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Wednesday, 15 February 2017 16:44

Mardi Gras Ball is foundation’s largest fundraiser

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The ninth annual Haywood County Schools Foundation Mardi Gras Ball is at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, at Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville. The race for this year’s King and Queen is well underway, and candidates have already been seen around the county petitioning for donations for the Haywood County Schools Foundation.

The Mardi Gras Ball, sponsored by Entegra Bank, is the Haywood County Schools Foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year. Since 2008, the event has raised more than $320,000 for the Haywood County Schools Foundation. Last year’s fundraiser alone brought in more than $71,000 in donations thanks to the reigning Mardi Gras King Rick Webb and Queen Jane Hipps.

Each year, dedicated community members volunteer to run as candidates for the Mardi Gras court in an effort to raise money for the students, schools, and employees of the 15 Haywood County Public Schools.

The male and female candidates who raise the most money throughout the month of February are crowned king and queen of the Mardi Gras Ball. All money raised from the competition and at the Mardi Gras Ball on February 25 is used for student scholarships, teacher recruitment and retention, and to fund grants for Haywood County teachers to purchase classroom supplies and attend training and workshops.

Entegra Bank is the lead sponsor of the event. Entegra Bank is committed to meeting the financial needs of Haywood County. 

To purchase tickets, make a donation to a candidate’s fundraiser, or to make a donation to the Haywood County Schools Foundation, contact Haywood County Schools Foundation Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 828.456.2400 ext 2117. You can also make donations online via PayPal at Be sure to enter the name of the candidate you would like to support in the notes section.


Who will be King & Queen?

Becca Swanger

Queen candidate Becca Swanger is the deputy director of services and a children’s therapist for Meridian Behavioral Health Services. She received her Bachelor’s in Psychology from Appalachian State University and her Masters of Social Work from University of Georgia. Since returning to Haywood County three years ago, Becca has become active in several nonprofits, such as Women of Waynesville, whom she is representing as a Mardi Gras candidate, and also Folkmoot USA, where she serves on the board of directors. 

Becca is very outgoing and social, and she enjoys NFL football, golf, tennis and spending time with friends and family. Though not originally from Haywood County, Becca graduated from Tuscola High School and knows that the public education she received through Haywood County Schools cemented her love of learning, which led her down the path of pursing higher education.

Liz Henley

Queen candidate Liz Henley has been a Haywood County resident since she was 18 months old.  She was raised in the Lake Junaluska community and grew up in the Haywood County Schools system.  She was a graduate of Tuscola High School and was thrilled to be named class clown of her graduating class. 

Liz is currently the market manager for physician practices at Haywood Regional Medical Center (HRMC). Prior to joining HRMC, Liz worked as the regional operations manager for United Allergy Services. In Liz’s first life, she was a dance instructor and office manager at Angie’s Dance Academy in Clyde for 18 years. 

Liz has a degree in Mathematics from Western Carolina University, as well as a Health Information Management degree from Herzing University.  

Liz is honored to be representing Haywood Regional Medical Center as a Haywood County Schools Foundation Mardi Gras Ball Queen candidate.  She is excited about the opportunity of giving back to the children in the community in which she was raised. After all … it’s all about the kids!

Joretta Ezell

Queen candidate Joretta Ezell was born and raised in Haywood County. She worked for the county for 14 years.

Joretta, her husband Michael, and their son Jacob are all graduates of Tuscola High School. While her son was in school, Joretta was an active school volunteer and served as vice president of the Boosters for Waynesville Middle School.

Joretta is a founding member of Encouraging Word Baptist Church where she enjoys working with children.

“I am volunteering for this great event because I want to give back as much as possible,” Joretta said. “The kids, teachers, and volunteers deserve our help! I am honored to represent the Haywood County Schools Foundation.”

Nathan Lowe

King candidate Nathan Lowe has several businesses in Haywood County. He and his wife Michaela own and operate the restaurant Southern Porch in Canton. Prior to getting in the food industry, Nathan started BKL Boards, a custom cornhole board company. Nathan also founded Blue Ridge Cornhole, which helps organize cornhole tournaments across Western North Carolina. Nathan is a product of Haywood County Schools and graduated from Tuscola High School.


Foundation has been helping Haywood Schools for 33 years

The Haywood County Schools Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization whose purpose is to make available to students and faculty members of Haywood County Public Schools educational opportunities not normally available through regular public funding sources.

Currently, the Haywood County Schools Foundation manages more than 65 scholarship funds, which assist high school seniors in Haywood County Schools to attend institutions of higher learning. Last year, more than $176,000 was awarded to 97 students.

The Foundation also offers grant opportunities available to students and faculty of Haywood County Schools. The Foundation gave more than 170 grants to teachers totaling more than $35,000 for the 2016-17 school year. Students who have faced emotional or financial hardships are also eligible for assistance from the Foundation.

Generous donations and efforts by members of the community enable the Haywood County Schools Foundation to assist students and faculty. Individuals and businesses can support the students and educators of Haywood County by making a tax deductible (cash or other) contribution to the Haywood County Schools Foundation Inc. Contributions may be a cash gift, appreciated securities, life insurance, charitable remainder, non-profit organization assets, memorials, estate gifts or wills and bequests, or other real or personal property.

For more information, contact Haywood County Schools Foundation Executive Director Jenny Wood Valliere at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., call 828.456.2400 ext 2117, or visit


2016-2017 Haywood County Schools Foundation Board of Directors

Hylah Birenbaum – Smoky Mountain News

Tommy Bourque – Entegra Bank

Lisa Brown – Haywood County Board of Realtors

Rufus Dale – RDS

Bria Davis – Home Trust Bank

Chuck Francis – Chairman, Haywood County School Board

Yvonne Hart – Retired Teacher

Vicki Hyatt – The Mountaineer 

Dale Jackson – Retired Teacher

Dann Jesse – Evergreen Packaging

Bruce Johnson – Champion Supply

Kathy Lance – LN Davis Insurance

Chad McMahon – State Farm Insurance

Lynn Milner – Retired Principal

Julie Mulhern – Parent

Tom Posey – Charter Member

Jake Robinson – Champion Credit Union

Bill Upton – County Commissioner

Matt Wells – Woodmen of the World

Selena Williamson – State Employees Credit Union

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