All the initiative’s activities are guided by its mission of revitalization. It’s organized around the conviction that, at least in our area, the first step toward revitalization is building a community that is strong enough and capable enough to achieve its goals. The initiative evolved from community planning workshops and now has a core group of more than 30 volunteers. Teams of volunteers produce programs and events that bring people closer together and strengthen the community.
Our Communities of NW Stokes
Our Communities of NW Stokes is a community-driven, community-built all-volunteer initiative dedicated to revitalizing our area and to building programs and partnerships that benefit the county.
To accomplish our objectives, we created a unique organizational structure designed to center decision-making power in the hands of the community. Annual Community Assemblies make community-wide decisions regarding allocations of resources. Teams develop and implement projects based on particular areas of interest to the community identified during the Assembly sessions. A small organizing group provides direction to the efforts and collaborates with the Our Communities of NW Stokes Foundation, non-profit created to assist with fundraising and grant-making. This organic operational structure allows us to respond quickly to both opportunities and challenges.
The Leadership of Our Communities of NW Stokes 2022
The Our Communities Organizing Group
Paula Duggan: Coordinator, Planning and Development
Paula is a lead coordinator for Our Communities. She organized and hosted the original series of planning workshops that launched the initiative in 2014 and has helped guide the effort to build a development approach that will work for small rural communities like ours. Paula has a background in the arts and arts administration, public policy, and community and economic development. The Our Communities effort draws most directly on her life experience and her experience as a program director at a community cultural center and with grassroots enterprise. It also is informed by work she did for development agencies evaluating rural projects and studying the key factors in sustainability. She was part of a team that created a community-driven development program for the World Bank Institute. Paula is heading up our long-range planning project with Paul Blue, the Foundation’s president.
Jean Holcomb: Coordinator, Administration
An attorney with a masters’ degree in library service, Jean held the position in Seattle as Director of the King County Law Library, an independent municipal corporation with a five-member board of trustees providing legal information services to the judges, attorneys and residents of the county. For Our Communities, she is the coordinator for administration, and currently serves on a team to create and administer the grants program. She served on the three-person team that designed and established the OCNW Stokes Foundation. She drafted an operating handbook to guide the organization’s practices and procedures. Jean and her husband donated and maintain a Little Free Library for the community now located next to the community center.
Ruth Ann Harden: OC multimedia coordinator, art director
Ruth Ann is a sculptor, painter, and multimedia artist who also focuses on making the arts a central part of daily life in the community and using them to bring people together and build partnerships. She was a co-owner of a commercial design company in Greenville, MS, Lead visual artist for Bologna Performing Arts Programs and taught art privately and in the schools also Museum Studies Coordinator at Delta State University, and the organizational founder of the Delta Arts Alliance before moving to North Carolina. When Ruth Ann and her husband purchased their farm in Francisco in 2006, they began conservation programs, which have received state recognition. She helped start the Stokes Beekeepers, has worked with Stokes County Master Gardeners, and was a leader of the initial efforts that resulted in the Our Communities initiative. She directs OC’s arts programming and builds partnerships with the schools and local organizations in other areas.
Kathryn Converse: OC Project Leader, The River Trail; and Pantry Coordinator
In her previous life, Kathryn was a contractor for the US Environmental Protection Agency. In that capacity, she was deputy program manager for the contract providing information technology services to all of EPA’s Office of Research and Development labs across the nation. As pantry coordinator, she identifies and applies for grants, manages inventory, identifies opportunities for facility improvements, schedules volunteers, mops the floor and relocates ground hogs. Currently, she is serving as the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Agency Advisor for Stokes County. Kathryn is a member of the Francisco Ruritan Club and is currently leading its membership committee. She is coordinating the OC / RURITAN Welcome Wagon effort. She also is a member of Dan River Basin Association. This organization works to protect water quality in the basin, educate citizens and enhance recreational opportunities. She has completed initial training to become a Citizen Water Monitor.
Texie Jessup: Foundation Board Member and Coordinator, Community Programs
Texie is the OC coordinator in charge of community programs. She also serves on the Foundation Board and the grant selection committee and is currently chairing the Sunflower Trail event. Texie is a retired teacher and currently a cattle and hay farmer. She taught English at all levels and was the yearbook and other high school publications advisor. She was English Department Chair and School Improvement Chair while at North Surry High School. Texie has been active in the community since the 1960s. She and her husband have been members of the Francisco Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department for most of their adult lives and her community service interests are fulfilled through that department. She maintains certifications as NC Fire Fighter I and II, NC EMT, and NC Technical Rescue. She is the immediate past president of the Stokes County Firefighters Association.
