Hood Huggers International Recognized for Outstanding Community Partnership with UNC Asheville

Ameenda Batada, UNC Asheville health and wellness faculty; Safi Martin, chief operating officer, Hood Huggers International; DeWayne Barton, founder/CEO, Hood Huggers International; Kimberly van Noort, interim chancellor of UNC Asheville.
March 9, 2023

From NC Campus Engagement: NC Campus Engagement had awarded its 2023 Community Partner Award to Hood Huggers International for its partnership with the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNC Asheville). Hood Huggers International (HHI) is dedicated to creating a culture of sustainability that is inclusive and economically just, using the CAP framework that helps identify cooperative ambitions, and celebrate and maintain connections and accountability through a variety of community-centered projects at the intersections of economic development, environmental and social justice, and creativity.

Presented by North Carolina Campus Engagement (NCCE), the Community Partner Award is given to one organization annually that has enhanced the quality of life in the community in meaningful and measurable ways and engaged in the development of a sustained, reciprocal partnership with an NCCE member institution.

With a commitment to community development, in 2003, Dewayne Barton started a community garden with a few raised beds on a vacant lot in the Burton Street neighborhood, an historically African American neighborhood where his family had lived for four generations, in the heart of West Asheville. Today the Peace Gardens and Market includes three garden sites around the neighborhood with a seating area, paintings and art installations, a performance stage, outdoor oven, fire pit/gathering space, library/classroom, greenhouse, small workshop, a composting toilet, and a 2-bedroom, fully furnished bungalow where artists can apply to stay for a 6-week residency and retreat. Participating artists in turn donate one creative piece to The Peace Gardens. In 2008, Dewayne co-founded Green Opportunities, a green jobs training program focused on lifting those from under-resourced and under-estimated communities. In 2015, DeWayne left Green Opportunities to create HHI, Hood Tours, and the Community Accountability Plan (CAP) Framework.

HHI has partnered with UNCA for over a decade, working directly with faculty and classes in the arts,  public health, and humanities departments, with the UNCA Key Center for Community Engaged Learning, as well as student-led organizations and initiatives. HHI has hosted countless student volunteers, several of whom have become central to their operations and mission resulting in long- term relationships and, in some cases, employment opportunities. One recent partnership is with UNCA’s STEAM Studio where community members, HHI-UI youth, Asheville Creative Arts, and the City of Asheville are working together to create the city’s first community health and engagement trail. HHI has also contributed to UNCA’s Community Engaged Scholar program, an undergraduate research program in which students connect with a community partner advisor and complete a Community Engaged Project that directly responds to a need identified by the non-profit organization.

Nominators from UNC Asheville  Key Center for Community Engaged Learning stated:

“Over the years working together, we have so appreciated that the HHI staff and volunteers have invited us into their work, as community members and as an organization, and that we have been able to work in solidarity toward common goals of learning about the history and contributions of African Americans in Asheville while building community, and advocating for changes that will increase equity.”

North Carolina Campus Engagement recognized Hood Huggers during its annual Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement (PACE) conference hosted at High Point University on February 15. UNC Asheville Interim Chancellor Kimberly van Noort was on hand to present the award to Hood Huggers.