Cary’s Hometown Heroes

Introducing the Town of Cary’s 2021 Hometown Heroes.

As part of the town’s anniversary year, the Cary150 Task Force was planning a year-end celebration. But with the pandemic still lingering, members also wanted to honor the selfless efforts of the recent past.

“It didn’t feel right to celebrate our town without honoring those who have helped us, really dedicating their time and efforts to helping us in Cary through the pandemic,” said Virginia Johnson, Cary town clerk.

While there are countless others who deserve recognition, these 14 individuals were nominated by readers of Cary Magazine. With acts of kindness, both large and small, these honorees made people smile during a difficult time.

“So many people work tirelessly to make Cary the fabulous place we all know and love. We are excited to recognize these heroes as part of the Masquerade 150 Gala as representatives of all the great contributors to our hometown,” said Sarah Martin, chair of the town’s Cary150 Task Force. “We are all richer for their efforts.”

Brittany Anderson, behavior technician at Cross River Therapy

Brittany Anderson, behavior technician at Cross River Therapy

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: During the first year of the COVID pandemic, I worked as a recreational therapist in a skilled nursing facility. I brought joy and laughter to the older adult community. I also made sure every individual had the opportunity to not only visit their families and friends, but also attend religious services through Zoom.

ON SERVICE: I strive to make everyone feel like their life is worth living. Being someone who is a part of improving individuals’ lives, brings so much joy to my life. All individuals deserve the best quality of life possible, no matter their age or their ability level.

CARY PRIDE: The atmosphere of Cary is so peaceful and blissful.

QUOTE: “I’ve always sought a career path that allows me to help others live life to the fullest.”

Left, Kimniech (Kim) Bragg, Vice-Chair of Outreach at Pleasant Grove Church; Right, Jennifer Bevars, first responder in the Cary 911 Center

Jennifer Bevars, first responder in the Cary 911 Center

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: Like many first responders, I took extra shifts to keep 911 fully staffed, and so sick people could stay home and get well. I was passionate about hosting a food drive for people in Wake County experiencing food insecurity due to employment and health issues during the pandemic.

ON SERVICE: My entire career has been one of service, whether teaching or working in 911. Not to be too corny, but my feelings about service are best summed up in a quote from Ghandi, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

CARY PRIDE: There are lovely parks and trails, and Cary does a great job of creating green spaces among all businesses and developments.

QUOTE: “Everyone I work with — my fellow telecommunicators, police officers, firefighters and EMS — are all fantastic and have given their all for the community.”

Kimniech (Kim) Bragg, Vice-Chair of Outreach at Pleasant Grove Church

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was approached by the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church and The Western Regional Food Security Action Group to serve as a site coordinator to those in need. …We worked and served a community in Cary every Tuesday and Thursday between February 2020 and August 2021 with only a few days off. We joined forces with Apex United Methodist Church’s Feed the Kids Program and added to what was given out on a weekly basis.

We assisted other communities with food distribution, did a voter registration drive, collected school supplies and books for children and even hosted a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

ON SERVICE: Hunger is the same regardless of where you live, and I have made it my purpose to help out wherever I can. I am grateful to God for the ability to serve others and speak of hope.

QUOTE: “We all have a purpose in life and mine is to make the lives of those in need better.”

Left, Dan Pike, president Cary Downtown Farmers Market, Right, Kathy Goldston, Food Pantry Manager at Dorcas Ministries

Kathy Goldston, Food Pantry Manager at Dorcas Ministries

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: The food pantry at Dorcas Ministries never closed during the pandemic. We didn’t allow volunteers to work, for their own safety, but staff manned the pantry. We prepacked groceries and allowed folks to come to the door to pick up their groceries. …Being able to provide food assistance to people who had never needed help before was humbling and truthfully a real eye-opener and at times bittersweet.

ON SERVICE: I believe every human being has a responsibility to help others when we can and when it’s appropriate. All of us are in this life, and to lift others is a true blessing.

CARY PRIDE: Cary has a lot to offer, and I’m excited about the revitalization of downtown. Cary has a wonderful community spirit!

QUOTE: “(T)he residents of Cary are so giving and will always rise to the needs of the community.”

