Community Leadership Award Honoree
Gaston Outside Campaign
Circle of Excellence Honoree
HealthNet Gaston
Gaston Clergy & Citizens
Coalition/Law Enforcement Breakfast
Civic Engagement Leadership 3 Graduates
Proudest Kid in Gaston County Essay Winner
Madeleine Jo Hendrix, Sadler Elementary
Proudest Kid in Gaston County
Individual School Winners

Proudest Kid in Gaston County Essay Honorable Mentions Hannah Colvard, Kiser Elementary
Kinley Stiles, New Hope Elementary.
Civic Engagement Leadership
Community Leaders Roundtable
Civic Engagement Leadership Worksession
Warlick Family YMCA
Healthy Gaston Achievement Celebration!
Healthy Gaston Volunteers
Healthy Gaston Volunteers
Gaston Together Board Members
Community Foundation Grant Recipients
Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition
Law Enforcement Covenant Renewal
Healthy Gaston Honorees
2021 MLK Unity Award Honorees
Healthy Gaston VIP Award
Gaston County Commission
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About Us

Jason Austell
2020 Gaston Together Chairman


Hello, and welcome to the online home of Gaston Together! I’m excited to share some information with you about this exciting organization. 

For the past sixteen years I’ve lived in Gaston County, and over that time I have developed a passion for getting involved to make a difference in this county and the surrounding area. When I first learned of Gaston Together, I was amazed at the scope of the organization’s services and its unique ability to impact so many different areas of life that affect nearly everyone in this community. Over the past four years, I’ve had the pleasure of serving on board of Gaston Together. This experience has taught me even more about the issues that we face as a community and introduced me to the positive energy that we possess to address challenges and ultimately bring citizens closer together. Whether it’s improving health among our citizens (Gaston Community Healthcare Commission/Gaston Controlled Substance Coalition/Healthy Gaston), developing future community leaders (Civic Engagement Leadership Program/Community Leadership Awards), encouraging our youth to take pride in their community (Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour/Proudest Kid in Gaston County Essay Contest), or engaging others and uniting people to improve relationships (Gaston Clergy and Citizens Coalition/GC3 MLK Unity Awards), Gaston Together has created many avenues to make a difference in the lives of so many.   

We have the commitment and resources to tackle some of our community’s most pressing issues. Gaston Together engages individuals from diverse backgrounds to come together in support of the greater good, and we’re always looking for new members of our community to get involved. We appreciate the support of our local leaders, corporate partnerships and the numerous volunteers that make this organization a success. We hope to see you out in the community soon!

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Jason Austell


Tad Hixson
Vice Chair


Steven Long
Past Chair


Ken Smith


Rodney Freeman
GC3 Rep


Alex Poole
Leadership Team


David Fogarty



Leslie Lee, Executive Director

Mailing Address

Gaston Together
PO Box 817
Gastonia, NC 28053


Gaston Together
PO Box 817
Gastonia, NC 28053

Gaston Together Council Member
Rev. Dr. Richard Boyce, Union Theological Seminary
Dr. Jeff Booker, Gaston County Schools
Mr. Robert Browne, Beam Construction, Inc.
Rev. David Christy, First United Methodist Church-Gastonia
Mr. Steve D’Avria, Gaston Regional Chamber
Todd David, MD, CaoMont Health
Mr. Brad Drury, Pinnix, Inc.
Rev. Dr. Rodney Freeman, Mt. Zion Restoration Church
Captain Eric Johnson, Gaston County Police
Ms. Amia Massey, Gaston County Government
Ms. Kim Miller, Pharr Yarns, Inc.
Dr. Jennifer Nichols, Gaston College
Mr. Charlie Pearson, Pearson Properties
Mr. Michael Peoples, City of Gastonia
Mr. Alex Poole, Firestone Fibers & Textiles
Mr. William Sain, Mullen, Holland& Cooper, P.A.
Mr. Scott Swindler, Dominion Energy
Ms. Mary Catherine Walker, Mann+Hummel

Gaston Together Staff
Ms. Donna Lockett, Executive Director
Ms. Amy Boyd, Program Manager


Gaston Together History

Formed as an outgrowth of the Gaston Chamber Quality Council – Incorporated in1997

1998 - GT began operations as a 501 © 3 tax exempt organization

  • Initial Purpose: promote economic prosperity of Gaston County thru facilitation and collaboration

  • Initial GT Council Members selected from individuals throughout Gaston County in an effort to truly make GT representative on a county-wide level

  • Original Council received facilitation training on the week-ends.

  • First Executive Director, Pam Youngblood, hired in late 1998 and GT offices located at Gaston College

  • Gaston County provided initial financial support

During 1999, numerous companies contributed to GT‘s programs. Funds were used to attract several national speakers to challenge Gaston County leaders to look into the future. Speakers included Wally “Famous” Amos (cookies), Rudy Rudiger (Notre Dame), Anthony Compolla, and Art Linkletter (in 2001).

