interviews by Janet Hurley, Melanie McGee Bianchi and Jess McCuan
portraits by Matt Rose
They clog. They blog. They leap tall buildings in a single bound. Okay, so maybe it would take them more than a bound to leap a building. But make no mistake—these 30 women are on the way up.
The young ladies on the following pages are exemplars in most every field of endeavor: authors, athletes, artists, actors. And that’s just the A’s. The impact of their projects—from plays to social programs to businesses large and small—will change life as we know it in Western North Carolina. Who ever said Gen Y was apathetic? Interviewing these women, we found no shortage of diligence or zeal. On the whole, this crew of WNC’s best and brightest seems to have every reason to bound after their dreams. We picked (in no particular order) the cream of the Millennial crop, and these 30 under 30 are as VERVE-acious as they come.
With her social media savvy, blue-streaked hair and Molly Ringwald smile, Asheville-based young-adult novelist Stephanie Perkins might be mistaken for the teens she writes about. Her first book, Anna and the French Kiss, is set in Paris, and Perkins has had the luxury of living at least a bit of her book’s storyline: an American girl spends her tumultuous senior year of high school in the City of Love and Lights. Perkins, born in Greenville, South Carolina, was raised in Arizona and moved to Asheville in 2004. She spent a month last January doing research (a.k.a. eating delicious pastries) in a rented Paris flat.
At her book launch at Malaprop’s last December, complete with French pastries, her book sold out—something that seemed to surprise Perkins but shouldn’t surprise anyone else, given the round of awed reviews it’s received. A starred writeup from Kirkus says: “Perkins’ debut surpasses the usual chick-lit fare with smart dialogue, fresh characters and plenty of tingly interaction.” Last November, NPR named it one of the best teen reads of 2010.
Her journey exudes a kind of youthful breathlessness, but the author’s work ethic and perspective on success definitely spring from an old soul. She oh-so-modestly tells VERVE: “Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ve accomplished so much. My friends and family work as hard as I do. It’s just that their jobs aren’t quite as public.” Her recipe for success? She used to have this formula taped up above her desk. Work + time = novel. “That’s it,” she says. “That’s how it happens.”
To be doing any business in today’s dreary housing market is a coup. But to climb steadily from top-producing agent to marketing director to sales manager all before age 30 is a feat only feasible for a real-estate rock star. That’s exactly how one of Heather Judge’s colleagues at Asheville’s Town & Mountain Realty described her. Her official title at the company is now Broker-in-Charge. She has lived in WNC for a decade, and like any properly eclectic Ashevillean, she dips her toes in a variety of waters; an avid CrossFit advocate, she is also an accomplished photographer and volunteers for numerous progressive causes.
She’s a social worker at the Asheville VA Medical Center by day, assisting with post-surgery counseling—and grief counseling when things don’t go well. The Columbia University grad also helps keep community dialysis centers up and running. By night, though, Tomas, whose family is Puerto Rican, is something of a glamour girl. She models in fashion shows, played the part of Mrs. Clara Booth Luce in Asheville Community Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors last spring, and does a little singing for the New Jersey rapper Foul Mouth Jerk. “Whenever somebody needs me to fill in, I do,” she says, from hip-hop to bagpipes to jazz.
It’s safe to say that Natalie Pearson, a senior at UNCA, is on the fast track to success. She’s held the title of Asheville’s Top Female Athlete two years running (pun intended), was named the Big South Conference Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Year last June, and has been asked to compete in Olympic trials in her native England. Pearson also documents the feats of others in her position as sports editor of UNCA’s school paper, The Blue Banner. Recently, the literature major gave VERVE this juicy scoop: “When I graduate, I will for sure be looking for a job in some area of writing.” Our suggestion? Runner’s World.
The child star has been acting in commercials and movies since she was 2. Jardine, the daughter of Asheville filmmakers Chusy Jardine and Jennifer MacDonald, played Uma Thurman’s daughter in Kill Bill 2. On the Kill Bill set, Quentin Tarantino got her to relax by giving her frosted animal crackers, she says. She had fun playing a murderous ghost in Dark Water in 2005 with Jennifer Connelly. In recent months, she wrapped up Future Weather, playing the lead, Laduree, with a grandmother character, played by Amy Madigan.
Asheville’s much-loved late metal sculptor John Payne resurrected dinosaurs as life-sized steel marionettes, and now Payne’s disciple, Tina Councell, is forging a fresh life in the ancient medium. With fellow River District artist Chas Llewellyn, Councell installed Payne’s work in a museum in Biltmore Park, and she continues to curate his semi-permanent Dino Kinetics exhibit.
Councell, who worked as Payne’s apprentice for five years, now runs her own Iron Maiden Studios in Payne’s old studio space in the Wedge building. But Councell does more than just keep the flame: she wields it. “I have a deep love for metal, and I’m obsessed with obtaining any knowledge associated with it,” she says. Her small signature items include hand-forged garden tools and acid-etched belt buckles, sold respectively at Grovewood Gallery and at Honeypot Boutique.