Dan Pike, president Cary Downtown Farmers Market

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: I serve as the president of the Board for the Cary Downtown Farmers Market and as the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020 we decided as a Board we would do all we could to keep the market open and have vendors accessible to our community. …

The Cary Downtown Farmers Market was open every Saturday during the regular and winter 2020 season. We welcomed approximately 250 people each Saturday and provided the community with a safe outdoor shopping experience that enabled them to purchase fresh, local produce, meat, eggs, milk, honey and the other amazing artisan goods available at the market.

ON SERVICE: Serving others was instilled in me at a young age. Growing up we always did for others, and it became part of who I am.

QUOTE: “Through the pandemic, I have focused on keeping a positive attitude, encouraging others and making a difference…”

Left, Leon McMahon, retired engineer and home inspector; Right, April Schweitzer, owner of Graceful Expressions

Leon McMahon, retired engineer and home inspector

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: I wanted to do something in my neighborhood that would increase our awareness of the pandemic and also thank those who are on the front lines of serving the sick and needy. I asked our neighbors to come out to the curb and sing, so every night, rain or shine, we sing at 7 p.m. I ring a large bell, which can be heard far away, and we gather together. This has continued to this day — almost two years. …It’s been an inspiration for all of us and brought us much closer.

ON SERVICE: People have helped me in the past and it’s important to me to be of service to others.

CARY PRIDE: Cary has beautiful greenways and open spaces. I enjoy riding my bike and greeting people.

April Schweitzer, owner of Graceful Expressions

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: Immediately when things started shutting down, I knew how important it would be for our dancers and their families for dance to remain consistent. …We quickly transitioned to online classes and provided more than our typical classes. We started offering storytimes and expanded adult dance classes and workout sessions and family dance party times — all for free — just to give everyone a chance to dance and bring some joy into their days.

We created outdoor performances for the community, including two “Dancing Under the Stars” performances throughout downtown Cary. The highlight of the year were our Christmas parades which brought dozens of dancers to perform around Glenaire, Woodland Terrace and Sunrise of Cary to bring joy and cheer to those in nursing homes and retirement communities.

QUOTE: “Serving others is an expression of my faith and values — to love others well, to make someone’s life easier or brighter, to put others before self.”

Roberto Perez, president of Diamante Arts and Cultural Center

Roberto Perez, president of Diamante Arts and Cultural Center

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: In March 2020, there were no masks, no retail stores had them, nor the state government. (Diamante) allied with a nonprofit named Asian Focus, which had access to thousands of masks coming from China… We decided to purchase as many as possible to provide the community with several masks free of charge. Our team distributed almost 20,000 masks from March to June 2020.

We had a partnership with El Centro Hispano and recorded 29 short videos promoting safety and awareness on COVID-19, promoting them on social media, reaching viewers in the entire state of North Carolina. …We also made other videos promoting vaccination.

CARY PRIDE: There are many reasons for my family and me to choose to stay in Cary. One of my favorites is the way we treat each other as citizens with respect; we welcome everyone.

QUOTE: “The moment one provides (help) becomes a significant moment in one’s life.”

Stephanie Purdy, director of outreach at First United Methodist Church of Cary

Stephanie Purdy, director of outreach at First United Methodist Church of Cary

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: First United Methodist Church partnered with Western Wake Food Security Action Group to give increased access to meals, fresh produce and nonperishables throughout the pandemic.

Through federal and county grant funding and donations given by our FUMC church family, the Hindu Society, and the greater downtown civic and restaurant community, we served hot meals and groceries, no questions asked, to all who showed up, first on a daily basis, and continuing now through weekly drive through distributions.

In conjunction with the food distribution, FUMC also hosted an outdoor virtual classroom for students to connect with teachers and tutors for support in virtual learning.

ON SERVICE: When we serve others it compels us to situate ourselves alongside those suffering and to imagine solutions together for shared power and equal access to resources — bringing us a step closer to God’s vision for us.

QUOTE: “We’ve been able to meet so many inspiring individuals and families in our downtown Cary community who have modeled incredible resilience, hope and strength.”

Brooke Richardson, a mother/baby nurse at WakeMed Cary

Brooke Richardson, a mother/baby nurse at WakeMed Cary

AN INTRODUCTION: I moved to Cary after I graduated from Campbell University in 2018. … I got my dream job as a mother/baby nurse at WakeMed Cary, and I have been there ever since.

