Gracie Aldridge Leonhardt – Class of 2018
Community Support Coordinator, Blue Ridge Humane Society, Henderson County, NC

Over 70 per cent of American homes have at least one pet. Since our precious pets give us love and bring us joy, organizations that save and help our beloved animals are of primary interest to many people. Gracie Aldridge Leonhardt does more than love and support animals. As the Community Support Coordinator with the Blue Ridge Humane Society in Henderson County, NC, she has made their care her career.

“We offer a myriad of programs to help keep pets safe and healthy in their homes,” Gracie explains. “These services include our low cost Spay/Neuter Program (SNIP) where Henderson County Residents can get their pets spayed/neutered for only $10, our Vet Assistance program where we budget each month to provide financial assistance for those facing unexpected medical emergencies with their pets in our area, Quarterly Low Cost Vaccine Clinics, and Pet Food Assistance. We partner with several food pantries in our area and deliver pet food to them to give out as well as partnering in person at their giveaways and hosting a few of our own each month. We also offer Pet Loss Support Groups with a licensed therapist and offer low cost Pet Cremation Services.

“In addition, we offer Temporary Boarding Services and Housing Assistance/Pet Rent Assistance, and we have a rehoming page on our website for pet owners who need assistance rehoming their pet. I help run and coordinate all of these programs in our Community Support Department, and it is SO rewarding! I can honestly say that upon graduating from either high school or college that I didn’t see myself in this role, but I will forever be happy that I ended up here. Not only do I have an amazing group of coworkers and a very supportive work environment, but I also love being able to do the work that we do and provide assistance to those in need. Even our most stressful days are good days!”

Gracie began studying for a career in education at Gardner-Webb University but then decided to change to sociology. She completed coursework at Catawba Valley Community College and earned a BA degree in sociology in 2022 from UNC Asheville

“Before my present job, I had a few different positions in the human services world. While I was still in college, I worked part time as a BHT (Behavioral Health Tech) for The Autism Society of NC. I then moved on to work at an RHY (Runaway and Homeless Youth) Shelter in Asheville called Trinity Place. This organization and the kids I met there will forever hold a special place in my heart. My feelings are bittersweet because while I LOVED working there and being a safe person for kids in need, it also showed me a lot of ugly in the world and made me realize I may be too empathetic to successfully work in that field. You must be able to set healthy boundaries and not give too much of yourself because once you cross that line, you can quickly drain yourself and burn out. My biggest piece of advice for anyone in any career, but especially for those in human services, is to make sure you take care of yourself, too. You won’t be able to fill anyone else’s cup if yours is empty. That said, I honestly thought I was going to work there forever (or at least as far into the future as I could see), but funding and staffing shortages caused Trinity Place to unexpectedly close down in May of 2022 after 36 years in the community. I was heartbroken and wasn’t sure where to go next. But I found my way. “My first full time position post graduating with my BA was as a BHT at a women’s sober living house associated with Pyramid Health in Asheville. Both there and at Trinity Place I was able to build trust with the people I was serving and make huge impacts even in the smallest ways, often not realizing it at the time. Everyone goes through difficult periods in their lives. Some just may need a little more support and structure to help them be successful, and I was able to help provide that for my clients at the time. I then moved from Asheville to Hendersonville and started working with another non-profit called Thrive. I was a Housing Case Manager there for a little less than a year before I started with BRHS where I am currently.

“While at Thrive, I ran three grants and helped to house a total of nineteen families. One of my grants let me partner with a local domestic violence shelter called Safelight. BRHS has since also partnered with Safelight to install kennels to house and care for the pets of domestic abuse survivors. One reason many victims stay in unsafe situations is that they do not want to leave a beloved pet behind. While at Thrive I was also able to make connections with many of the same food pantries and shelters in the area that we are partnered with at BRHS, All of my past job experiences really gave me insight to what the needs are in our community and have helped in my role now. Having the opportunity to build connections and make partnerships helps to break down boundaries and improve the lives of everyone in our community. Because of this experience, I am able to offer information on other resources for folks that come to us for assistance, Even if it is a need that I cannot help with directly, I know that it will still be met. And for me, that is the most important thing. I am content knowing that I am doing good for others.”

Gracie’s love for all living things has always been with her, but it was further nurtured during her time at East Burke High. “When I think of positive high school influences, the very first person who comes to my mind is Tina Lowman. She was my choral teacher all four years, and she was my ‘school mom.’ I did well in my academic classes and enjoyed them, but nothing compared to the warmth and support I found in Mrs. Lowman’s class. Music in general was a creative outlet for me, as it is for many others, so I would have enjoyed those periods in school anyway, but Tina Lowman really went above and beyond for her students. She loved us all and wanted the best for each of us. She helped me with college recommendation letters and has been a job reference for me as well. I know I had so many experiences I otherwise wouldn’t have had were it not for her and her class. We traveled to New York City, Nashville, and Atlanta together as a choral group. We won a radio competition and sang on stage with the band Foreigner for a Fourth of July Concert in Charlotte. Performing together was wonderful, but we also had such a great opportunity to travel and learn and see things many of us may not have been able to do otherwise. She helped to make me a more confident person by making me a more confident performer. She never let me give up on myself OR whatever musical piece I was working on, haha. She was a shoulder to cry on and a mentor, and I still consider her a friend. Donna Duncan is another honorable mention. I was in several of her English classes in my last two high school years. She was always supportive, her classes were always interesting, and I enjoyed the welcome classroom environment.”

With so many interesting career experiences and her desire to serve others, Gracie has many opportunities open to her. “I have debated on going back to school to get a master’s degree, but if I do, I’m not sure when that will be or what exactly I want to do with it. But it certainly is a possibility. I just know I enjoy being involved in my community and being of service to others when I can be.”

Published March 2024

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