Zhen Bin “Jimmy” Li – Golden China

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Jimmy Li

Many of us have nicknames.  For some, it is simply a shortened version of a formal, given name.  Rich for Richard and Bill for William come to mind.  Others are tagged with a term of endearment given to them by a friend or family member.  For Zhen Bin Li, going with “Jimmy” is a matter of practicality in his adopted home.

Jimmy grew up in Fujian province in its capital city of Fuzhou, China.  Fuzhou is located almost due west of Taipei, Taiwan and about 400 miles northeast of Hong Kong along the coastline the East China Sea.  It is a sprawling city of 7.1 million residents with a rich cultural heritage.  Jimmy describes the area simply as “beautiful.”

Jimmy’s father emigrated from Fuzhou to New York in 1990.  He found employment in a restaurant and established legal residency.  It took him five years to settle in before sending for the rest of his family.

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When 19 year-old Jimmy arrived in New York, he spoke no English.  Like his father, he took a job in a restaurant. He took a class in English, but primarily picked up the language by practicing his skills in conversational settings

In the 1990s a family friend opened the Golden China Restaurant in Sparta Plaza.  He asked Jimmy to come to Sparta in 1998 to run the store.  Jimmy and his family have managed the business for the past 19 years.

When asked about the challenges in having a small business in Sparta, Jimmy voices many of the same concerns experienced by most local businesses: maintaining a steady, consistent stream of customers; adjusting to the seasonal fluctuations of customer traffic; and dealing with the occasional disruptions caused by weather.  In addition to these work related challenges, he is faced with trying to maintain a work/family life balance.  The store is open from 10:30 am until 9:30 pm six days each week with Tuesday as their only day off.

Jimmy’s family works alongside him in the restaurant.  His wife, Biao Yun Cai (pronounced Be-Yow Unoon), and his sister pitch in by taking customer’s orders and helping cook.  His parents also help out during peak times.  Jimmy and Biao Yun’s daughter is a 4th grader at Sparta Elementary and can often be found in the dining area of the restaurant.  Many in Sparta have seen Biao Yun zipping around Sparta on her pink scooter.

When pressed about why he has planted his family here in Sparta, Jimmy quickly runs through a list of attributes: the quiet mountain setting, good neighbors, low crime rate and a place where he fits in.  Jimmy takes the mindset of fitting in and extends it to his customers.  He has a strong base of Hispanic patrons, many of whom speak limited English.  So, Jimmy has learned basic Spanish to help his Spanish speaking customers feel welcomed.  It makes for an interesting lunch experience to hear Jimmy toggle back and forth from Chinese to English to Spanish while he juggles taking an order by phone, ringing up a customer and cooking the next dish.

When we think of international melting pots, our thoughts generally steer toward cities like New York or Los Angeles with their sprawling ethnic communities. Sparta doesn’t seem to remotely fit that category. But, a quick survey of businesses along Hwy 21 through town offers an alternative definition and viewpoint.  Manuel Rivas Alvarez of La Mexicana Restaurant is from Spain and his wife, Janet, is from Bolivia.  The Torres family of Mis Arados is from Mexico.  Ofelia Killeen hails from Peru. Gill Thadani of Gill’s Jeans and Things is from India and spent time in Hong Kong.  And Jimmy Li and family is from China.

On the surface, this international flavor challenges of stereotype of what it means to be Absolutely Alleghany.  But a closer examination reveal these business owners plug in perfectly to our community.  They bring their unique perspectives and skills, and integrate them with local residents.  Jimmy Li words may best describe this group of residents: good neighbors with a longing to fit in.

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Call in orders to Golden China can be placed at 336-372-6938.

Josh Greene – Alleghany County Maintenance Department

IMG_4965While Alleghany County government is small in comparison to most counties, the infrastructure is surprisingly expansive.  Some properties such as the courthouse, administrative building, transfer station and fairgrounds are seen by many on a daily basis while the community college, public library, social services and health department and others are a bit more off the daily traveled path.  One commonality among these scattered service providers is that the facilities have to be maintained.  That job falls to Josh Greene and his staff with the Alleghany County maintenance department.

Josh Greene grew up in Alleghany County in the Ennice community.  He graduated from Alleghany High School in 2003 where he played basketball, golf, baseball and wrestled.  An avid outdoorsman, he enjoys hunting, fishing and in his words, “everything outdoors.”

When Josh was 14, he took a part-time job with Robert Patrick of Patrick’s Heating and Cooling.  There he learned the basics of heating and air conditioning repair. Josh came to enjoy being given a problem, working to diagnose the cause of the issue, and then developing a solution.

After high school graduation, Josh gave the air conditioning, heating and refrigeration program at Surry Community College (SCC) a try.  One semester was enough.  He left SCC and went to work with Shaw Brothers Construction where he received a hands-on education in general construction, and heating and air conditioning repair.  He worked with Shaw Brothers for eight years before coming to the Alleghany County maintenance department on 2011.  In 2013, he became the department supervisor.

The maintenance of county properties is an overwhelming task.  Interior and exterior light bulbs have to be changed, leaky plumbing repaired, and rooms painted.  There are scores of trash cans to be emptied, floors to be mopped or vacuumed, and furniture to be wiped down.  The maintenance staff maintains the county’s fleet of vehicles and the heavy equipment at the transfer station.  Throughout an average day, the crew moves from building to building.  Often, they are pulled from one job to another that has a higher sense of urgency.  And when they “catch up,” they handle construction projects such as the recent shelter at Veterans Park or the new maintenance building.  Josh handles these responsibilities with three maintenance staff and two custodians.

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Josh Greene repaints the lines for parking spaces at the Alleghany County Library

One of Josh’s biggest challenges is the operation of the county’s transfer station. The station operates 12 hours a day, six days a week and is managed by two teams of two employees.  Last year, they handled 9200 tons of household trash, building materials, scrap lumber, oil, and other materials.  That is over 18 million pounds of refuse.  The county contracts to have this trash hauled to a landfill in Caldwell County for $65 per ton for an annual cost of $598,000 per year.  While the transfer station staff encourages users to recycle, Josh estimates that between 10% and 20% of the trash hauled to the landfill could be recycled.  This would save county residents upwards of $100,000 per year.

The transfer station is also one of the biggest sources of complaints for Josh and his staff.  With an average of 60,000 pounds of trash deposited each day, it is inevitable that the wind will carry some out of the receptacles.  They rely on community service workers to help with this clean up.

Another surprising area of responsibility for the maintenance staff is animal control.  They average 2-3 animal pickups per week.  They also average one dog bite investigation per week.  These are time consuming tasks that often include follow-up consultations with the local health department and law enforcement.

It sounds exhausting.

It also points to someone who is committed to their community.

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Josh, his wife Karena, and their three children are deeply rooted into the Ennice community on the family farm.  Karena works for the county tax department.  The three children are students at Sparta Elementary.  Josh coaches baseball and the family attends Living by Faith Baptist Church in nearby Independence, Virginia.

Josh, his wife, and the county maintenance staff are reflective of so many Alleghany County residents.  They go about their lives a quiet manner that can easily go unnoticed, often working two – sometimes three jobs– in order to live in Alleghany.  They provide us with services and coach our kids’ athletic teams.  They work all week, worship on Sunday and start it all again on Monday. People like Josh Greene are the bindings that hold our community together.

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