What Makes Centralina Special: A Staff Perspective

2023 marks 55 years since the establishment of Centralina Regional Council. During this time, the organization has seen projects come and go, but one thing that has remained the same is our core group of long-term employees, many of which have been with the organization for decades. So what is it that makes people stay? We sat down with some of our longest-standing staff members to understand why they’ve continued to work for our organization for so long, what makes Centralina special to them and some of their favorite moments.

Why have you continued to work at Centralina?

Laurie Abounader: “I sincerely appreciate that Centralina has always prioritized high-level staff training, allowing staff to work to our passions. And develop subject-matter expertise.”

James Luster: “The primary reason I’ve stayed at Centralina for over 30 years is my ability to improve the quality of life for people in our region. My work has a direct and positive impact on people’s lives and, to me, that’s important.”

Debi Lee: “I stay at Centralina because I loved the work, the people and the impact that is made on those who live and work in the communities we serve.”

David Hollars: “The opportunity to work with so many great people, businesses and organizations in our seven-county service area.”

Hillary Kaylor: “I like the daily job I do and continuing to work with familiar faces every day.”

Why is Centralina special to you?

Jason Wager: “I have always valued the important role our planning team plays in supporting our region and its array of local communities by keeping our eye on emerging opportunities that could augment our quality of life or prepare us for the challenges that come with fast-paced growth. This idea of being an ‘extension of local planning staff’ is both an honor and makes certain that there is never a dull day in the office!”

David Hollars: “Centralina is special in that we don’t just serve one county but look at regional services and solutions delivered on a local level.”

Patricia Cowan: “The support of the aging director and supervisors is immeasurable.”

James Luster: “The relationships. I have established positive relationships and friendships with city/county managers, planning directors and local government staff throughout the region, building the trust and respect of many. They continue to express their gratitude and appreciation for our service and assistance to them.”

What are some of your favorite memories?

Linda Miller: “For over thirty years, aging would do a conference each year on aging- and healthcare-related issues that have made an impact on professionals in the region. This has been a wonderful legacy for our department and our way of providing education and training on working with older and disabled adults with a person-centered approach.”

David Hollars: “Centralina Workforce Development Board (WDB)’s work with the Pillowtex project starting in 2003 was very significant. The process of coordinating state and local agencies to serve 4,650 workers laid off in our region on one day has been recognized as a national model. Centralina WDB and Rowan-Cabarrus Community College were honored by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2005 with the Workforce Innovations Award for Leadership in our handling of the Pillowtex crisis.”

Patricia Cowan: “Being able to collaborate with different stakeholders in the aging community, the local agencies, the local hospital system, public officials, staff from long-term care facilities and volunteers to plan annual luncheons to celebrate resident rights in Rowan, Iredell and Stanly county.

James Luster: “The City of Albemarle’s Lillian Mill project is the most memorable project that I have worked on. I was able to see the condition of the downtown and the negative impact the large vacant mill had on the entire area. I approached the City’s Planning Director, Bob Sasser, and informed him of the potential funding opportunity. Bob was extremely supportive and encouraging of my efforts. Ultimately, we were able to secure one million dollars to give the developers confidence to move forward with their project. The total investment was over six million and was the catalyst which spurred economic development, job creation and a renewed vibrancy in Downtown Albemarle which continues today.”

Venecia White: “I’m particularly proud of the Blue Ribbon Panel project that engaged a variety of stakeholders from across the region. The goal was to gather information about local government needs and the challenges our communities face. In response to the information we gathered, Centralina quickly shifted some of our focus areas and added service offerings to better support our members. It is this ability to adapt to the changing needs of our region that has continued to make Centralina a relevant and valuable resource.”

Hillary Kaylor: “Our annual aging conferences each year are most memorable for me as a success that touches many communities and stakeholders from across the state.”

What are your hopes for the future?

David Hollars: “We must continue to focus on listening to our member governments and assist them with solutions to their issues. We must continue to provide leadership on key issues and represent everyone.”

Laurie Abounader: “I would love to see us continue to grow and flourish as a unified team that lays the foundation for those “aha!” moments. For us to collaborate and explore new opportunities to work together in benefitting the region.”

James Luster: “I would hope the organization continues to grow in terms of connections with our members and establishing relationships with not only the large communities but also the smaller communities that simply don’t have the resources.”

Hillary Kaylor: “Keeping a focus on what we need as a group and individually is important to see that value and also feel valued as a staff member.”


Centralina is fortunate to have so many talented, hard-working employees that are passionate about their work, help support our mission and make positive change in our region possible. We thank all our staff who provided their feedback for this piece and are thankful for each member of the Centralina team for all that they do! If you’re interested in joining a creative and dynamic team looking to change the region for good, visit our careers page for open opportunities.       

Debi Lee

David Hollars, Centralina Workforce Development Board Director, 40 years

James Luster, Community Economic Development Administrator, 36 years

James Luster, Community Economic Development Administrator, 36 years

Jason Wager, Centralina Regional Planning Director, 27 years

Linda Miller, Centralina Area Agency on Aging Director, 26 years


Cindy Kincaid, Aging Program Manager, 23 years

Laurie Abounader, Aging Program Administrator, 22 years 

Hillary Kaylor, Regional Ombudsman Program Manager, 20.75 years

Venecia White, Human Resources & Operations Manager, 19.75 years   

Patricia Cowan, Regional Ombudsman, 17.5 years