where she serves as Executive Director.
Presenting the award was community resident and Chairman of the Board of the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation, Dr. Walter Clark.
“It gives me great pleasure to present this award on behalf of the state to someone so highly regarded and deserving,” said Dr. Clark. “I don’t know of a nonprofit in the area that doesn’t in some way bear Melanie’s volunteer thumbprint. That includes the Health Foundation where, as just one example, she was instrumental in establishing and executing a scheduling process for the Foundation’s Covid testing program. Melanie is widely recognized as the go-to person when help is needed in developing and delivering exceptional community programs, which makes her the perfect recipient for this award.”
When asked what motivates her as a volunteer, Jones said rather than thinking of herself in those terms, she considers herself to be an observer, a learner, “and, sometimes, a teacher… If anything motivates me to get involved with a community project or a specific need in our Cashiers community, it is my daughter Savanna.”
In fact, Jones’ volunteer contributions to the Cashiers community have in many ways followed the developmental and academic path of her daughter who was an infant when the two moved to Cashiers in 2007.
Vice President of the Cashiers Valley Preschool PTO, President of the Summit Family Association, and founding board member of the Boys and Girls Club of the Plateau are among Jones’ early roles in an impressive continuum of board service, which has more recently included volunteer service to the nascent Circles Cashiers-Glenville organization as well as the Summit Charter School Foundation board on which she currently serves as a director.
Twenty-six years of involvement with nonprofit organizations and finely honed grant writing skills render Jones a highly sought-after community asset. She is renowned for her ongoing gift of time and talent to the many organizations that draw upon her deep well of nonprofit administration experience. However, she derives her greatest satisfaction not at the board table or behind a desk, but out in the community where plans are put into practice.
The Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry’s “Big Ol’ Country Breakfast” and “Empty Bowls Project” are among Jones’ favorite ways to volunteer with her now thirteen-year-old daughter. Both events provide opportunities “to talk about food insecurity in our community, as well as interact with those who attend the events,” says Jones. “We do small things because small things seem to matter to people who want to dream big—dream of education, of getting out of poverty, of having a warm meal, of having a compassionate, diverse, and kind community.”
More broadly, Jones says volunteering satisfies an intellectual desire to study communities. With a sociology background, she finds herself pondering social stratification, economic disparities, equity, and social determinants of health. “An eternal optimist, I have always had that big, big, big dream of world peace. But without an honest understanding of where I live, I cannot expect to be an agent of change for the whole world.”
Jones’ inclination toward big dreams, kindness and compassion were among the characteristics emphasized by those who nominated her for the award. “Melanie is the embodiment of compassion,” noted community member, Harriet Karro. “Her work at the Dental Clinic provides her with keen insight into the plight of so many who live on the socioeconomic margins and whose needs are so often overlooked.”
Asked if she perceives there to be unmet needs locally that volunteers could help address, Jones says, “I don’t know that the answer to this lies in volunteerism. The greatest need for any community to thrive is common ground—an integration of our core values and compassion for everyone’s most basic human need: connection.” Noting that divides often exist along political and economic lines, she went on to say, “I would love to see volunteer coordinators recruit from a broader, more diverse base. Ask more people to do more. Togetherness—unity—will not exist without recognizing common ground and I am certain we can all find common ground if given the opportunity, invitation, and shared space.”
It is fitting that Melanie Jones’ first career position in the nonprofit sector was Volunteer Coordinator and equally fitting that her exemplary volunteerism has now been recognized by the State of North Carolina with this high honor. Jones says, “There’s no scale for impact when it comes to volunteering. Showing up even once, when needed, is impactful.”
Pictured at the top of the article is Cashiers resident Melanie Jones holding her Governor’s Volunteer Service Award.