Caraganis gets highest N.C. civilian honor at event

Posted 9/27/19

When Kim Caraganis put together the program for Tuesday’s annual meeting and 30th anniversary celebration of Communities In Schools of Chatham County, one item on the agenda was missing.

Turns …

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Caraganis gets highest N.C. civilian honor at event

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When Kim Caraganis put together the program for Tuesday’s annual meeting and 30th anniversary celebration of Communities In Schools of Chatham County, one item on the agenda was missing.

Turns out it was a biggie.

Caraganis, the soon-to-retire executive director of the nonprofit organization — which works in Chatham to build relationships with at-risk students through an array of programs — was presented at the event with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor. It came as a surprise to the long-time leader of the organization when she was given the award by state Rep. Robert Reives II at the Fearrington Village Barn.

Caraganis was nominated for the prestigious award by Reives, Superior Court Judge Carl Fox and former Chatham County Manager Renee Paschal. In her nomination, Paschal wrote that in 20 years overseeing the county’s nonprofit funding process, she “saw all sorts of executive directors.”

“Most believed passionately in their cause and were good advocates,” Paschal wrote. “That is certainly true of Kim, but she is unique among EDs I’ve worked with. Some are content to deliver the same services year after year and struggle to adapt to new clients, funding circumstances, and evidence of best practices. Kim could not be more different. She doesn’t just believe in providing services for at-risk youth, she constantly seeks new information and adapts herself and her agency to make sure the right services are provided to the right youth... If one strategy doesn’t work, Kim will find one that will. In a word, she is relentless in addressing the needs of at-risk youth.”

Paschal said there are “hundreds of adults in Chatham County who have gone on to have successful lives because of the tools CISCC/CT (Chatham County Together!, CIS’ predecessor in Chatham) gave them. One reason is that CISCC/CT intervened to guide them to a better life. Another reason is that Kim pushed the other agencies these youth were involved with to do a better job of serving them. It’s one thing to change an agency, but I can say that Kim has changed a community.”

In his nomination, Fox said Caraganis has been a leader in Chatham County for more than 20 years.

“In thinking of our official State Toast, I cannot imagine a better example of the ‘strong grow[ing] great’ than Kim, nor a more deserving or qualified example of exactly the kind of citizen we want all North Carolinians to be,” he said. “I admire her as a person and as a professional, and without any hesitation, recommend her to you for the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.”

For more than three decades, Caraganis has worked in health education, youth development and family advocacy, beginning as a community health project director at the rural Goldston Medical Center in 1987. Stints in Pittsboro followed — including working as health educator for Chatham’s Health Department — followed before joining Chatham County Together! in 1990. CCT eventually joined the national Communities In Schools and by 1998, Caraganis became executive director.

In accepting the award, a “shocked” Caraganis shared credit for the honor.

“This group and the people I’ve worked with over the years are the ones who’ve make me look good,” she said.

Caraganis once wrote that she chose nonprofit work “because of a life-changing volunteer service as a new high school graduate during the summer of 1972 on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. This experience made me aware of the privilege I grew up with. Since then I’ve felt an obligation and a calling to work on behalf of people who did not have the opportunities I did.”

At CIS, she’s responsible for supervising seven full-time employees, overseeing an annual budget of over $535,000, liaison work with CIS NC and program partners on community collaborations dedicated to youth health and welfare, and directing all fundraising. CIS reaches more than 1,500 students in Chatham County annually through mentoring, family advocacy, community service and restitution (including Teen Court) and school-based programs in collaboration with Chatham County Schools.

In a biography of Caraganis submitted for the award, it was pointed out that for three decades, Caraganis has been heavily engaged in collaborative work to strengthen relationships between local nonprofits, local educators and social services providers, state authorities, and Chatham County Schools to support under-served children, youth, and families. In addition, she’s has been active in local and state organizations striving to consistently present an agency that is inclusive and supportive of anyone, regardless of background, in order to reflect the communities they serve.

Those who work with her will tell you that from serving as a member of the N.C. Center for Non-Profits to Chatham READS to Chatham County Child Well Being Collaborative, among many more, Caraganis has had an immense impact on the people of Chatham County and North Carolina.

CIS board Chairman Joelle Brummitt-Yale said Caraganis “brings out the best in those she works with, so they can do their best work nurturing and supporting young people.

“She is warm and encouraging, knowledgeable and creative,” she said. “She uses these strengths to make sure that the children of Chatham County have the resources they need to thrive.”

CIS board member Paul Bauer added, “This award provides recognition by the governor of what a valuable community member we have here in Chatham County. Kim has continually shown her commitment to assisting our youth and families throughout her life and career.”

Beginning in 1963, North Carolina’s governors have reserved The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award for those who “have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.” Those named to The Order become North Carolina “ambassadors” with their names and award dates recorded on a roster maintained by The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society.

An accomplished musician, Caraganis volunteers her time at the Shakori Hills Community Arts Center and has been an active parent volunteer in the Chatham County Schools. She also teachers yoga as a way to “offer healing and support to others.” Caraganis and her husband Lewie, have raised three sons and continue to live on the Rocky River in south central Chatham County. She’ll retire from CIS sometime in 2020.

In addition to the presentation, Tuesday’s annual meeting featured remarks from state Rep. Graig Meyer (D-Hillsborough) and a keynote presentation by actor and playwright Mike Wiley, along with the debut of a new promotional video outlining the work CIS does in Chatham County. Miriam Lyde, who as a student benefited from CIS’ services, also spoke.

Publisher/Editor Bill Horner III can be reached at


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