Monica Santos Torres

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Monica Santos Torres

What determines individual success?  Perhaps an even more difficult variation of that question is, “How do we define success?”  Those questions haunt sociologists, school administrators, politicians and anyone who desires to see positive development for individuals and communities.  With so many variables that can influence growth, we have to wonder if there is a “magic bullet” that can truly impact the success of the people in our communities?  While the question may befuddle the experts, a key component of the answer may be found right here in Alleghany County.

As a young girl, Monica Santos was a fixture on the regional fiddlers’ convention circuit.  The Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program at Piney Creek Elementary School uncovered her guitar skills.  Her mother, Tina Jordan, understood the quality of Monica’s musical gift and bolstered her JAM lessons with private instruction with Bob Desanto of Galaz, Virginia.  The results were 15-20 competition wins.

A change in family dynamics took Monica and her mom from Piney Creek when Monica was in the 5th grade.  They spent a period time with Monica’s grandmother in the Whitehead community before they moved to Sparta.  While in 8th grade, Monica became sweethearts with her future husband, Leo Torres.

Monica played volleyball her freshman year of high school and enjoyed the game.  But, in her sophomore year volleyball gave way to work and she began waiting tables at Mis Arados, a restaurant in Sparta owned and managed by Leo’s family.   Monica worked  with the Torres family all through high school and until she completed college.

2014 was a pivotal year for Monica.  She graduated from Alleghany High School that summer, and she and Leo were married in July.  That fall, she began the nursing program at Wilkes Community College (WCC).

monica 1 (1)The WCC schedule and course load were challenging.  Monica began her days with a one hour commute to the WCC campus in Wilkesboro.  She simultaneously took prerequisite and nursing classes before wrapping up the school day with another one hour trip home.  Once she was back in Sparta, it was off to Mis Arados for a shift of waiting tables.  After her shift she headed home for 1-2 hours of homework.  These days she shrugs off a full-time class load coupled with a 30-40 hours of waiting tables. But while in the throes of that grinding schedule, the thought of quitting college crossed her mind many times.  She credits Leo with encouraging her through those rough spots and giving her the motivation to stick with her dream.

While Monica was balancing all those elements of life, Leo was also taking classes through the Basic Law Enforcement Training program at WCC.  When he graduated and became a deputy with the Alleghany County Sheriff’s Office, Monica was able to scale back her restaurant work to what she describes as a more manageable 10-20 hour week.

Monica completed the nursing program in May of 2016 and passed her state exam a couple of weeks later.  That June, she went to work as a floor nurse at the Alleghany Memorial Hospital (AMH).  Once again, she felt overwhelmed.  As she talks about those first weeks as a hospital nurse, the description is stacked with the sense of responsibility and accountability she felt towards her patients.  She often found herself questioning her abilities and whether she could handle the emergencies that were sure to arise.  And she wondered if she could deliver the kind of care she knew her patients deserved.  Once again, Leo stepped in to encourage her that she was on the right path and that he believed it her.

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These days a conversation with Monica offers no hint of self-doubt.  She says quite confidently that AMH is a perfect fit for her.  The size of the facility has given her a broad base of experience that would have taken months, even years, to attain in a larger hospital.  Monica explains that this small size also allows her to give patients more personalized care than they would get in a more urban hospital. And working at AMH is something of a homecoming for Monica.  Her patients are often surprised when she tells then she that was born in Alleghany Memorial Hospital.

Monica’s life journey to this point may offer us clues to that question of what determines success.  She was fortunate to find herself in a youth music program where hard work and practice were expected and rewarded.  Her mother recognized Monica’s musical giftedness and made sacrifices for private lessons to enhance that gift.  When her family faced personal challenges, Monica’s extended family provided a safety net as they regained their footing.  Her mother instilled and modeled a strong work ethic.  A small elementary school gave her personalized attention and an enhanced sense of community.  Wilkes Community College furnished the flexibility to balance work and education, while preparing her for a career of professional service.  She married into a hardworking family of entrepreneurs that produced her husband who understands how to provide her encouragement when she needs it most.  And now she works in an environment where she is supported by all levels of staff as she seeks to give back to her community.

A strong work ethic, a sense of delayed gratification, a safety net for life’s challenges, and a network of encouragers are crucial to individual success. As to the question of how we define success.  We don’t have to look further than Monica Santos Torres.

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Alleghany Pop-Up Market

pop-up posterOn March 25 from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm the Blue Ridge Business Development Center (BDC) will host a “pop-up” market for direct sales vendors.  25 representatives will offer a variety of products at this event.  To limit the duplication of products, the event has only accepted one representative per product line.  These representatives are primarily home-based entrepreneurs that normally connect with their customers through parties or small events without the benefit of a traditional store front.  A recent method of supplementing that model is having the businesses “pop-up” at a location for a short period of time.

According to Dale Caveny, director of the BDC, the purpose of this event is threefold.  First, this will offer a physical location for customers to access a wide range of items.  There will be products familiar to many such as Mary Kay, Avon and Tupperware.  These will be joined by a variety of other skin care products, clothing such as LulaRoe, jewelry, handbags and accessories, children’s books, candles, and nutritional supplements.  A representative from Damsel in Defense will be offering basic personal defense items designed for women.  The Alleghany County Farmers Market will also have locally grown items for sale.  The Farmers’ Market is using this event as a means of spreading the word about the products offered each Saturday throughout the summer.