Virginia Sumerell: Marketing and promotion
Virginia is a women’s clothing entrepreneur. She spent her career in retail. Her jobs included buying, marketing, display, and personnel management. She started her own business in Charlotte and ran it for 40 years. Twenty-seven years ago, Virginia and her husband discovered Francisco and the North Carolina Foothills through friends. They bought 27 acres of land, and after many years of traveling back and forth from Charlotte, completed a house five years ago and became permanent and active members of the community. She belongs to the Ruritan Club, and is a frequent kitchen-helper for every group in Francisco. In Our Communities, she’s coordinating volunteers for the FarmFest Sunflower Trail and has a special interest in working on the long-range projects to preserve the area’s long heritage and establish opportunity for continued and controlled growth.
Paul Blue: President Our Communities of NW Stokes Foundation; Planning Project Manager
Paul has over 40 years of engineering and project management experience in environmental remediation. Examples of his leadership include the management of the multi-year Onondaga Lake Superfund Site Restoration, one of the largest, most complex sediment remediation projects in the country. He managed a diverse staff of 500+ craft labor and professionals and had fiscal responsibility for total project cost in excess of $600M. Paul’s duties ranged from strategy development to project construction, regulatory compliance, and all aspects of financial and schedule management. Paul was responsible for coordinating with multiple stakeholders including labor unions, fish and wildlife groups, city, county, state and federal agencies, emergency response organizations, and the community at-large. Fishing, boating, and kayaking are now common on the lake that was once referred to as the most polluted lake in the U.S. Paul brings his expertise of engagement in community wellbeing and long-term stewardship of our resources to Our Communities of NW Stokes Foundation’s ideals.
Barbara Freas: Secretary Foundation
Barbara is a retired early childhood teacher of 36 years and is National Board Certified. It was her passion. During her career she wrote poetry, plays for her students to perform, and pieces about her experiences in parenting, teaching, and traveling.Currently she is working on writing her first children’s book and taking classes offered by theSociety of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and more. She
is doing everything possible to learn about writing picture books and recently joined a critique group. This has been a fascinating process for her.Barbara and her husband David fell in love with this area when they visited about 23 years ago.They refurbished an old farmhouse in Stokes County and have come to love this wonderful community.
Bill Hart : Foundation Board Member: William F. (Bill) Hart attended the beloved Francisco School and then North Stokes High where, after graduating from East Carolina University, he came back to teach mathematics and coach football and track for thirty years. He continues to assist with the track team. He has served as a member of the Stokes County Board of Education. He lives on Hart Road with his wife Diane, three dogs, and his Kubotas.
Doris Jessup: Foundation Board Member. Doris is a lifelong resident of Francisco area and attended
North Stokes High School then Wake Forest University. Married to Phillip and they have three children and five grandchildren. Doris has worked in the school systems as an administrative assistant, substitute teacher,PTO and Athletic Booster Clubs. And volunteers as tutor, Sunday School Teacher and Women’s Missionary Union Director at Westfield Baptist Church, Westfield Ruritan Club, American Red Cross.
And Doris loves to travel.
David Hodges : Executive Advisory Board Member.
Spent ten years in the Nashville Music business as a songwriter, was an Antique Appraiser for 25 years working with Banks and Attorneys, owned two Antique Malls and a JC Penny Catilog Franchise, was Executive Director for United Way of Harnett County NC for 9 years.
Served on The Community Foundation board of NC, Served as Board Chair for 6 years for Harnett County Partnership For Children with a 4 million dollar budget. Served as board Chair For Harnett County Health Department.
In the Francisco area, the absence of a place that knits a community together is seen as the single greatest threat to the survival of small
farming communities like ours. The long-range goal is to mitigate that threat by developing a village hub in Francisco. Our priorities include expanding community outreach and increasing support for local
businesses and entrepreneurs.
We are proud of the meaningful and diverse contributions our initiative and foundation make to the county. The impact of our work reaches far beyond Francisco where the initiative is based.