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The goal of UPLIFT is to support tourism through community driven efforts in rural North Carolina. UPLIFT works regionally - across county borders - to support local tourism leaders and practitioners in realizing their vision for tourism in their community, including natural, recreational, cultural, agricultural, culinary, built and other tourism.

America Rescue Plan Act

The UPLIFT program is supported by the American Rescue Plan Act and represents one project of several designed to address the impact from COVID-19 on the hospitality, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries. We are excited to work with the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Rural Economic Development Division,the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, and the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association.  

Our Team

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Taylor Bass

UPLIFT Podcast/Local Priorities Specialist

Taylor Bass is a recent graduate from Oregon State University with a B.S. in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences. She lives in a small town in Florida and has always had a love for conservation, animals, and the environment. During her senior year of college, she extended her passions into sustainable tourism and hopes to bring a positive impact to small towns like hers. In her free time, you can find her on the water paddle-boarding or jet-skiing!

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Kofi Boone

Program Lead

Kofi Boone, FASLA is a Joseph D. Moore Distinguished Professor and University Faculty Scholar at NC State University. Kofi is a Detroit native and a graduate of the University of Michigan. His work is in the overlap between landscape architecture and environmental justice with specializations in democratic design and interpreting cultural landscapes.

Cavanaugh’s consulting experience includes destinations, attractions, and other hospitality entities. Prior to founding Magellan in 2004, Cavanaugh worked in marketing at Biltmore Estate for nearly 10 years.  He previously served on North Carolina’s travel and tourism board and is past chair of Buncombe County’s TDA, serving as Explore Asheville’s interim CEO in 2020. He was named to VisitNC’s Winner’s Circle in recognition of his service to the state’s travel sector.

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Chris Cavanaugh

Magellan Strategy Group 

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Cynthia Ellis

CEllis Management

Cynthia Ellis is the CEO of C. Ellis Management, a consulting firm specializing in small business support and entrepreneurship coaching. With over 25 years of corporate experience, she's helped countless entrepreneurs worldwide. Mrs. Ellis is also a co-founder of the Raising the Barr nonprofit, partnering with the NC Small Business Center Network and serving on the boards of the Columbus County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Development Authority

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Dr. Carrie Graham

Dr. Carrie Graham is an adult learning strategist and training consultant who helps businesses improve learner engagement, information retention, and skill application; by developing a customized learning journey for employees and clients. She has never fit in the box of traditional expectations in school and at work. Despite often feeling restrained and overlooked she learned how to use her natural skills to open doors for herself and others. She has leveraged her curiosity to help women tap into their potential.

Tourism Enterprise Accelerator Manager

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Kaitlin Heikes

Loan Technical Assistance Specialist 

Kaitlin Heikes, an Austin, Texas native, graduated from App State in 2017 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology. After graduating she completed a year of service with AmeriCorps working in a capacity building role with a Therapeutic Foster Care Court. After working in the nonprofit industry she transitioned to a career in banking and finance. Kaitlin has worked at community banks in Texas and North Carolina and has always prioritized spending time engaging with nonprofits and investing in her community. 

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Lillian Herbert

Tourism Incubator Program Specialist

Lily Herbert is a recent graduate of Auburn University, where she earned her degree in Hospitality Management. With eight years of experience in the hospitality industry and an additional year focused on sustainable tourism, Lily's passion for these fields is palpable. Her dedication to sustainable development has led her to pursue a Master's degree that bridges these passions. Hailing from Alabama, Lily's commitment to rural communities aligns perfectly with her role at UPLIFT, where she is excited to make a meaningful impact

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Olivia Hudgins

Social Media Specialist 

Olivia Hudgins grew up in Durham, NC and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2019 with a degree in Art Education. She taught elementary art in Currituck County, NC and has spent the last year working for Fanimal, a non-profit focusing on careers and mentorship in the field of animal advocacy. She has joined the UPLIFT team as a project specialist focusing on social media! Olivia loves art, animals, and going to the beach with her family.

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Simon Jones

Program Lead

Simon is the founder and CEO of NatureScapes. He grew up in and around wildlife parks in England and the US and has 20 years of experience working with governments, NGO’s and businesses to plan and develop immersive and engaging nature and cultural tourism experiences around the world. Simon has a Masters of Tourism Administration with concentration in Sustainable Destination Management from The George Washington University School of Business.

Carol Kline

Program Lead

Carol Kline is a Professor and the Director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Appalachian State University. She founded the NC Tourism Extension Program in 2000 and has worked with rural communities in NC and beyond for over 20 years.  Her research interests have historically focused on topics relevant to rural communities, such as foodie segmentation, craft beverages, agritourism, cultural and heritage tourism, ecotourism, and tourism entrepreneurship, however now it solely focuses on animal ethics.

