Leadership Stanly assists Esther House

To help Albemarle Fire Chief Pierre Brewton become more knowledgable about the history of Stanly County and meet new people, he was encouraged to sign up for Leadership Stanly.

First started in 1989, Leadership Stanly (LS) is a 9-month comprehensive program designed to locate, cultivate and motivate a core of informed, committed and qualified individuals from diverse backgrounds to take an active role in community affairs.

“Being new to the area, you don’t know how to serve unless you know who you’re serving and the needs of the area,” said Brewton, who has been fire chief since January 2020, about his motivation for signing up for LS.

Throughout the program, members have met for one-day sessions each month that focused on topics such as history, government/public service, manufacturing/industry/business, natural resources and tourism.

The program has been invaluable not just to Brewton, but to the 19 other members of the class.

“I’m so sad this is the last class,” Brewton said during the group’s final get-together Wednesday afternoon before graduation. “I’ve learned so much about Stanly County and the things that are not visible to the naked eye.”

The 2023 Leadership Stanly Class, from left: Sandy Carelock (Stanly Adult Care Center), Joshua Rich (Hartsell Funeral Home), Rachel Watkins (Atrium Health Stanly), Mark Stogner (Preformed Line Products), Janet McClure (State Employees’ Credit Union), Sabrina Beasley-Cline (Esther House), Rodney Myers (Better Badin, Inc.), Malayne Martinez (State Employees’ Credit Union), Christopher Saavedrea (Preformed Line Products), Charlie Lentz (Uwharrie Bank), Shields Howard (Hospice of Stanly & the Uwharrie), Carla Poplin (Nehemiah Project Covenant of Love), Ashlyn Barbee (Stanly Community Christian Ministry), Pierre Brewton (City of Albemarle Fire Department) and Tonya Lowder (Uwharrie Bank).

The 32nd class is set to graduate Tuesday.

“They’re a great class,” said Sandy Selvy-Mullis, president and CEO of the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a very diverse group with what they do in the community.”

Earlier this month, as part of its community service project, the class built a wooden pergola with a double swing set outside of Esther House, which provides services and safe shelter to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking in Stanly, Cabarrus and Montgomery counties. LS is also providing duffle bags for residents when they leave Esther House.

“Building the pergola itself brought all of us together, those with the skills and those without the skills,” Brewton said. “We were out there having a great time.”

The outdoor pergola includes two swings. Photo courtesy of Sandy Selvy-Mullis.

Esther House director Sabrina Beasley-Cline met with the group Wednesday at the Partnership for Children meeting room in the Stanly County Commons, where she presented it with a certificate for their hard work.

She also read testimony from a formerly abused woman, detailing how much Esther House had changed her life.

“I definitely want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for picking us for your charity to do your project with,” Beasley-Cline told the class, noting the pergola will stand as a lasting legacy for the class. “It definitely meant a lot.”

In a short interview following the presentation, Brewton mentioned several highlights of the program including taking a plane tour of the county and learning about the various livestock

“I didn’t know that we had egg chickens and we had meat chickens,” he said.

Brewton said he plans to have at least one member of the fire department participate in the program each year.

LS is a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the county and meet new people, not just for those that are new to the area.

Having grown up in the area, Carla Poplin, who works for Nehemiah Project Covenant of Love, said she learned new information she never knew about her home county.

“It’s beneficial for natives and non-natives alike,” said Poplin, who is also a school board member, noting she appreciated learning about new projects on the horizon, such as a swift-water rescue component of a water-training facility coming to the Stanly County Airport.

The same goes with Tonya Lowder, who works at Uwharrie Bank.

“I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve learned new things about the county and our city that I did not know,” she said. The experience, she said, has “definitely made me a better leader.”

The LS class also received exclusive access to places most people don’t visit. It toured the Jack F. Neel Water Treatment Plant, Narrows Dam, the Stanly County Courthouse and Albemarle Correctional Institution.

Visiting the Narrows “was a great day,” Poplin said, noting she learned it was largest dam by height in the country until Hoover Dam took the title in 1934.

Comparing it to a fraternity, LS members forge friendships with not just their graduating class, but with the various alumni that have taken the course over the years. There are around 660 alumni of the program, Selvy-Mullis said.

“You just make this little group of people you can rely on and call and ask questions,” Poplin said. “You just meet people and network with people.”

“By spending a lot of time together, these folks just feel like family,” said Lowder. “I’ve made great connections that will last a long time.

“It’s been a great experience and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this.”

Aside from Poplin, Lowder and Brewer, the other members of the 2023 class include Sandy Carelock (Stanly Adult Care Center), Joshua Rich (Hartsell Funeral Home in Albemarle) Rachel Watkins (Atrium Health Stanly), Mark Stogner (Preformed Line Products), Janet McClure (State Employees’ Credit Union), Rodney Myers (Better Badin, Inc.), Malayne Martinez (State Employees’ Credit Union), Christopher Saavedrea (Preformed Line Products), Charlie Lentz (Uwharrie Bank), Shields Howard (Hospice of Stanly & the Uwharrie), Ashlyn Barbee (Stanly Community Christian Ministry), Emily McCallum (Stanly County Senior Center), Abby Elkins (Stanly Community College), Zeb Bost (What-A-Burger 13), Christian Payne (Stanly Community College), Scott Howard (formerly with Town of Norwood) and Julie Long (formerly with Albemarle Police).