Councell’s grand-scale, architectural ironwork is commissioned, and she recently finished a giant firepit shaped like a bird’s nest, exhibited in the Handmade in America Expo this summer. She expresses admiration for the work of local metalworkers Cynthia Wynn and Susan Hutchinson—and acknowledges the rarity of women in the medium. “It’s quite a joy and a struggle running my own business as a young female blacksmith. I will say that every single local business that I support knows me on a first-name basis.” Metal sculpting, Councell says, “can definitely be challenging physically. But it’s all about working smart.”
Step aside, Oprah. Grace Wallace is coming through. Wallace, just shy of 20, is a communications major at UNC-Charlotte who has big plans—first, graduate school for broadcasting and then, star in her own talk show. “I think America should be exposed to who I am through me,” she says with a laugh.
She has plenty of fans who agree. Growing up in Asheville, she was voted Miss Asheville High, elected her senior class president and was captain of the varsity cheerleading squad. She got several scholarships for her civic and academic achievements, and Wallace is attending college on a full four-year scholarship from the Asheville-based Building Bridges, a non-profit that facilitates “serious dialogue on race.” Though Wallace is just learning about broadcasting, it’s not a stretch to say the camera loves her, and she loves modeling and performing. She recently danced her way to Radio City Music Hall and the finale of the Pulse Dance Convention in NYC, in a number choreographed and coached by the Rockettes.
Now in her second year at school, Wallace is a volunteer with SAFE, Students Advising For Excellence, a peer mentoring program designed to assist freshman through their first year. Being a role model is part of Wallace’s mission, she says, just as Oprah has been one for her: “I want to stand for a young person who tries to do everything with a spirit of excellence.” And when she has her own talk show, what will she call it? Grace, of course.
She’s an animal lover, to say the least. In her pictures from childhood, Caroline Gunther is always the one surrounded by dogs, cats, hamsters or snakes. All grown up, she’s still surrounded by them, running a pet boutique, Wag, in Downtown Hendersonville. Walk in and you’re likely to see her latest rescues—dogs and cats from places like Blue Ridge Humane Society. She’s particularly interested in Catahoula leopard dogs, medium-sized spotted hounds from Louisiana. She started fostering Catahoulas and other breeds seven years ago, and she takes in cats too.
A group of teenagers shoplifted collars and jackets from her shop in March 2009, but she later cornered them in a Main Street store. Now, she leads groups of juvenile delinquents—including one of the thieves from her shop—on field trips to Hendersonville animal shelters.
Sarahbeth Larrimore bears a distinct resemblance to French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg—which fits, since the Asheville designer named her winter collection “Mistral Holiday,” after the dry north wind that blows in that country. But Larrimore is a full decade younger than her A-list doppelganger. And her fluidly cut, organic and sustainable casual clothing has a youthful edge. Larrimore uses fairly traded fabrics treated with low-impact, fiber-reactive dyes, and she donates one percent of her profits to Clean Water for NC. Her company name, Unabashed Apparel, encapsulates its own mission statement. Larrimore says: “I want to create clothes that enhance and inspire freedom.”
She’s Asheville’s next Thomas Wolfe, to be sure. Jordan Castelloe was so passionate about writing that she convinced her parents to let her leave Asheville High after her sophomore year. She took writing classes at UNCA during that time, but mostly, she says, she just wrote short stories. She had never submitted them anywhere until she sent four to the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship committee in early 2010, who awarded her a full four-year scholarship to UNC-Chapel Hill. Last year, she spent 10 months traveling in Asia, Istanbul, Turkey and elsewhere before she started school. When asked about the power of writing to change the world, Castelloe says, “If one person becomes a little fonder of the human race because of one of my stories, I’d be happy.”
Asheville High grad Jamie Corliss leaves this month for Ghana to work on human rights and health care projects as part of Projects Abroad. An active member of Asheville High’s Amnesty International chapter, she’s traveled with her church youth group to do service work in La Blanca, Guatemala, Kentucky, New Orleans, and with the Urban Poverty Friendship Center in Atlanta. Her passion for social justice is matched only by her commitment to dance. She started at the Asheville Contemporary Dance theater when she was just 4, balancing her schoolwork and activism with at least six hours of dance classes a week. She’s taken two dance exchange trips to Merida, in Mexico’s Yucatan, spending six weeks there in fall 2009. She plans to start classes at Columbia College in Chicago in fall 2011.
Ghana, Thailand, South Korea. Krystie McCarson has been to them all. Now Teen Program Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Henderson County, McCarson says she loved traveling, studying and working internationally. In 2007, her plan was to come home to Hendersonville “for just a few months” to decide her next move. With a biology degree from Kentucky’s Berea College, a medical career seemed likely. But then she took a temporary job at the Boys and Girls Club, and, three gratifying years later, she’s still there.
Most Boys and Girls Club kids come from single-parent homes and live below the poverty line. The club itself is located in a high-crime Hendersonville neighborhood. McCarson strives to provide attention, continuity and structure that extends beyond the typical work day—like attending football games or eating lunch with her kids at their schools. “All kids need basically the same thing—to feel loved and safe,” McCarson says.
