Your Neighbor: Meet Maria Vernon
By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier
Maria Vernon appreciated from an early age helping others and being part of a team. The younger of two children, Vernon grew up in Winston-Salem. She enjoyed playing sports like basketball and cross-country at North Forsyth High School. She also relished playing the hand bells at her church.
When it came time to decide where to attend college, Vernon selected Appalachian State University in Boone. Vernon felt passionate about choosing an academic path that could help children. “I knew I wanted to become a speech-language pathologist, and they had an undergraduate and graduate program that would allow me to do just that. I really loved the feel I got when I set foot on the campus,” reflects Vernon. Her experience at ASU was so positive, she applied to be in the Appalachian Student Ambassadors Program. With only 50 undergraduates selected annually, Vernon enjoyed helping the Office of Admissions, the Alumni Association, and the chancellor as needed.
Once Vernon completed her master’s degree in 2001, she headed to the Winston-Salem area to work in the Lexington City Schools for Southwest Elementary. During that time, she met her future husband, Chris. They were married in 2003 and moved to Clemmons to begin their next chapter.
Vernon began working for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in 2006. “Southwest Elementary School in Clemmons is my home base,” explains Vernon. Her alma mater took notice of her hard work in the schools. In 2007, Vernon was honored for her efforts both in the classroom and outside in the community with the ASU Young Alumni Award. Vernon was the first-ever female recipient of the award. Because of her dedication, it came as a natural fit for Vernon to join the board on ASU’s Beaver College of Health Science Advisory Council later in 2018 (which she currently still serves).
Working hard in her career and serving the community is a passion Vernon has always felt. “God gave me a heart for service,” says Vernon. “There are so many great organizations out there. I enjoy being a helper.” Vernon’s talents are lent to several vital groups in our community. She currently serves as the vice chair and board member of the Clemmons Community Foundation. The Clemmons Community Foundation helps people in the Lewisville and Clemmons communities have access to resources to enrich their lives, build new connections, and provide opportunities. Vernon is also a member of the River Oaks Community Church (ROCC) where she serves as the volunteer coordinator for the ROCC 5k. The annual race raises funds and awareness for local charities in the community. Although, this year’s race has been rescheduled due to COVID-19, Vernon is already planning on the success of it for 2021. The charity that will be featured is the Salvation Army Center of Hope, which provides emergency shelter for single women and families. They also provide meals, transportation, housing referrals, and case management support to help young people realize their full potential.
Another charity that is near and dear to Vernon’s heart because of how it cares for children in need is Help Our People Eat (H.O.P.E.) of Winston-Salem. The nonprofit provides nutritious meals on the weekends to children ages 0-18 and delivers them to their neighborhood. Vernon currently serves on their board of directors and volunteers her time delivering meals to the families.
While Vernon is fueled personally by her call to service, she also inspires her young students to serve outside the classroom as well. Over the past eight years, Southwest Elementary’s exceptional children classes, which include pre-K age 3 and pre-kindergarten age, Readiness, Core I and Core II, have raised $43,084 to support the Annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand to benefit the fight against pediatric cancer. The students sell lemonade every year, which is also a lesson with planning, details, advertisement and counting money as they work their functional communication skills. The ninth Annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand is currently still on for June 4. “There is also a silent auction that helps us raise additional funds to fight pediatric cancer,” notes Vernon, who coordinates all the fundraising efforts. If anyone is interested in participating in the fight against pediatric cancer, go to the website at https://www.alexslemonade.org/mypage/2077853
Vernon has led by example to her own children as well. Chris and Maria are parents to a son and daughter in the fifth and eighth grades. On parenthood, Vernon notes, “from just the very beginning you love them so much. It makes you feel so incredibly grateful.” The mom of two active kids of her own spends her downtime with the family: going to the children’s sporting events and enjoying each other’s company.
Our philanthropic neighbor has demonstrated through all areas of her life the importance of giving back to a community she believes in. As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”