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Yolanda Adams leads and empowers others to lead locally and statewide

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While Yolanda Adams’ life has spanned Bogotá, Fort Lauderdale, and what she calls “itty bitty, but mighty Boone,” many people in education across North Carolina know her for any number of leadership roles she plays in her community and the state. 

Locally, she works as the family resource coordinator for Watauga County Schools, and she is known for founding Q’pasa Appalachia, which she describes as “a bridge between the Latino community and businesses and organizations.” In 2020, she was the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Baker/Jones Woman of the Year, and she now serves on the board of directors of the chamber. She received the Chancellor’s Award for Inclusive Excellence in the Community from Appalachian State University in 2022.

Statewide, Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Adams to the Task Force to Develop a Representative and Inclusive Vision for Education (DRIVE) in 2022. She was a LatinxEd fellow in 2021, has been a Hunt Institute State Policy fellow, a Public School Forum of EPFP fellow, and will in the 2023-24 cohort of ElevateNC.

Courtesy of Q’Pasa Appalachia

Adams migrated to the community of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when she was nine years old. She lived there through fourth grade before she and her mom returned to Colombia. In her senior year of high school, she returned to the United States.

Torn between cultures throughout her childhood, she knew the importance of gripping onto her culture, understanding “the beauty of it,” and how it is “one of the most important things that you will never lose,” she said.

Adams shares times she has felt detached from both cultures, but she knows the importance of keeping her roots preserved in not just herself, but her family. 

After graduation from high school, Adams found herself majoring in business administration at Broward Community College. She describes wanting to be a light to those who oftentimes get lost in the systems that make up American life. She remembers questioning whether something was done right or if it was the correct procedure, and she wanted to work alongside her communities to bridge that gap. 

Her older brother lived in Boone, and she moved to the high country with her first son, unaware of the impact she would one day have on her new community. 

Adams got to know local health workers as they came by for home visits when she was pregnant with her second son and while he was a newborn. They offered her a job to be a translator, and that’s when she began to serve the Latino population of Boone.

In the five years she worked as a translator, she built unbreakable bonds with her coworkers and with the community. 

She realized the importance of creating a platform where mothers like her could stay informed. 

Q’pasa Appalachia is an organization Adams co-founded. This bilingual video podcast and Facebook page shares resources, local news, and events to Latinos without the constraints of a language barrier. Adams says the platform creates a space where the  community can feel whole, leaving no one behind. 

Adams’ professional and community leadership led to an opportunity for her to work for Watauga County Schools, first as a Spanish interpreter/translator and now as the family resource coordinator.

To Adams, it has been what she calls a “full circle moment,” since through her work in the schools she has found herself reunited with many of the mothers she had worked with when she was with the health department.

In her role, she builds trust with families. She helps them learn how to navigate the American school system. But her role also puts her in a position to lead. One of the initiatives she is proudest of is the Semillas program. Semillas means seed.

Adams calls the program her “little baby,” and it is one of her greatest accomplishments. The program is premised on the significance of parental engagement in a child’s life and how positive relationships between parents and children can impact students’ educational careers. Adams stresses how important it is for parents to understand that “not knowing the language is not a barrier for them to be involved in their child’s education.” In planting this seed early on with both the student and the parent, Adams says power is returned to the family. 

Adams’ leadership has brought together different cultures to create a sense of community that strengthens the town of Boone.

“We often talk about the importance of building community, but it’s really hard to get from intentions to actions,” said Scott Elliott, the former superintendent of Watauga County Schools. “Yolanda is a prolific bridge builder with any and all members of our community. She sees opportunities and partnerships everywhere. She advocates for and gives voice to those who are often overlooked and unheard. Yolanda has grown into this role while also finding her own voice and becoming an advocate for what she knows to be good and true.”

Courtesy of Q’Pasa Appalachia

She leaves this message to those of us touched by her leadership:

Never be afraid to use your voice.

Your voice matters, and it is a force to be reckoned with. 

Do not lose your roots and your culture to blend in because it’s what defines you. 

Yolanda Adams
Gabriela Ramirez

Gabriela Ramirez is a graduate of the honors college at Appalachian State University, where she was in the 2020 cohort of Diversity Scholars.