2023 WomanUP Awards

November 7, 2023

The Asheville Chamber believes in the power of collective strength. We champion a harmonious and flourishing local economy, acting as the catalyst that brings leaders and influencers together. 

WomanUP is more than just an event; it’s a movement designed to inspire, connect, and support women in business. At our 2023 WomanUP Celebration on November 3, we honored the following seven outstanding women in our business community, acknowledging their remarkable achievements. 

Woman Entrepreneur Best in Business – Laura McCann

Founder & CEO of Adoratherapy

Presented by Webb Investment Services

As CEO of Adoratherapy, Laura has revolutionized the aromatherapy industry with her visionary approach and innovation.

Laura’s journey began with extensive research and exploration into the therapeutic benefits of essential oils and their effects on emotional well-being. She founded Adoratherapy in 2015, combining her expertise in consumer products and her business acumen, along with a clear vision to bring the power of scent to the mainstream market.

Laura has led Adoratherapy to tremendous success. Her dedication to quality and innovation has resulted in the creation of a diverse range of products that cater to the needs and desires of a wide customer base.  Her keen understanding of consumer trends and preferences has allowed the company to anticipate – and meet –  the evolving demands of its customers, staying ahead of the competition. 

Meanwhile, Laura demonstrates a commitment to elevating other entreprenuers. She serves as a mentor and also showcases other female founders in her People We Adore series.

It is clear that Laura will continue to inspire and empower individuals on their journey towards well-being, one captivating scent at a time.

Outstanding Woman in Nonprofit Leadership – CiCi Weston

Executive Director of The Christine W. Avery Learning Center (CWA)

Presented by TD Bank

CiCi Weston has been a leader in the Asheville community for years. She is executive director of the Christine W. Avery Learning Center. This non-profit program, named for CiCi’s mother, serves over 150 youth through early learning, Pre-K, after-school and summer programming. Many of the students come from marginalized communities.

CiCi founded CWA to provide high quality care and to empower the next generation of socially conscious leaders. Programs focus on cultural awareness, leadership, academic skill building and civic responsibility. 

Staff say she has been an excellent mentor, helping them grow in their professional and personal lives. She has created an environment for staff to pursue certifications and continuing education through tuition assistance, as well as social and emotional support. 

Outside of being an amazing leader at work, CiCi also helps to inspire and support the community. She sits on the reparations committee, juvenile justice committee, racial equity group led by Buncombe Partnership for Children, the Literacy Together Board, The NC Policy Change for Education group and previously the United Way Community Conversations Committee.

CiCi’s consistent effort to truly make life better for everyone she comes in contact with truly deserves recognition. 

STEM Award – Christy Cheek

Executive Director of Buncombe County Schools Foundation

Presented by Pratt & Whitney

For over 30 years, Christy served as both a dedicated teacher and director, passionately educating and guiding the students of Buncombe County. During 16 of those years, she served as the Career & Technical Education Director, a role in which she introduced a STEM-themed engineering program.

Christy’s STEM journey did not stop there. She was chosen to be part of a state-led team that helped develop and implement STEM best practices in the school systems. She later took that knowledge and led a district-wide STEM planning team. This committee was responsible for creating the County’s first-ever STEM school, the Nesbitt Discovery Academy.

Presently, Christy serves as the Executive Director of the Buncombe County Schools Foundation, where her leadership has played a pivotal role in distributing over $400,000 dollars in scholarships last year alone. The Foundation has also generously allocated over $40,000 to support local teachers, with a strong emphasis on enhancing STEM education. 

Christy’s passion for education, dedication to STEM, and visionary leadership have set the community on a path to a brighter future.

Impact Award – Celeste Collins

Executive Director of On Track WNC

Presented by Kudzu Brands

A passion for helping people manage their money and credit better inspired Celeste to leave her job in banking 30 years ago to work with OnTrack WNC Financial Education and Counseling.

Celeste retired this year having left her mark on the nonprofit. As Executive Director, Celeste played an integral role in developing an empowerment paradigm – a commitment to meeting clients where they are and equipping them to take the next step up “financial stair-steps”…from crisis…to stability…to self-sufficiency… to asset-building.  

