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Parker receives statewide honor

RALEIGH – Catherine Parker said she was stunned upon learning she had been named as North Carolina’s 2019 Rural Leader of the Year.

“I didn’t even know I had been nominated,” said Parker, who serves as the Director of the Hertford County Student Wellness Center, an entity under the broad umbrella of the Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center.

“It is an amazing honor and I greatly appreciate the support from folks locally and across the state for the work we are doing here,” she added. “It is most important for me to always stay true to our community and student partners in this work, so that is something I really value and owe to receiving this award. Everything I have done has been in partnership with really great people and that makes it all worth it.”

Parker was among the honorees recognized during the NC Rural Assembly, held late last month in Raleigh. Hosted annually by the NC Rural Center, the Rural Assembly is the state’s premier event focused on the big issues facing North Carolina’s rural communities.

The Rural Leader of the Year award recognizes an alumni of one of the Rural Center’s leadership development programs: Homegrown Leaders or the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI).

Eligible candidates are alumni who, through strong leadership, hard work, and dedication, have enhanced the quality of life in rural North Carolina and made significant improvements in their community, region, and/or the state. The Rural Leader of the Year is an individual who is committed to building partnerships and engaging all citizens in their community or region.

Parker graduated REDI in 2018. Her work in Hertford County focuses on addressing food insecurity, advocating for youth empowerment opportunities, increasing access to reproductive health services, and raising awareness for childhood cancer.

“It’s never easy to choose from the more than 1,300 leadership alumni across the state who are working daily to improve the lives of rural North Carolinians,” said NC Rural Center President Patrick Woodie. “What Catherine has done in Eastern North Carolina is incredibly inspiring and her dedication to her community is second to none. We can think of no one more deserving of this award.”

Kim Schwartz, CEO of the local Community Health Center, stressed she was equally impressed with the impact Parker has made in her job.

“Catherine’s deep connections to the local area, especially our youth and wellness needs is remarkable,” Schwartz said. “She is a true innovator with heart and an emerging leader not only in Eastern NC but clearly statewide. She is always looking for creative ways to engage staff, partners, students and community members and she is a lot of fun to work with every day. We are proud that the NC Rural Center has recognized in Catherine what we have known and experienced for some time.”

Born and raised on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Parker obtained her BS in Health Education and Promotion with a concentration in Community Health and her MA in Health Education and Promotion from East Carolina University. Her main focus has been on increasing quality interagency partnerships, addressing food insecurity, advocating for youth empowerment opportunities, increasing access to reproductive health services for youth, and raising awareness for childhood cancer.

She is the co-founder of Henry & Daniel’s Holiday Helpers, a program serving children who are hospitalized during holidays throughout the year. She stressed that her goal in life is to be the best aunt, sister, daughter, and wife that she can while always giving back to the community that has given her so much.

“When I first got the email letting me know I was being given this award I had to read it twice. I was in disbelief and literally started crying, it was truly a surprise and it is such an unbelievable honor,” Parker said.

She spoke of several initiatives offered while working as the Director of the Hertford County Student Wellness Center, to include the importance of oral hygiene, and the Farm to School to Healthcare Program.

“We’ve experienced many great successes as a team, from increasing our youth-led farmer’s markets with a produce trailer, to hosting local foods workshops, to expanding the P.A.W. Path to include a Story Book Trail built and led by high schoolers and we had some fun along the way,” Parker noted. “But it was only after we all embraced the quote, ‘If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together.’ This has never been truer than in our rural communities; we have to rely on one another to get where we are going and we have to give ourselves grace to slow down and take a few steps back from time to time.”

She stressed that, “at the end of the day it isn’t about me or you, it’s about us.”

“It’s about our communities and what we commit to doing together,” Parker remarked. “Because our greatest legacy isn’t going to reveal itself today or maybe even tomorrow, it will sneak up one day when you’re down in the weeds and wondering if you’re making any progress. It will come through a small child who is so excited to see you and share that he brushes his teeth every day now… and that will be all the reassurance you need that the struggle is worth it and that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

“I promise to keep on keeping on and to try my best to do the good work ahead of me. I hope I can live up to the role models in my life – my sisters… my parents… and to be the best version of myself for the community that raised me up and has given me so much throughout my life,” Parker closed.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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