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



Alexa Gerbrands


Alexa Gerbrands grew up in Southern California, earned her B.A in Colorado and moved to Boone, NC in 2012 for what she thought was a 2 year plan while her husband earned his Master’s degree from ASU. It didn’t take long for Alexa to fall in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains and High Country community – which she now calls home. Alexa works part-time for Samaritan’s Purse and is a full time mom to a beautiful toddler. Since moving to Boone she met people from all walks of life and her heart has been captivated by those stories and welcoming arms. She hopes to use her background in event planning and passion to get people together for the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation to support the strong women who are fighting breast cancer and to raise funds for families in need.


KATE FERSINGER 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.