Local Community Champions Celebrated by United Way

United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County recently celebrated local leaders at their annual Community Impact Awards Dinner, highlighting the role that each person has played in supporting the organization’s vision that this community is one where everyone belongs, and everyone thrives.

“Celebrating our partners is in our DNA at United Way,” said Dan Leroy, President and CEO of United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. “When people take time out of their busy lives to lift their voices and raise their hands to make our community a stronger place, it is important to take a moment to celebrate them. We never know who else might take inspiration from their story and what kind of positive and lasting impact they could have on others.”

Sponsored by Capstone Health Alliance, the Community Impact Awards celebrated the following people:


Julia Darity | Live United Award
This award recognizes an individual whose exceptional leadership, passion, and engagement is improving the lives of individuals and families in our community today and for future generations. This award recognizes someone who speaks out on behalf of or educates others on issues that support and advance United Way’s work with exceptional adherence to specific values or standards, such as diversity, respect, creativity, or innovation.

A dynamic youth leader from Asheville, Julia Darity brings a collaborative and engagement mindset to her work, inspiring peers and adults to advance social justice awareness and action for youth. She is a central stage speaker at many conferences and events. Julia brings her perspective, lived experience, and expertise to the table with other youth and adults, making shared decisions around the issues that impact our community. She actively participated in the community committee investment meetings occurring after school hours and raised questions and comments keeping the youth lens central in the process.

Sybil Jefferson | Gamechanger Award
This award recognizes an individual or business that embraces United Way’s Guiding Principles and the community school strategy by demonstrating outstanding leadership in improving systems for equitable student learning and educational excellence.

As an alumna of Asheville High School, Sybil Jefferson is a generational leader who is deeply invested in giving back to her community through schools. Her leadership and dedication to the community school strategy make her a true gamechanger in the field of education.

Hekmat Bessio | Volunteer of the Year
Community volunteers have always been the lifeblood of this organization and so many of our partners. This award is presented to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding volunteerism and an extraordinary commitment to the community through United Way.

Since arriving in the United States last July, Hekmet Bessio has been a powerhouse of a volunteer, actively contributing more than 220 hours of her time to at least 13 local nonprofits.

When asked about the importance of volunteering she had this to say: “Volunteering is like a seed. You put it in and you keep watering it. You will not see anything for days. And when the seeds start, you will never be able to count how many people will eat from any tree. No human all over the world can count how many people benefit from any tree.”

Jayme Davis | The Circle of Hope Award
This award recognizes a nonprofit professional for their extraordinary leadership, creativity, and compassion during a pivotal moment in their organization, our collective history, or over the course of their career.

For 25 years, Jamye Davis devoted herself wholeheartedly to Big Brothers Big Sisters of WNC. Her unwavering commitment to the organization, its mission, and more importantly to the youth of WNC has been truly exceptional.

Susanne Swanger | Women United Taylor Foss Award
The Women United Award was established in 2017 to recognize a member of Women United’s giving society who demonstrates extraordinary commitment to United Way’s philanthropic mission.

Susanne Swanger’s leadership within United Way as former Board Chair and in her previous role as Associate Superintendent at Buncombe County Schools has been instrumental in establishing the core elements of both Community Schools and United for Youth.

Blue Ridge Power | Spirit of the Mountains
This award recognizes a business that is ‘all-in’ in its support of the community and United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, generating impact through its financial investments, leadership and employee engagement, and volunteer participation.

Blue Ridge Power’s in-kind contributions, technical expertise, and fundraising efforts made it possible for United Way to install solar panels enabling the organization to support the environment and use the funds from energy savings to support youth success efforts.

Written by United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.