  • Also in 1999, a non-denominational Ministers Group, Gaston Clergy & Citizens Coalition (GC3), consisting of 20 Gaston County white and African American ministers, was formed to enhance race relations and to build community relations. The Martin Luther King bridge memorial and plaza were results of planning by this group. Since 2004, the GC3 has recognized local citizens with the MLK Unity Award. In 2009, the GC3 began the Breakfast of Champions program with middle schools in an effort to connect ministers in a mentor setting with at-risk middle school students.

  • Basic Facilitation Training of Community Members began in 1999 and continues until today. A Level II Facilitation Training, “Continuous Process Improvement” – a quality control model, is held periodically with professional trainers

  • Sherry Shaw selected as Executive Director in 1999.

GT began the Community Leadership Awards in 2000 to encourage organizational leadership to enhance Gaston County. Operation Playground was first winner followed by City of Gastonia All America City delegation. Others include: Gaston County Schools and their community partners, Connect Gaston, Sister of Mercy, Run for the Money Campaign Committee, Interfaith Hospitality Network, Junior League’s Woodhill Project, the Mt. Holly Community Development Foundation, Gaston Family Health Services, Alliance for Children & Youth, Gaston College, Hope 4 Gaston, Habitat for Humanity and the Carrie E. and Lena V. Glenn Foundation. The 2016 winner was the Gaston County Education Foundation.

  • Also recognized at the Community Leadership Awards is the Proudest Kid in Gaston County essay contest winner, a companion program to the third grade Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour field trip. The “Proudest Kid” county-wide winner is introduced to the NC General Assembly each spring.

  • GT facilitated formation of Greater Gaston Development Corporation that led to the creation of the Economic Development Division of the Chamber which later became the Greater Gaston Development Corp.

  • The “Promote Gaston” campaign, an image building campaign for Gaston County, began in mid-2000 and Donna Lockett selected as Program Coordinator. It included:

  • Pride in Gaston Traveling Tour

  • Proudest Kid in Gaston County Essay Contest

  • Photo Contest

  • Gaston Gazette insert featuring all 14 municipalities,

  • Electronic Town Hall Meeting, among other programs

  • GT sponsored Electronic Town Hall Meeting (with live TV coverage) at Gaston College in the fall of 2000. It was moderated by Dr. William Friday with panelists including Senator David Hoyle, former Senator Helen Marvin, Superintendent Ed Sadler, Glenn Foundation Director Barbara Voorhees and a Gaston County student. Panelists discussed images of Gaston County of the past and desires for the future. The Community Foundation was major contributor.

Gaston Community Healthcare Commission formed an alliance with GT in 2002 under the leadership of Wayne Shovelin, 2001 GT Chairman. CaroMont Health originally provided funding for administrative support under a three year renewable contract/grant.

2003 Donna Lockett selected Executive Director

  • Also in 2003, GT was selected as the facilitating organization for Gaston 2012 Economic Development Process, which is the outgrowth of Gaston County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS.) CEDS was funded through a $240,000 grant secured by US Representative Sue Myrick.

  • GT formed a strategic alliance with the Gaston Chamber in 2003 for implementation of Gaston 2012 and moved offices to the Chamber building

In 2008, GT, through the work of the Gaston 2012 Education/Workforce Development Action Team, launched Gaston Career Climb a community workforce development collaborative. The goal is to develop a nationally certified, skilled workforce for Gaston County. This team became the Workforce Solutions Action Team and will bring in The Edge Factor to inspire students & their parents to consider careers in manufacturing technology.

  • During 2008, Gaston Together served as the lead organization for the Carolina Thread Trail (CTT) mapping process pilot project in Gaston County. The adoption of the CTT Gaston County plan occurred in 2009. The Greenways Team continues as a part of Gaston Vision 2020.

  • Also in 2008, the Entrepreneurial Action Team created and implemented the Student Contest for Business Ideas. Through sponsorships, awarded over $10,000 in scholarships over a 4-year period.

In 2009, GT began a process to extend the Gaston 2012 strategy to the year 2020 which included transitioning the work of three of the Gaston 2012 Action Teams to the Gaston Regional Chamber for administrative work: Transportation/Infrastructure, Entrepreneurial Development and Education/ Workforce Development.

  • Also in 2009, GT was asked by the Commission on the Family (now Family Advisory Board,) the county government’s prevention based funding, to develop Keeping Families Intact (KFI) to connect families in need with available community resources. Seed funding was provided. Over the next four years, a program was developed which included Life Skills Sessions and case-management which provided a 5.4 return on investment for the seed funding through outcome measures. The program was transitioned to the YMCA where it is now known as Resource Connection.

GT began a new strategic planning process in the summer of 2010 which resulted in Gaston Vision 2020. During 2011, Community Stakeholders were identified and the UNCC Urban Institute was engaged to facilitate four Stakeholder Goal Setting Sessions. Three priorities were determined around the focus areas of Education (Quality & Attainment), Infrastructure and Quality of Life/Community Vitality.