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Nicole Outlaw


Nicole Outlaw is a senior program manager at NCGrowth, dedicated to revitalizing rural communities in eastern North Carolina. She's also a 2023-2024 Obama United States Leader, a former business owner, and an active community leader. Nicole is passionate about supporting small businesses and community projects in Bertie County while enjoying creative hobbies in her free time.

Mackenzie Law

Project Specialist

Mackenzie Law is a graduate student at Appalachian State University, currently pursuing an MBA specializing in Sustainable Business. Before this, she earned a BS in Psychology from the same institution. Mackenzie's academic journey has been marked by active involvement in research teams focused on sustainability within organizational contexts. Her recent research endeavors have delved into the intersection of sustainability and welfare practices within the dynamic hospitality and tourism sphere. Motivated to make a positive impact, Mackenzie is enthusiastic about utilizing her academic insights and practical experiences to contribute meaningfully to Uplift NC. Being a native of North Carolina, she is particularly excited about the prospect of applying her expertise to benefit the state she calls home.


Cathy has lived in rural western North Carolina most of her life and have spent much of her career working to identify and address local needs. Her hope is to build up our communities economically and to build strong self esteem in the residents through UPLIFT tourism. 

Cathy Rhuberg

Grants & Loans
Technical Assistance Manager

Cara Treadway

Marketing Program Specialist

Cara has dedicated her professional journey to the fields of branding and marketing, with a focus on elevating and promoting lifestyle brands. She earned her B.S. in Hospitality and Tourism from UT Knoxville, and further honed her expertise with an M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communication from UNCW. Cara’s specialization lies in brand development and the art of digital storytelling. In her leisure time, she enjoys exploring the diverse regions of North Carolina and learning more about the state’s rich history

Jesa Valle

Program Coordinator

Jesarela is a Honduran native with a passion for multicultural tourism. Her Degree in Hospitality and Tourism from Appalachian State University helped her gain more than seven years of customer service experience. Jesarela supported various citywide events and programming for the Convention and Visitors Bureau Center in Durham, North Carolina. Her passion and experience has guided her to be with NatureScapes as their UPLIFT Program Coordinator.

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Laura-Lee Williams

Project Specialist 

Lee Williams has spent her career, thus far, in various environments committed to (re)connecting people to food, plants, the natural world, and each other. Her unique experience has granted her the opportunity to continually wear multiple hats, reaching people, and engaging with them in high-growth environments that encourage innovative thought. She is devoted to knowledge-sharing, addressing real problems for real people, and doing the work alongside folks who want to make the world a better place.

PJ Wirchansky

PR Manager

Bringing 20+ years of hospitality and tourism industry experience, P.J. is currently the Director of Marketing, Communication, and Engagement for the College of Fine and Applied Arts at Appalachian State University. He holds a B.S. in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and an M.A. in Integrated Marketing Communication from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He specializes in signature storytelling, ideation, brand development, public relations, marketing strategy, stakeholder relationship management, and hospitality and tourism training.

Dong-Jae 'DJ' Yi

Community Design & Research | Just Communities Lab

Dr. Charleston "Dong-Jae" Yi is a built environment designer and researcher at NC State University. DJ worked as an architecture designer in South Korea before moving to Raleigh for a higher degree. In his work, he focuses on community participation and the meaning of space. His designs integrate environmental elements and community narratives through an equitable and creative participatory process to create meaningful spaces that are both functional and empowering to communities.

The Objectives of UPLIFT are to: 

- Develop regional multi-night itineraries to diversify the overall tourism product,

retain visitors for longer, and increase visitor spending


- Enhance, innovate and scale the tourism experiences offered within the regions,

working with new and existing tourism providers

- Strengthen tourism economies, skills and capacities that stimulate entrepreneurship, grow businesses and create or retain jobs

- Tell the stories of the regions, their communities and individual tourism experiences

to attract and retain visitors

- Integrate sustainability principles & practices into the tourism experiences supported

Where We Work

The program will focus in the counties highlighted below as well as bordering counties where connections to regional itineraries exist. Regional workshops will be held in the highlighted counties, however bordering counties residents are welcome to attend. 


Overview of UPLIFT Program

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The UPLIFT program is implemented in three phases over a period of three years.

Learn about each phase here. 


The UPLIFT Acronym

Six building blocks (Understand, Plan, Link, Innovate, Finance and Tell)  form the UPLIFT acronym and the approach taken in our target regions.

Get Involved


Opportunities to get involved are continual and rolling throughout the program. Updates on activities can be found here.

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