Coulter Regional Leadership Program gets underway with its largest cohort

New members of the Coulter Regional Leadership Program participate in a retreat in early June at WCU's Madison Residence Hall.

New members of the Coulter Regional Leadership Program participate in a retreat in early June at WCU’s Madison Residence Hall.

The Coulter Regional Leadership Program welcomed its third and largest cohort with a two-day retreat earlier in June.

The program is part of the Western North Carolina Leadership Initiative. Its purpose is to bring together members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian and residents of Western North Carolina counties, to identify and pursue ways to tackle social, cultural and economic challenges in the region. The program is a partnership between the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and WCU.

This year’s cohort consists of 12 members. They were chosen from a field of 34 nominees, said Juanita Wilson, program director of the WNC Leadership Initiative. The members are from the seven western counties in Region A and the Qualla Boundary.

Left to right, bottom row: Kim Winters, Nan Coulter; Second row: Candice Craig, Sarah R. Posey, Molly Phillips; Third row: Judy Carpenter, Lisa Weeks, Jessica Meltz-Bugg, Sharon Robertson, J.D. Arch, John Feichter; Top row: Nick Breedlove, Jeremy Wilson.

Left to right, bottom row: Kim Winters, Nan Coulter; Second row: Candice Craig, Sarah R. Posey, Molly Phillips; Third row: Judy Carpenter, Lisa Weeks, Jessica Meltz-Bugg, Sharon Robertson, J.D. Arch, John Feichter; Top row: Nick Breedlove, Jeremy Wilson.

The members are John David Arch of the Qualla Boundary, Nick Breedlove of Jackson County, Jessica Metz-Bugg of Haywood County, Judy Andrews Carpenter of Graham County, Candice Craig of the Qualla Boundary, Jon Feichter of Haywood County, Molly Phillips of Macon County, Sara Ruth Posey of Cherokee County, Sarah Robertson of Clay County, Lisa Weeks of Swain County, Jeremy Wilson of the Qualla Boundary, and Kim Winter of Jackson County.

The retreat was at WCU’s Madison Hall. It featured a presentation for Nan Coulter, daughter of former WCU chancellor Myron Coulter, for whom the program was named.

“She shared with us his legacy,” Wilson said. “The program is named after him because he believed in regional strength. He believed in working together and he really lamented the fact that counties are separate. Understanding that we are so remote just because of geography and typography, but the program hopes to connect people just in the human sense.”

Also speaking was Tom Belt, WCU’s Cherokee language program coordinator and Cherokee Nation member. He talked about the importance of selfless leadership. Each of the participants gave a report about their counties. Some of the concerns that were addressed included affordable housing, land-use planning and broadband connectivity. The group agreed that money alone would not solve the problems of WNC, Wilson said.

Wilson said the cohort is in the process of coming up with a group project. In doing so, it would team up with Mountain Partners, a group of residents from Macon County and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that is currently investigating the cultural, educational and economic development potential of a heritage corridor project that would span several western counties and the Qualla Boundary.

“I want to see the cohort identify something that’s already happening in their county, or needs to happen in their county, get some support from programs or groups that are already working on that and plug them into the corridor,” Wilson said. “What Mountain Partners can help with is the public relations and the grant writing.

“That’s my vision for this year. Where next year goes is going to be dependent on what we’re able to do this year. I think we can continue to do this and build on it for years to come, at least keep it sustained.”

Wilson plans for the cohort to visit each member’s county during the next five sessions before concluding in October during the WCU LEAD Conference. They also met on June 30, at the Moss Memorial Library in Clay County. The group will focus on identifying their project through intensive team-building work. They also will take a field trip to the Cherokee Homestead Exhibit and the Old Jail Museum, conducted by Coulter Regional Advisory Council member Rob Tiger. The goal is to learn about two cultures of WNC – Cherokee and Appalachian.

For more information, contact Wilson at jmwilson@wcu.edu.