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: Thankfully in my department, most patients are healthy and are there for a joyous occasion. However, that is not always the case in other areas of the hospital, especially during the pandemic. When opportunities arose to care for or otherwise assist with COVID-positive patients, whether in my department or in other areas of the hospital, my teammates and I eagerly accepted the task.

ON SERVICE: I’ve always had a giving heart and loved to serve in whatever way possible. Nursing has allowed me to continue my love of serving others.

QUOTE: “I love being a part of this community.”

Robin Stanton, teacher at Green Level High School

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: As I entered into the 2019-2020 school year I had no idea that … I would be thrown into a virtual classroom teaching students and trying to stay connected. What seemed a nightmare slowly became a new way to connect with and understand my students’ struggles.

I made a point every day in class to check on each student and to use food to keep us engaged and connected in our new virtual world. Students would stay after class to chat, cameras started turning on as they began cooking in their own kitchens and the learning began again. I also provided a food pick-up day for students who needed supplies and even delivered ingredients and equipment to students’ homes.

QUOTE: “My passion is building authentic connections with people, to know my students on a personal level and to help each student discover their gifts and talents.”

LaToya Vick, president of Cary’s Sigma Rho Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority

LaToya Vick, president of Cary’s Sigma Rho Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta sorority

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: During the pandemic, (the Sigma Rho Zeta Chapter) partnered with the Cary-Page Rotary Club to package 20,000 PPE supply packs to be mailed to citizens across the state. …Members donated 660 books and over 100 pounds of food to Read and Feed and helped to sort over 400 books to ensure that despite the pandemic, children had access to food and reading material to improve literacy.

The Sigma Rho Zeta Chapter delivered 30 Blessing Bundles to Jordan Oaks Retirement Community residents and 89 Blessing Bundles to Reedy Creek Middle School staff. These Blessing Bundles included a N95 face mask, hand sanitizer, gloves, a pack of tissues, antibacterial wipes, and lotion.

ON SERVICE: Service is my purpose, the legacy I continue, the contribution I make today, and the imprint I will leave on this Earth when I am gone.

QUOTE: “Helping someone else not only solves the troubles of an individual, but it also changes the path of the community, and sculpts the outlook of generations.”

Dr. Ron Wilder, a “slowly retiring” physician

Dr. Ron Wilder, a “slowly retiring” physician

AN INTRODUCTION: I spent the bulk of my career as a program director at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. I have dealt with the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases throughout my career, especially in people with compromised immune systems.

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: Beginning in March 2020, I have presented weekly Zoom updates to the Searstone community, typically with 60-90 homes signed in. …I have now dropped back to monthly updates. I have addressed virtually every type of COVID question you can imagine.

My goal has been to help people understand COVID and how they can protect themselves and others. I have tried to present factual information based on rigorous medical science, and to counter the rampant misinformation confronting the public.

Xilong Zhao, president of Chinese American Friendship Association

Xilong Zhao, president of Chinese American Friendship Association

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: In March 2020, together with other organizations, CAFA-NC called upon the Chinese community for support and raised over $100,000 used for purchasing PPEs. CAFA-NC has purchased tens of thousands of medical masks or face shields, and donated most of these PPEs to local hospitals, healthcare centers, senior centers, grocery stores and local residents in Cary and other Triangle communities.

CAFA-NC also delivered meals to people in need during this emergency, the food donated by or purchased from 11 local Chinese restaurants.

ON SERVICE: My life was saved from the ruins of an earthquake 45 years ago by rescuers who I don’t know. On the journey of my life, whenever I encounter difficulties and challenges, there are always warm hands to pull me out. To serve the community is my trivial return to the love that I have received for six decades.

QUOTE: “This honor belongs to all the local Chinese Americans who showed their love by wholeheartedly helping others in this difficult time.”


  • Jennifer Robinson says:

    Such powerful stories about impactful service! I am so moved by the heart that each of the people featured has for others. Thank you to our hometown heroes for making our community so wonderful.

  • Rhesaberman says:

    I love the Way Ron Wilder does his talk on Covid every Friday afternoon. We love his talks on falls also, when he talks at our health fair each year. I love Ron and of course his lovely wife Debbie very much.I always look forward to his talks every Friday.

  • Carol Frey says:

    Latoya and her sorority sisters joked and laughed while they worked to fill those PPE bags, finishing the job much earlier than we expected to. They gave us all an example of joyful service that we could emulate. We can’t thank them enough!

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