Our Board and Staff

Melissa Soto

Melissa Soto has been working at WAMY Community Action for 30 years and has devoted her career to helping others by offering them the tools and resources needed to overcome poverty. “I love the mission of the agency and the way we are ever-changing to meet the needs of the community. It is an amazing experience to watch someone change their lives or inspire hope in someone who did not think they had options or a future.” Melissa was named Executive Director of WAMY in 2012 and is working to help the agency grow in both scope and impact.

Brittany Luxton

Brittany Luxton is WAMY’s Finance Director and has been with us for more than a decade. Although her co-workers know she oversees all important things, Brittany likes to work behind the scenes. Good luck with that, Brittany. WAMY staff will never stop abruptly walking into your office. A self-made, independent person, she is amazing at her job. Originally from California, Brittany has lived in the High Country for more than 20 years. She loves her family and church, UNC Tarheel basketball and USC Gamecocks football, and daydreaming about vacations on a deserted island with no one knocking on her door.

Sarah Freer

Sarah Freer began as WAMY’s Social Work Intern and we never let her go. She now serves as our Family Development Director and Quality Assurance Manager. She has worked for WAMY (Watauga, Avery, Mitchell, Yancey) since 2018 in various roles. Sarah loves the opportunity to help others in the community! She believes that people are capable of so much, sometimes they just need a helping hand.

Allison Jennings

Allison Jennings- Putting the FUN in Fundraising, Allison was hired as the Director of Development for WAMY in July 2021. With more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management, she considers her job at WAMY “the role of a lifetime.” She says, "Working for WAMY has been the greatest experience! The tremendous impact WAMY provides for our community makes my job extremely rewarding and the best.” She takes immense joy in connecting donors to the poverty fighting programs WAMY offers and using those gifts to help people and change lives. “I especially love being the Head of the Party Planning Committee for our Office,” admits Allison. Well, we agree. WAMY events really are the best and all fundraising efforts fight poverty in the area we serve.

Starli McDowell

Starli McDowell is WAMY’s Intake Specialist, and we are all so glad she joined our team in June 2020 to administer the Cares Pandemic Funding for the four counties served by WAMY. The pandemic funding helped so many people and families stay in their homes and pay their basic needs through an emergency that affected everyone but hit those working folks living paycheck to paycheck the hardest. Starli says,”I was honored to help clients until they could get back on their feet. That is why I love my job and what WAMY does, it is a hand up when people really need it.” As WAMY’s Intake Specialist, Starli takes calls and inquiries about the WAMY programs, helps people with housing applications and/or accessing other resources they may need. WAMY clients just love Starli and her work has changed the trajectory of many lives in our community.

Lynette Walker

Lynette Walker is the Family Development Coordinator for Watauga County and has been with WAMY for more than seven years. Lynette is passionate about her work serving adults who seek education or training to achieve their goals, including preparing for better employment and potentially a career they always dreamed about. “It brings me great joy to be a part of their journey while working together with them to achieve success, “Lynette says. She works closely with her clients to help them secure employment and complete the full cycle for a family to achieve financial security- which aligns with our mission to help families rise above poverty.

Anita Buchanan

Anita became a part of the WAMY team in 1998 and is a Family Development Coordinator. She has been committed to helping people and changing lives for close to 25 years. Anita’s WAMY path has covered many roles but overall, her focus has been to see her clients grow and reach their goals. “I am honored to be a part of this organization. It means so much to be able to lead others to become self-sufficient.”

Amber Balduf

Amber Balduf is the Housing and Energy Coordinator for WAMY. She helps with Weatherization, Heating & Air replacement, and Home Repairs. Amber has been with WAMY since 2017, but her coworkers feel like she has been with us forever. Her sense of humor and awesome hair keeps us in awe. Amber has a great heart! She says, “Living in a healthy home creates a better overall morale in life. The best part about my job is helping elderly clients. Being able to give them a safe home to age in place is the most amazing feeling.”  Rockin’ it Always, Amber!

April Beck

Housing & Energy Development Director, has been with WAMY since early 2020. April studied social work in college and, prior to joining WAMY, served adults with developmental disabilities as well as individuals with mental health and substance abuse disorders. April says her favorite part about her job is getting to meet new people and having the opportunity to assist them in a meaningful way. April is a single parent and once fit into the “very low-income” category; she believes her life experiences fuel her passion to be of service to others. WAMY Housing Programs frequently combine resources from within the community to assist families with critical home repairs—witnessing an outpour of support, whether through financial donations or volunteer services, has been inspiring to April. She considers her work with families and community partners a privilege and looks forward to continuing serving families in our rural communities.

Jim Shoupe

James (Jim) Shoupe is WAMY’s Housing Technician and is also Pastor of Mt Calvary Freewill Baptist Church in Spruce Pine, NC. Jim says, “God led me to WAMY on May 4th 2020. I will never forget how God worked with my heart. I will never forget my interview and meeting WAMY employees the first time. Melissa and April made me feel like I belonged here. Working for WAMY has been a great extension of my ministry, the fulfilment of helping others is overwhelming. We have helped a lot of people in my brief time here and hope to help many more. We trust God to bless the challenging work of fundraising, and He always comes through to see the thankfulness of clients is worth it all. I feel like I work for the best nonprofit organization. May God continue to bless people through WAMY community action.” Jim says this verse guides him in his work with WAMY. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” Hebrews 13:2

Melanie Jirka

Melanie (aka Mel) Jirka is WAMY’s Community Housing Coordinator for Avery, Mitchell and Yancey Counties. She says, “I learned about WAMY while serving as the mission’s chair for my church. The mission team has volunteered, and will continue to do so, for WAMY construction projects. In March of 2022, I was able to join the WAMY team as a full-time employee. It is such a blessing to be able to turn a passion into a career. It is so important that people have a safe place to call home. Everyone deserves to be warm, safe, and healthy.” Mel is often featured in our e-newsletter with awesome stories about her clients. She says Matthew 25:45 inspires her work. “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Hudson Vaughn

Hudson Vaughn joined the WAMY team in 2021 as a Housing Technician, working directly with homeowners. Hudson says, “I love my workplace environment most! It is always positive and supporting and everyone has a common goal of making a powerful impact on our community.” Hudson is participating in some extensive training to make him well prepared to address the housing needs of our WAMY clients. Hudson says, “I am excited about furthering my education and training. Improving the lives of people in our community is such a rewarding experience and I am blessed to be in this position.”

Meet our Board


Emily Bish
Natalie Bovino
Tom Hughes
Cameron Moser
Charlie Wallin


Michelle Ball
Beth Gacek
Clayton Harpold, Chair
Samantha Knight
Arlene Weiner


Shelia Blalock
Ellen Ledford
Ted Ollis
Pandora Pass


Becky Davis
Vanessa Letterman
Darlene Marsh
Angie Vance