2023 Volunteer of the Year

January 11, 2024

Volunteers play a critical role in helping us achieve our mission at Southern Highlands Reserve. Since launching a formal volunteer program in 2019, we have grown significantly in scope and numbers. Each week on volunteer day, we welcome as many as a dozen participants. In 2023, our volunteers completed more than 800 hours potting up plants in our nursery, leading tours as docents, tracking phenology, extracting and cleaning seeds, weeding and planting.

Every year we honor one volunteer of superstar status. The Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes an outstanding volunteer for valuable and selfless dedication and contribution to enhancing efficiency within the organization as well as spreading awareness throughout the community. It is our pleasure to name Nancy Carroll as Southern Highlands Reserve’s 2023 Volunteer of the Year.

Nancy first visited SHR more than a decade ago. Since the formal launch of our volunteer program in 2019, she has been trekking up the mountain in all manner of weather conditions and bringing life, laughter, and bright optimism to Volunteer Day.

“Rain or shine she’s up on volunteer day ready to go,” said gardener Kody Stanley. “Cleaning seeds or working in the moss beds, she’s always excited to help.”

Her devotion to SHR’s mission continues in the Brevard community, where she has lived since 2011. She has recruited numerous new volunteers and donors with her enthusiasm and love for the time she spends with us.

Nancy spent her childhood in upstate New York and Vermont near the Canadian border. “And I’ve been trying to get back there ever since,” she says. “Much to my dismay, when I was in sixth grade, we moved to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I finished high school and college down there, and then as soon as I could, I took my graduation money and got out.” She landed a teaching position in the Atlanta area, where she spent her entire working career.

For 10 years, Nancy taught special needs high school students at Margaret Harris Comprehensive School in DeKalb County, GA. She was then tapped to create a job training program for DeKalb County special needs students. The program collaborated with 200 businesses to place students in off-site training for different job tasks, accompanied by instructors. Her career in education spanned 30 years, and upon retirement, she and her husband, Edward, moved to Brevard from Decatur.

“I guess you get drawn to a place,” she said. “It’s kind of ‘woo-woo,’ isn’t it? People are drawn here, and it’s just very special.”

Nancy’s entryway to gardening was growing vegetables, and from there she became a Master Gardener in Brevard more than a decade ago. “The only model I had was my grandmother, who grew flowers in upstate New York,” she said. “I would watch her tend her flowers, all neat in a row. Everything had to be nice and tidy. She was British.”

A lifelong bicycle enthusiast, Nancy was a founding co-owner of the Silver Comet Depot Bicycle Shop, now named Comet Trail Cycles, in Mabelton, GA. She is the Silvermont Gardens Liaison to Transylvania County’s N.C. Cooperative Extension Center. She participates in “Soil School,” a collaboration between the Extension Center’s 4-H program, Brevard Elementary third graders, and Master Gardener volunteers. Nancy is also a Third Actor with focus on reducing fossil fuels. Her other interests include yoga, cooking, and travel hiking.

Nancy’s daughter, Chloe, lives in Oakland, Ca., with husband Andrew and daughter Maya, 3. She also has three stepdaughters: Kirsten Sanchez and Cameron Carroll, both of Canton, Ga.; and Shannon Hartig, of Birmingham, Al., who with husband J.R. has twins Jude and Jake, 5, and daughter Elliott, 2.

“I tell people, SHR is as close as I can get to probably the love of my life, the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York and the Green Mountains in Vermont,” she said. “When I’m going up that road to SHR, I don’t listen to the radio. And when I pull in that driveway, I like to go really slow because it reminds me of my childhood, the earliest memories I have. It’s one of the best parts of my life.”

If you are interested in joining our volunteer team, please complete our online application here.