Board of Directors


IRENE SAWYER - Founder and President

Irene is originally from Pennsylvania, but has lived all over the country. She earned a BA in Communication and a Masters Degree in Public Administration. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States, having been in a marketing position for a large corporation for over 20 years. In 2010, she was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. After chemotherapy and many surgeries, she started on the road to recovery. Following her treatment, Irene volunteered at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. Her dream is to build the Foundation as an all-volunteer organization that raises funds for patients in the High Country—all monies raised stay in the community. Irene is a real estate broker in the High Country.  She can be reached at


 JOANIE VENZA - Vice President / Director of Sponsorships

Joanie Venza

Joanie is originally from South Lyon, Michigan and after finishing her college education, she moved to Florida where she lived for 35 years. Joanie and her husband Jim are now semi retired and are full time residents of Boone. She is an eleven year Breast Cancer Survivor and is passionate in helping other cancer patients through their journey. She has participated in multiple Susan G. Komen 3-day 60-mile walks and has volunteered for the American Cancer Society. Last year to celebrate 10 years cancer free, she initiated a program founded by Tamara Jara called Lollipops for Cancer at the Seby Cancer Center here in Boone.

Joanie is a local artist, works at the Gilded Lily in Blowing Rock, and loves to hike Grandfather Mountain. She also enjoys gardening and is a member of the Blowing Rock Garden Club as well as the Blue Ridge Garden Club, which maintains a year round garden that can be viewed from the infusion room at Seby Cancer Center.

Today, she feels honored to be a part of this amazing foundation and is looking forward to focusing her efforts to support High Country breast cancer awareness and fundraising activities for our wonderful community. The money raised here stays here and benefits our local families and patients.




Cindy is a 21 year resident of the High Country and feels blessed to live in such a beautiful part of the country. Originally from Pennsylvania and Florida, she moved to this area with her family from a busy cosmopolitan lifestyle, to a slower pace of mountain living. Although not a native of North Carolina, she spent many summers growing up and raising her children on a horse and tobacco farm in the Asheville area. She, and her husband Larry, have owned their own real estate companies both in Florida and North Carolina, and have worked together as a team for the last 41 years. Presently Cindy is affiliated with Blowing Rock Investments Properties and works full time listing and selling real estate. Cindy’s passion when not working is water color painting. Inspired by her mother who was an artist, she began her training only a short time ago. Her inspiration to become part of the High Country Walk-Run for Breast Cancer came as a result of losing her mother and best friend to breast cancer. Over the years, Cindy has donated a portion of all her painting proceeds, in honor of her mother, to breast cancer research. Her enthusiasm to help raise money for those who are suffering from this disease is the force behind joining this wonderful organization.


teri TERRI BROWN - Secretary / Director of Marketing

Terri Brown feels most comfortable in the mountain air and is thrilled to live in the high country after nearly 30 years in the low country of Charleston, SC. She has always dreamed of returning to the North Carolina mountains with fond memories of her childhood in Murphy and honeymoon in Sapphire Valley. Terri’s advertising career landed her in some of the hottest, muggiest cities in the country: New Orleans, Miami, New York, Atlanta and finally Charleston. Her positions included Media Director for the J. Walter Thompson agency, Executive VP at Davis Advertising in Charleston and a partnership with her husband Tom in their own agency. After leaving the ad biz, Terri fulfilled her lifelong desire to work with animals by becoming a dog groomer.  Terri is inspired by the bold vision and fathomless devotion of the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation team and feels so fortunate that retiring here has given her the opportunity to join them.


 JaisonJAISON STEIN - Director, Website Development and Maintenance

Jaison has been taming computers since 1999 when he opened his first computer shop in Connecticut, which was named Computer Tamers. In 2013 he moved his family down to Virginia and then in 2016, purchased Geeks at Work in Boone. He has four kids and married to Holly. Jaison loves everything tech. Geeks at Work has experience in networking, computer repair, cabling, website design, enterprise wi-fi installations. Geeks at Work has many commercial clients that rely on them to keep their IT infrastucture working. Jaison can be reached at 



Emily portrait web EMILY CRANE-LITTLE - Social Worker

Emily was born and raised in eastern North Carolina and has been a resident of Boone since July 2007. She attended Appalachian State University, where she earned her BS in Psychology and then went on to get her Master’s in Social Work. She began working at Watauga Medical Center in August 2014, where she currently assists patients with care transition plans, providing and educating patient’s on community resources and providing support to those in need. In July 2017, she became an Accredited Case Manager. To say cancer has impacted Emily is an understatement; she has found her inner strength, passion and drive to help and serve others after her father’s battle with cancer. She continues to find strength and drive through her mother, who is currently battling cancer, whom never seems to lose her strength nor her smile. When not working, Emily can be found enjoying all the High Country has to offer from the scenery, to hiking and capturing the views with her Nikon, with her husband, Stew. She also enjoys cooking using her Insta Pot, anything with dark chocolate and does her best dancing in the kitchen. Emily and Stew also have recently been promoted to “fur parents” and brought home a Yorkie puppy, Belle.