Second, this event is an opportunity for those interested in exploring business opportunities to connect with a product vendor. New representatives usually sign up with an experienced vendor who serves as a mentor for the new entrepreneur.  Caveny points out that many of these direct sales ventures can be quite profitable for the representatives.  And experience gained from these businesses often serves as a catalyst for other business opportunities.

Finally, Laurie Brintle-Jarvis, director of the Small Business Center of Wilkes Community College, will be on hand to talk with established and prospective vendors.  The Small Business Center  offers a multitude of classes for small business owners and entrepreneurs.  Those classes range from how to best market a business to accounting procedures.  Brintle-Jarvis also provides individual, confidential counseling for business owners.

This event is an opportunity for the BDC to explore new ways of supporting small business networks.  “In many ways these direct sales representatives provide a model for how business has to be carried out in a small community,” said Caveny.  “Each vendor has a customer network that they develop and grow.  Social media increasingly plays a role in maintaining those relationships.  At this event, we will bring those 25 networks of customers together for four hours.  That networking model is key to the success of all business in our community.”

“Many of the vendors and customers at this event will be from out of the county,” Caveny continued.  “It is our desire that this experience will introduce a new group of people to Alleghany County and that they take advantage of the dining and shopping opportunities after they leave our event.”

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For more information contact Dale Caveny at the Blue Ridge Business Development Center.  336-372-1525 or bdcadmin@blueridgebdc.org

For more information on things to see and do in Alleghany County, visit the Alleghany County Chamber of Commerce here.

Eric Murphy – Special Olympics of Alleghany County

IMG_4593It only takes a few moments of conversation with Ennice resident Eric Murphy to realize he is passionate about sports.  An avid reader of newspaper sports pages, he is an encyclopedia of statistics on individual players and teams ranging from basketball to NASCAR.  But Eric is much more than a casual observer, he is an active athlete through Alleghany County’s Special Olympics program.

A 2008 graduate of Alleghany County High School, Eric became an integral part of Friday night football games when his parents, Larry and Velinda, had a Trojan mascot costume designed and made for Eric.  His contribution to rallying the crowds in support the players on the field helped earn him the Trojan Team Award during his senior year.

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The Murphy’s involvement with Special Olympics began when they heard of a bowling program in Ashe County.  Larry is a bowler.  He thought it would be a good activity for him and Eric to do together.  Each Sunday, the family would leave church in Galax and make the drive to the bowling alley in Ashe County.  They came to enjoy the camaraderie with the other families and athletes. When a program was started in Alleghany County, they shifted back closer to home.

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photo by Lillis Ward

There are approximately 25-30 athletes in the Alleghany program, ranging from 9 to 65 years of age.  They play Bocce ball (a sport originated in ancient Rome), basketball, bowling, and track and field events.  When asked why he enjoys those activities, Eric said, “I like hanging out with my friends and I love sports.”  He added, “I would be lost without Special Olympics.”

Eric is a fixture around the Sparta Square shopping center.  He is approaching his ninth anniversary of employment with Burger King where works as a cook and helps out with cleaning the dining area.  He said he loves his job and has a well deserved pride in the quality of the food he prepares for others.  Velinda hears from many people in the community that they frequent Burger King just to hang out and talk sports with Eric (Eric spends much of his days off just visiting in Burger King).  She said that Eric knows everyone at Food Lion and Hardees, and that they all know him.  Eric laughed and added that the employees at Hardees tease him by calling him a traitor when he stops by some mornings for gravy and biscuits while wearing his Burger King uniform.

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photo by Lillis Ward

As Eric and Velinda describe his day to day life and activities, it is apparent that it requires a community effort to offset the challenges faced by many in our community.  When Eric receives his work schedule from Burger King, he forwards it to Alleghany in Motion who helps with his transportation to work.  The Alleghany Wellness Center welcomes (at no charge) the Special Olympians to their facility each Thursday for nutritional counseling and athletic activities as part of their Healthy Athlete program.  Former Alleghany School superintendent Kim Mattox awarded Eric a lifetime athletic pass to school events, a pass Eric fully utilizes.

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Spin class at the Alleghany Wellness Center – photo by Steve Mason

On March 25th our community has another opportunity to assist these athletes.  The 2017 Polar Plunge will be held at Lake Louise in Roaring Gap.  This event is the primary fundraiser for Alleghany County’s Special Olympics.  Those willing to take the plunge or make a donation can do so by following this link.  Eric is looking forward to his first dash into the icy waters and has a goal of raising at least $250.

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photo by Lillis Ward

Velinda sums up Special Olympics this way: “It is a blessing that we have this program in our county.  It gives these kids – I call them all kids regardless of age – a way to get together with their peers and have fun in an environment where they aren’t judged by what they can’t do.  Eric is fortunate.  If he didn’t have Special Olympics he would still get to bowl with his dad or go to ballgames.  Many of the others aren’t that lucky.  This program helps keep them active, and provides the social and physical outlets they need for healthy lives.”

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Want to help?  In addition to registering for the Polar Plunge or donating online, feel free to contact the following volunteers to see how you can contribute to this program.

BJ Edwards     336-306-4555

Linda Tucker  336-372-5432

Lillis Ward      336-529-3133

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