Business, nonprofit roundup: BPR selects Laura Lee as news director

MAKING MOVES: Laura Lee began her tenure at Blue Ridge Public Radio as interim news director in January. Photo courtesy of BPR

Blue Ridge Public Radio has announced Laura Lee as its news director. Lee joined BPR as interim news director in January after previously serving as the news editor at the statewide investigative outlet Carolina Public Press and as a writer and editor at the national education publication Edutopia. Lee received a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree in political science and a doctorate of law from UNC Chapel Hill, and worked as a producer at National Public Radio in Washington on “All Things Considered” and “Talk of the Nation,” among other programs.

Big-time support  

The Asheville Humane Society will receive a $40,000 grant contribution to the Lily-Grace Fund from national nonprofit Petco Love. The fund supports care for shelter animals with significant medical concerns. The Asheville Humane Society also received a $120,000 grant from PetSmart Charities to support veterinary care in the Emma and Deaverview communities.

Inaugural award

Choice Hotels International Inc. unveiled the Tony Fraga Visionary Leadership Award, which honors late hotel owner and developer Tony Fraga. Fraga was the founder of FIRC Group, which operates the hotel Cambria Downtown Asheville, Haywood Park Hotel and Country Inn and Suites Asheville River Arts District. The inaugural award, recognizing outstanding leadership in the Cambria brand, was presented to Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Hospitality Management at the Choice Hotels 67th annual Convention to recognize outstanding leadership within the Cambria brand.

Community Champions 

United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County announced this year’s Community Champions, which honors people and businesses that partner with the nonprofit to make an impact in the community. This year’s awardees include Shelia Christofalos of Insurance Service of Asheville; Katie Price of Harrah’s Cherokee Center; Velene Fagan of the United for Youth Leadership Team; and 211 Call Center manager Elizabeth Kelly. A full list of recipients can be found at


The Tzedek Social Justice Fund has appointed Torre Garrison as the new reparations project director for the Reparations Stakeholder Authority of Asheville. The RSAA is an independent, Black-led reparations finance authority that manages the distribution of monetary reparations to local Black citizens in response to community input. More information can be found at

Women for Women 

After considering 60 applications, nonprofit Women for Women awarded six grants totaling $278,950 for programming that serves women and girls in Western North Carolina to address mental health, health care, child abuse and financial counseling. The 2023 grant recipients and awards include $64,650 for All Souls Counseling Center; $15,000 for the International Friendship Center; $49,350 for the KARE House; $35,000 for NAMI Western Carolina; $65,000 for OnTrack Financial Education & Counseling; and $49,950 for Sistas Caring 4 Sistas.  


Six local students received the George H.V. Cecil Journey Scholarship awarded by Buncombe County-based nonprofit WNC Communities. The endowment fund, which is the result of a $3.1 million donation by the estate of George H.V. Cecil, provides renewable four-year scholarships to high school seniors in Western North Carolina. The 2023 recipients are Abigail Przynosch of Buncombe County; Irvin Morales-Saldivar of Madison County; Kensley Phillips of Graham County; Lucy Murray of Transylvania County; Zorabella Adrignola of Transylvania County; and Joanna Cady of Madison County.

Meal time

PubCorps, a Black Mountain-based nonprofit founded by John Richardson, relaunched in May with a large-scale meal-packing event hosted at the RailYard restaurant in Black Mountain. Nearly 200 volunteers gathered May 7 to pack 61,584 shelf-stable meals, which were then distributed by MANNA FoodBank to families in need across Western North Carolina. 

Special needs housing 

Asheville-based nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities recently acquired 75 units of special needs housing from nonprofit WNC Housing, which develops and preserves properties in conjunction with supportive state mental health services. The housing units are scattered among 20 properties in Buncombe County and are home to about 90 residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities, severe and persistent mental illness and other special needs. MHO plans to continue the long-term affordability and special needs access to these properties.


Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina is offering new programming for high school-aged students to mentor elementary school children through High School Bigs. The hourlong mentorship opportunities will allow high schoolers to work with younger students on homework, reading, exploring careers and other activities to expand their confidence and interests. More information at

National winner 

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s The Deerfield home design was awarded Best in Accessibility in Habitat for Humanity International’s nationwide house design contest. The design, which is a single-level, aging-in-place townhome for adults ages 55 and older, is also Asheville Habitat’s only house model to earn the Gold level of Green Built certification. 

Local recognition 

The Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce awarded the Asheville branch of Quility Insurance with the Sky High Growth Award for experiencing growth and contributing to the local economy in innovative ways. Quility works in partnership with several Asheville-area organizations such as Bounty and Soul, Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, BeLoved and Make-A-Wish of Central and Western North Carolina. 

Grant recipients 

The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina awarded grants totaling $408,113 for local projects that address early childhood development, food and farming, and natural and cultural resources. Among the awardees were the Region A Partnership for Children, the McDowell Local Food Advisory Council and the Organic Growers School. A full list of grant recipients and awards is available at

National cooperative 

Asheville-based solar energy company Sugar Hollow Solar was selected from a national pool of applicants to gain membership in the industry group Amicus Solar Cooperative, a certified B corporation and public benefit corporation. Sugar Hollow is the 75th member of the cooperative and the fourth North Carolina solar provider to receive access. Cooperative membership will further reduce energy costs for customers. 

Service opportunities

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity is seeking AmeriCorps members to work as construction crew leaders for home construction and repair. These yearlong service opportunities offer a living allowance, a housing stipend of $700-$800/month and other benefits. More information at


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