KATE FERSINGER - Director kate fersingerk1

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, Kate is a junior at Appalachian State studying Political Science and Non-profit Management.  After she graduates, she plans to join the Peace Corps to work with child development.  She is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha at Appalachian State, and is currently serving as Service Chairman.   In addition to being involved in her sorority, Kate also volunteers at the Hospitality House in the High Country.




Jason Sirmon Advisory Board MemberFrom his years as a submarine sailor in the US Navy to financial consulting with Edward Jones Investments, Jason continues his philosophy of "servant leadership" to keep him busy in various aspects of life. His passion for servant leadership is reflected in one of his favorite quotes, “Not to be served, but to serve.” Jason says, "I have found my 'why' and my purpose in life”, as he continues to make a positive impact on other’s lives. Jason serves the foundation as a way to honor his mother and to connect with her “ringing the bell,” signifying the end of her own breast cancer treatments. When not working or participating in some aspect of non-profit activity, Jason is spending time with his wife of nearly 20 years or running to activities with his three girls.


  Courtney Carroll Bio COURTNEY CARROLL - Director

Courtney is a Boone native with a BA in Communication Studies from UNC-Wilmington. She works as the office manager for Blue Ridge Realty & Investments LLC’s Blowing Rock location, where she first became involved with the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation and was inspired to take a more active role. In her free time, Courtney can be found reading a book with a cat in her lap, cuddling guinea pigs, searching for wildflowers and waterfalls, or spending time with her much-adored younger brothers.




Allyson Medlin


Allyson Medlin is from New Bern, North Carolina and is a sophomore at Appalachian State University with a major in Nursing and a minor in Psychology. After graduation, she wishes to go into the oncology field and work as a nurse. She is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority and serves as the Service Chairman for 2018. The women of Zeta Tau Alpha all work with the HCBCF by providing volunteer service to anything the Foundation needs, as well as spreading the name and purpose of the HCBCF.



KAREN VENTRONE - DirectorKaren Ventrone portrait

Karen has been a Boone resident since she moved here from Burbank, California with her husband and daughter in 1981. Her daughter Jessica was raised here since she was 3 and graduated from ASU in 2008. Jessica is now married and living in Texas. Karen has been the office manager for High Country Radio in Boone for over 5 years. She attends St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, loves working in her yard and spending time with her 15 year old pup, Mousse. In 2015, after 31 years of marriage, her husband Tom passed away due to complications from treatments for prostate cancer. Karen has felt lost since then and has been trying to find ways to stay active and productive within the community. One day, Irene Sawyer came into the radio station and that was the beginning of an everlasting friendship. The High Country Breast Cancer Foundation is built on everything Karen believes in: helping others in the community, making a difference in people’s lives, giving without expecting anything in return but to see hope, smiles and faith in our future.



Coach Angel Portrait HCBCF


Angel Elderkin has been a champion of women her entire life. As the Head Coach of the Appalachian State University women's basketball team, she makes a positive impact in the lives of the young women she leads. Just before the 2016-2017 season was to begin, Angel was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Beginning with treatments in the summer, Elderkin did not skip a beat and was at practice every day. The head coach traveled to Chapel Hill for treatments every day and still made it to practice on time. She didn't miss one game the entire season, including a daunting five-game road trip to begin the slate. Elderkin ended her treatment just after the first road trip of the season at DePaul. For her strength and courage in the face of cancer, Elderkin was awarded the United States Basketball Writer's Association (USBWA) Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award along with ESPN analyst, Holly Rowe.

Since defeating cancer, Coach Elderkin continues to be an advocate in raising funds for the research and awareness in the fight against cancer. In five years at App State, she has helped raise more than $18,000, through the Kay Yow Fund and the American Cancer Society. Her team members are enthusiastic volunteers at the HCBCF 5K Walk-Run for Breast Cancer and other events held to support the foundation. When she is not on the court, she enjoys being outside with her two labs, Boss and Miles.