Under Celeste’s leadership, OnTrack has adopted bold strategies to advance economic self-sufficiency, including foreclosure prevention counseling, a free tax prep program, and matched programs to help people build emergency savings and achieve homeownership.

In addition, Celeste has been active and engaged in her community. She has served on the WNC Nonprofit Pathways Advisory Committee, on the advisory board for the statewide Wildacres Leadership Initiative program and on the board of Rotary Club of Asheville, where she created and chaired the Club’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Celeste’s inspiring leadership has created opportunities for so many people in our communities to build financial stability and hope for a better future. 

Woman Executive of the Year – Vicki Banks

Chief Human Resources Officer for The Biltmore Company

Presented by MAHEC

As Chief Human Resources Officer at The Biltmore Company, Vicki has intentionally led one of Asheville’s largest employers to be an exceptional workplace for women.  

She led the opening of the Clinic on Biltmore Estate which serves employees and their families. She created a partnership with AdventHealth to provide breast cancer and maternity programming and discounts for women and families.  She led an effort to improve the leadership gender ratios at Biltmore, reaching 50% female leadership today up from 39% in 2010. 

She also partnered with OnTrack to develop three unique programs benefitting women: a pathway to homeownership, a subsidy program for families based on expenses and needs related to mortgage/rent and childcare, and a program to help employees purchase reliable transportation.

Vicki has also had exceptional involvement as a board member to many nonprofits including Health Partners, The Mediation Center, OnTrack WNC, A-B Tech Foundation, AdventHealth and Asheville Humane Society. 

Vicki has made great strides for women in the workplace throughout her career, and her efforts are felt not only by Biltmore employees, but also by their families, the community, and the greater WNC area.  

Rising Star – Addeline Wolfe

Real Estate Developer with Mountain Housing Opportunities

Presented by Western Carolina University

Addie’s nomination described her as deeply compassionate and motivated to improve the lives of local residents. As a real estate developer at Mountain Housing Opportunities, Addie has applied her talents and passion to expanding affordable housing options for residents of Asheville and Buncombe County.  

By virtue of her confidence and strong leadership, Addie has earned the respect of Mountain Housing Opportunities’ external partners – from construction personnel to architects and engineers to public officials and funding partners. 

Addie has also lent her talents to other affordable housing initiatives in the community. For example, she supported Sistas Caring 4 Sistas, a community-based doula program for women of color, as they look towards developing affordable housing for clients who are housing insecure. Addie also served as Mountin Housing Opportunities’ representative on the Buncombe County Housing Bond campaign, which successfully advocated for $40 million to support new affordable housing.

Addie is a role model for other young women and regularly participates in panel discussions and events focusing on affordable housing, planning, and the intersections of housing and economic development.  

Asheville needs more young leaders like Addie. 

Suzanne DeFerie Lifetime Achievement Lisa Payne

Nutrition Director for Buncombe County Schools 

Presented by First Bank

As Buncombe County Schools Nutrition Director, Lisa leads a team of professionals across all Buncombe county schools to ensure over 22,000 students are getting healthy, nutritious meals. Lisa has spent her career finding opportunities within this system. She has provided leadership to celebrate and bring visibility to staff, empowering them to embrace local food and mentoring them in their careers. 

Lisa is known statewide for her work. She advocates for school nutrition and others within the profession look to her for best practices and innovative ideas. She’s added culturally relevant dishes for the diverse student body, keeps meals exciting with fruits and veggies that students might not have tried and added plant-based options to meet the growing demand for vegetarian options. 

Lisa’s farm to school efforts are a huge part of her legacy. She partnered with Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and local farms to get fresh local products to students and strengthening the local food system. She has also educated ASAP on how the school food system works so they can collaborate on finding opportunities for purchasing local through state programs or distributors. 

Her dedication has had an impact on countless children and families across our community.

A special acknowledgment goes to our presenting sponsors—AdventHealth, Wells Fargo, and Pratt & Whitney. To all our WomanUP sponsors, we express our most profound appreciation. 

See the list of nominees for this year’s awards.

We’ll see you at our next WomanUP event in 2024 – stay tuned for details!