Watauga County was well represented at the North Carolina Association for Persons in Supported Employment awards, garnering three of the top honors for the year.
Chris Carroll, who has worked at Backyard Burgers in Boone for more than 15 years, is a popular dining-room host who is proud of his workplace and enjoys interacting with customers. He's famous for his constant smile work ethic.
Steven Prewitt, owner of Backyard Burgers, said, "Chris is like family. He has a very, very loyal following of customers who know him, know which days he's working, or come see him if they're here on vacation. "
Carroll said Backyard Burgers was a fun place to work and he enjoyed helping the customers.
"All the people are nice to work with," he said. "I also love the food here."
Carroll said Watauga Opportunities worked with him to understand his abilities and make the most of them. He also credited his Christian faith with helping him deal with Tourette Syndrome and believes it helps him spread the word of Jesus Christ.
Carroll, who works as a lobby host, began working with Watauga Opportunities when he was in high school and was named the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce's and Joblink Career Center's "Customer Service Champion" in 2001, and is regarded for his dedication, enthusiasm and cheerfulness.
Carroll is also an advocate for those with disabilities, volunteering with the Special Olympics and other community service efforts.
"We're capable just like everybody else out in the community that works," Carroll said. "We're capable of achieving things and learning from our mistakes."
Prinmo's Pizza, Pasta and Subs of Boone was recognized as the Small Employer of the Year by NCAPSE. David and Lorna Nobrega, owners of Primo's, previously worked with Watauga Opportunities employees in their West Jefferson pizzeria and added a supported employee in their restaurant in the Boone Mall.
Supported employment is managed locally by Watauga Opportunities Inc., which also operates a theraforming manufacturing facility in Boone. Watauga Opportunities president and CEO Michael Maybee was also recognized, winning the State Leadership Award.
"We are very proud of Chris and grateful to employers like Primo's and Backyard Burgers who have found individuals hired through Watauga Opportunities are an asset to their businesses," Maybee said.
"As we have shown in Boone, individuals with different abilities can not only participate in but are an asset to their communities. The individuals Watauga Opportunities has placed in jobs since 1994 have earned an estimated $5.3 million in wages and, last year alone, provided 2,000 hours of civic and community volunteer hours, not only participating in their community but giving back to the community, as well."