Canton resident Juanita Dixon has always been involved in her community. She says she was raised to give back. So when UNC-Asheville first offered the Haywood Senior Leadership Program, she was one of the first on board. When she learned that Haywood Community College and Haywood Community Connections was going to start a new Senior Leadership Program in Haywood County, she was excited to join.

The Leadership Program provides a venue for senior leaders across the county to come together and develop friendships among their peers while learning about the various programs and services available in Haywood County.

Haywood County and the state of North Carolina is fast becoming a retirement mecca. In 2007, more than 33% of the population in Haywood County was over the age of 55 and more than 20% were 65 and over.

“There are new seniors in our county who want to be involved,” Dixon explains. “Many of them come from different places. Going through this program helps them learn about the county and how things are different in different areas of the county. It’s also a way to find out what’s important to the people in their different communities.”

After completing the Senior Leadership Programs, participants go back into their respective communities as Senior Resource Teams. They are using their acquired knowledge to help others.  Senior Resource Team members are able to provide information to help find programs and/or services that can assist those in their communities.

According to Rinda Green, Coordinator of Corporate and Communication Education, “The real beauty of the program is not only the knowledge acquired by these seniors, but the leadership skills that are developed throughout the program.”

One of the first projects for Dixon’s Canton team was to find a permanent home for the Canton Community Kitchen. They have also helped establish the emergency shelter at Camp New Life.

Victoria Young serves as Project Director of Haywood Community Connections. Young expresses gratitude to those who have come forward to participate in the Senior Leadership Program and are now working in their communities. “Their commitment and dedication have exceeded my expectations. They are truly energized and excited about the work.”

Yvonne Gold, Project Coordinator, says, “It really is all about ‘neighbor helping neighbor’. Over the years we have lost our sense of capability based on community relationships of interdependence, the idea that people can count on each other and on the community’s resources for strength and support. The Senior Resource Teams represent a return to that sense of community and connectedness. They represent a return to our roots.”

“This is a wonderful program,” Dixon says. “It’s a good way to meet a broad spectrum of people. It’s a resource for those in the Canton community. Going through the program allows you to see things in a different light.”

For more information on the Senior Leadership Program, please call Rinda Green at (828) 565-4243.