The club’s Girl Talk program brings high schoolers together with girls as young as 7 or 8. The older girls serve as mentors, and the discussion topics range far and wide. Under McCarson’s leadership, the teen program has been recognized as one of the best in the country by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
McCarson is still skipping med school. Instead, she’ll keep her job at Boys and Girls, and in fall 2011, she’ll start a masters in Social work and Counseling through UNC Chapel Hill’s Mountain Area program. “This is more than a job,” she says. “I’m part of a family.”
Native-stone retaining walls and cantilevered decks certainly have their place in local building culture. But when you find an Asheville architect who gets excited about designing a liquor store on a shopping strip, you know you’ve hit upon young talent. Lindsey Rhoden, who works for the prestigious downtown Asheville firm PBC+L, enthuses about the “modern aesthetic” and “warm, inviting interior” that makes the ABC Store she designed stand out on Tunnel Road. Her idealism doesn’t fade off the clock: Rhoden also sings in the Asheville Choral Society and coordinates numerous charitable causes, including last fall’s CANstruction event that benefited Manna FoodBank.
Jesse Barry, lead singer of the Asheville-based band Skinny Legs and All, has sung the blues since she was 8. She was stunned when, during her celebrity audition on American Idol last January (the fourth before she was selected for the Hollywood round), singer Mary J. Blige told her that a small white girl belting out the blues just didn’t work—even if she did sound like Aretha Franklin. “She told me I should pick music that fits my appearance, that I didn’t know who I was,” Barry says. After she was eliminated from the competition by an unhappy Simon Cowell, cameras followed her tears all the way into the bathroom. “At least,” Barry laughs, “I really liked the outfit I was wearing.”
Currently dual-enrolled at Asheville High and A-B tech, she plans to take a year after graduation to focus on music full time. She’ll also try out for American Idol again.
Clogger Ashley Shimberg was used to judges turning their backs on her during a cappella competitions where sound is everything. It just meant she had to stomp harder—especially when she was up against heavier male cloggers. Shimberg, a slim teen, wore ankle weights to make her steps louder, and her efforts paid off with a bronze medal at the 2004 AAU Junior Olympics.
Since then, Shimberg has won 11 champion titles and was inducted into the Clogging Hall of Fame at the ripe old age of 14. She started giving lessons through the Asheville Clogging Company at 16 and opened her own clogging studio in Arden at 22. Now, her big dream is to clog with 50 of her students in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
She hiked the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail in 57 days. If it’s hard to comprehend just why that’s so speedy, consider that it takes skilled hikers at least three months to traverse the entire trail, and most normal people make the trek in six months. Jen Davis raced from Georgia to Maine in August of 2008, breaking a trail record for a female hiker, set by Jenny Jardine in 1993. Afterwards, the Hendersonville native started her own business, Blue Ridge Hiking Company, leading people on regional hikes and writing about them in two new local guidebooks. (A guide to Charlotte-area hikes book is already out; an Asheville book will be published this fall.) The college classics major also published a memoir last fall, Becoming Odyssa, about her experiences on the trail.
This winter, she’s been speaking at clinics and at schools and seminars, mainly about why it’s important to get outdoors. “Ironically, I’m getting a lot of car time,” she says, explaining that she’s been wheeling around from her current home in Asheville to places like Cherokee and Johnson City, Tennessee. “I hate driving.”
She won’t be in the car for long. This spring, she’ll train for another sprint up the Appalachian Trail, this time angling to beat the men’s record of 47 days. That’s 45 miles per day, which sounds daunting to anyone in their right mind. But not Davis, who points out that it’s just seven more miles each day than her record-breaking journey in 2008.
The co-owner of The Hop Ice Cream is something of a mad scientist of ice cream flavors. She and her husband Greg bought the shop on Merrimon Avenue in 2008 and opened The Hop West last October. Garrison donates profits and space to a handful of nonprofits, including Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, Asheville City Schools Foundation and Animal Compassion Network. She’s also made her shop a community hub, opening it up for free mini concerts.
Once upon a time, to be a “young” academic meant to be 30-something at best, bedraggled and hollow-eyed from isolated studying, skin and teeth discolored from toxic caffeine consumption. Not so Jennifer Gray, a former UNCA student working toward a PhD in philosophy at the University of South Carolina. When she was an undergraduate, her groundbreaking work on medieval philosopher Henry of Ghent led to participation in Washington, D.C.’s 12th annual Posters on the Hill Council for Undergraduate Research (the first time a UNCA student has received the honor). Still bent on studying Ghent, Gray was recently granted unusual intimacy with her subject: she spent last summer in Europe poring over his original manuscripts.
The Brevard High School student’s main focus is biology, and her research team was a national finalist at the International Science and Engineering Fair, in San Jose, California, this year. Their project, The Effect of Adelges tsugae on Sasajiscymnus tsugae Egg Production, could have a huge impact on Western North Carolina forestry. They’re breeding a beetle in the lab, the sasi, that can eat wooly adelgids—which eat hemlocks. In 2009, Williams got to collaborate on the project with scientists at the Triangle Research Center in Triangle Park.