The Playhouse honors A “Great Friend to Families”



“The wide variety of folks nominated for the Great Friend to Families Award attest to the warm hearts and helping hands that dwell in the High Country” stated Playhouse Executive Director Kathy Parham.

This award will recognize sustained contributions by an individual to the well-being of young children and their families in the High Country area. The award-winner, who will be announced at a luncheon on February 27th, will be presented with a piece of art glass by Glen Randle and $500 to donate to the High Country charity of their choice. The nominating statements are available to read on the Playhouse website,

Several of the nominees have devoted to their lives to children with special needs.

  • A 30 year veteran praised for her “great knowledge, clinical skill, passion and compassion,” Cindy Brown-Greer is currently the sole physical therapist for the Exceptional Children’s department of Watauga County Schools.
  • Doug Galke, the retiring director of the Children’s Developmental Services Agency of the Blue Ridge which serves 229 children in seven counties, has served in the area since 1982.
  • Kaaren Hayes, director of Parent to Parent/Family Support Network of the High Country, has helped provides services and resources to families of children with special needs for thirty years; her nominators noted that she promotes “an invisible but unbreakable connection between families like none other in the high country.”

Education and literacy fuels the passion of other nominees.

  • Karen James, a multi-talented community volunteer serves on the board of Sugar Grove Developmental Day School ; of James, Laurie Percival-Oates wrote: “She calls on all who work with her to do our very best.”
  • Natalie Lewis was a volunteer and mother of two young children when she helped found the area’s only charter school, Two Rivers Community School. “She spent hours and hours on paper work, charter by-laws, building codes, . . . hiring teachers, putting together a board of caring people and so many other things.” stated her nominator.
  • Jane Penley, in addition to her volunteer efforts at Watauga Medical Center, gives supplies to daycares and schools in the area.
  • Mary Willis, lead teacher and owner of Mary’s Montessori School, teaches her charges about literacy and caring by donating her own money to the Heifer Project for every book they read together.
  • Watauga County children’s librarian Judith Winecoff is known for doing anything to make reading come alive from setting up a giant tipi in the library yard to delivering books to rural children to organizing popular story times at the library.

Many kids in our county have stronger bodies and minds because of the great out-of-school activities organized by

  • Lindsay Cobb, active in the area March of Dimes campaign, is dedicated volunteer coach for the High Country Soccer Association, Watauga County Parks and Recreation, and Greenway basketball; often working with more than one sport in a single evening.
  • Karee Mackey: During her 13 years with the Watauga County Center of the NC Cooperative Extension, Mackey has worked with numerous 4-H clubs, including the Blue Ridge Equestrian 4-H group, and offers fun workshops and camps every summer on topics ranging from aerospace to “Local Foods for Local Kids.”
  • Todd Nolt: As director of Mountain Alliance, an organization for area teens which develops leadership skills through service and adventure experiences, Todd Nolt created the “Rolling Academy,” an unique summer experience which last year took local teens from North Carolina to Portland, Maine and raised $20,000 to keep the program accessible to all.
  • WIC program nutritionist Laurie Cimino works hard to ensure that area children get off to a healthy, safe start in life. An employee of the Health Department since 1993, Cimino was praised by a mother she has served for her friendliness and willingness to talk at length about nutrition: “She is a great help to mothers that want to take responsibility for the health and well-being of their children.”
  • Housed in the Children’s Council of Watauga County, Robin Triplett works with low income families through the Parents as Teachers program. Said her nominator Jennifer Kearse: “Robin commits herself 100% to the families she is serving by connecting them with needed resources, giving parenting and educational support, and help with everything from getting a drivers license to securing housing to going to the pediatrician with a new mother.”
  • Denise Presnell is a school social worker. After working for years with Denise, a young man graduated from high school, overcoming predictions that he would never make it that far. Denise tracked down his childhood mentor, old afterschool leaders, and others who helped him, and gave him a graduation party complete with food and a book signed by all these important people from his life.
  • Jan Rienerth is passionate in her efforts to help at-risk youth.  Despite having no children of her own, Rienerth adopted Western Youth Network (WYN) as her own. One of the founders of WYN, Rienerth was committed to preventing juvenile delinquency and giving High Country youth a brighter future through WYN’s mentoring and after school programs. Said WYN director Grubb: “We look to [Reinerth] as a matronly caretaker who loves us and reminds us who we are at our very core, just as any mother would do.”
  • Through her work a newspaper writer and editor Sherrie Norris has been able to draw attention to families in need in the community. For example, she once wrote a story about a handicapped child and her single mother who were also homeless. A reader was so moved by the story that they bought a house for the family. Her own family tells of how Norris insisted that they personally donate a car to a single mother of three with no transportation.The winner will be chosen by a distinguished committee of local leaders: Town Council member and local businesswoman Liz Aycock, Chamber of Commerce President Dan Meyer, and Margaret Moore, retired teacher and wife of ASU coach Jerry Moore.

    The Great Friend to Families award is sponsored by First Citizens Bank; Earth Fare; Mast General Store; Adult and Child Orthodontists and Pediatric Dentists Drs. Mayhew, Scheffler, Hardaway, and Conn; High Country Home Builders Association. Additional funding was provided by Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation.

    About The Children’s Playhouse

    A nonprofit children’s museum founded in 2002, The Children’s Playhouse provides an enriching play environment for children from birth to age eight that at the same time offering parents and caregivers friendly support in the important job of raising children. The Children’s Playhouse is supported in part by Watauga County, the Town of Boone, and the High Country United Way. For more information, call 828-263-0011 or visit the website,