“I know we’re supposed to be about this — coming together as a community to create something special for everyone.”
— Holly Jones
Asheville City Council member Holly Jones arrives for our interview wearing shorts, a tank top and a light T-shirt. She looks to be fresh from a workout in the newly refurbished gym downstairs from her office at the YWCA of Asheville. Under Jones’ leadership as executive director, the nonprofit completed a successful capital campaign in 2001 that raised $3.9 million to fund the extensive renovation and expansion of the building on South French Broad Avenue.
“We kept it in this neighborhood, and I’m proud of that,” says Jones. “I did not want to move the YWCA and build a new facility elsewhere because I feel we have a relationship with this community. I did not want to betray the people here, who’ve grown accustomed to our presence.” And with a popular after-school program, a pool and a new gym, it’s not hard to imagine why the neighborhood might want to keep the YW around.
Working to create community is part of Jones’ heritage: She was raised by public servants. Her mother is a teacher; her father, a former North Carolina state senator, is now an Anson County commissioner (the Eastern North Carolina county where Holly grew up). She remembers being on the campaign trail with her father — and her parents’ decision to keep her in the public schools when integration came (she was in the second grade).
“Most white families pulled their children out and sent them to private school,” Jones recalls. Suddenly, she found herself part of a racial minority. “This educational experience was formative for me and shaped many of my experiences from second to seventh grades,” she reveals. Around the time Jones was ready for eighth grade, her family moved to Asheboro, where her school was once again predominantly white.
Although Jones didn’t move to Asheville until 1996, her connections with both the YW and this city run deep. She bought her first home in Montford, where she still lives (though in a different house now). “I love how politically active the people of Montford are,” Jones observes. “On voting day, there is a good mix of black, white, young and old.” A close network of neighborhood friendships helps her both with such day-to-day matters as child care and pet-sitting and with her larger endeavors.
Last year was a big one for Jones at the personal level too. In January 2003, she adopted her daughter, Gabriela, who was born in Guatemala. Jones had always wanted a little girl and says she was simply waiting for the right time to adopt. In Asheville, Jones says she’s finally found the kind of community and support system she feels are needed to raise a child.
“I do believe it takes a lot of love, care and people to go on this journey of parenthood,” she declares. Some within her circle saw this as the absolute worst time for Jones to adopt a child, since her life had become even more hectic following her election to City Council in November of 2001. Jones, however, didn’t see it that way. And having on-site child care where she works means Gabriela is always close at hand.
Although the adoption took more than six months, Jones says it came together easily because she “found the right adoption agency — and the stars aligned.” She traveled to Guatemala with then-boyfriend Bob Falls, who’s now her husband (they were married Dec. 13).
Rearranging the traditional order of things, Jones bought a new house in Montford, adopted Gabriela, and then got married. “I just do things a little differently — not always on purpose,” confesses Jones. Falls is the founder of Poetry Alive!, a national program that brings poets and poetry into schools. “Bob is wonderful,” says the obviously smitten Jones. “He is completely supportive of my career, dreams and hopes. We’re lucky to have crossed each other’s paths.”
In her free time, Jones enjoys attending theater, films and concerts with Falls. She also spends as much time as she can with Gabriela. And on Sundays, Jones finds inspiration and renewal at Jubilee! Community in downtown Asheville. Before her daughter came along, Jones and her best friend, Beth Newman (the wife of newly elected Council member Brownie Newman), used to go running in Montford every morning with their dogs, but becoming a parent has put an end to that. “My mornings are so much different with an infant,” notes Jones.
Asked about her strongest, fondest memories of Asheville, Jones doesn’t miss a beat. “I have a video of the homecoming of Gabriela, which instantly brings back the memories and emotions of that day. When we hit the ground, there were 20 or more people with banners, flowers and gifts. My parents, colleagues and friends were there to support me. It was just magic! I felt all these people were ready to embrace her, love her and care for her — and me, too.” And when Jones arrived home, she discovered that her friends had cleaned her house, straightened up the nursery, and prepared food for a small celebration.
The other vivid memory that stands out against the backdrop of Jones’ life is the day in October of 2002 when the YWCA held its grand opening. About 800 people had contributed to the capital campaign that made the project possible. “There were nearly 300 people from all walks of life who attended the celebration,” she recalls.
But for Jones, the moment transcended the satisfaction of a job well done. “I know we’re supposed to be about this — coming together as a community to create something special for everyone. This experience gave me a glimpse of what is possible. Sometimes a glimpse of this is all you need to take you through the dark times.”
Jones’ call to service led her to earn a Master of Divinity degree, with an eye toward doing community-based mission work. But she sees her current efforts — both in politics and at the YWCA — as very much in keeping with that dream. “At the center of my spiritual walk is a call to community,” she reveals. “An inclusive community that cares for the creation we’ve been given, as well as one where we care for each other.”