During 2012, GV2020 Action Teams (Infrastructure, Education, and Community Vitality) engaged community members to develop strategic goals around identified focus areas. Contracted with UNCC Urban Institute to create Gaston County portal for Urban Institute Regional Indicators Website. Engaged Gaston College, United Way and Gaston Family Health Services as website community investment partners.

In 2013, Gaston Vision 2020 began a partnership with the Chamber’s Building Blocks program for county strategic planning. As a result of this process, GT was asked to assume responsibility for new Leadership Programs under the Gaston One concept.

  • GT received funding from Community Foundation 2014-2016 to maintain updated research on Regional Indicator Website

In 2014, Agreement with Greater Gaston Development Corp.

  • During 2014, GCHC launched Healthy Gaston to create a culture of wellness in businesses, churches, and schools.

In 2015:

  • Z. Smith Reynolds funded the Development of Leadership Institute and later that year, three other local foundations provided development funding.

  • GC3 began working on a covenant with law enforcement

  • GC3 also held their first two-day, out of county retreat with 23 participants

  • GCHC funding moved from CaroMont as sole funder to four primary funding partners: GFHS, CaroMont, and Partners Behavioral Health Management

2016 Outcomes:

  • GC3 signed a Covenant with Gaston County Law Enforcement in March

& began implementation

    • GCHC established two Policy & Advocacy Teams:

      • Mental Health & Substance Abuse

      • Gaston Controlled Substances Coalition (84 members)

      • Walkability/Obesity Team which later merged with the Gaston Vision

2020 Greenways Team

    • Healthy Gaston finished the year with 4 first ever Gold Level, 10 Silver Level and 3 Bronze Level organizations. Twenty-seven total organizations

  • Civic Engagement Leadership initiative kicked-off in November

  • This year GT will celebrate its 20th anniversary of tackling Big Community Challenges through collaborative community leadership.

2017 Outcomes:

  • Civic Engagement Leadership initiative launched in Jan. with 24 participants; 8 sessions (4 full-day and 4 half-day sessions); graduated 21 in Nov. 2017

  • GC3 held Opioid Summit for community in Nov.

  • Healthy Gaston completed successful year with 5 Gold, 14 Silver, 3 Bronze and 10 on their Journey to Wellness

  • First Annual Healthy Gaston VIP Award to Robert Kellogg for his community service in Health Education/Opioid Crisis

  • Walkability/Obesity held Health in All Policies workshop with Pat Zerouvian, Monterey, Ca. Health Dept Facilitated

  • Gaston Controlled Substances Coalition: 1) first Behavioral Health Summit; 2) Developed website,, with complete data dashboard of information and activities; 4) established Clergy Opioid Outreach Team & Medicine Tack Back Team; 5) began Community presentations to civic organizations; 6) conducting Opioid education through Facebook, etc.

2018 Highlights:

  • Civic Engagement Leadership began its second Cohort in Aug 2018 after revising the session calendar to Aug - May. Twenty-three enrolled

  • Held first Healthy Gaston Recognition Event on an annual calendar (Nov. 2018) and conducted four workshops combined with the Recognition to make it more of a “celebration of health!”

  • Healthy Gaston celebrated another successful year with 6 Gold, 15 Silver, 3 Bronze and 9 Organizations on their Wellness Journey

  • Second Annual Healthy Gaston VIP Award was given to Mr and Mrs. Nazrul Chowdhury for their work with the Gaston Controlled Substances Coalition Opioid focus

  • Walkability/Obesity Team transitioned to Health in All Policies as a focus and began meetings with municipalities. Met with seven during 2018.

  • Gaston Controlled Substances Coalition: 1) Facilitated the restart of Drug Treatment Court; 2) Held a second Doctor workshop on alternatives to Opioids; 3) Developed Opioid Response Teams; 4) Began Opioid Prevention & Treatment Champions Program; 5) Trained peer support specialists; 6) Collected over 41 lbs. of medicines at Medicine Take Back events.

  • Hosted over 90 officers and Clergy/Law Enforcement Breakfast.

2019 Highlights:

  • Honored Donyel Barber, Dr. Will Current and Coach Larry Rhodes with the 2019 Gaston Together MLK Unity Awards in January

  • Greater Gaston Development Corp.’s “Gaston Outside” Campaign won the Community Leadership Award; Healthnet Gaston won the “Circle of Excellence” award and Madeline Jo Hendrix was won the “Proudest Kid in Gaston County” Essay Contest at the Annual Community Leadership Awards

  • Twenty participants graduated from the second Civic Engagement Leadership process in June while third Cohort began in Aug 2019

  • Held Healthy Gaston Recognition Event in Nov. combined with three workshops to make it more of a “celebration of health!”

  • Healthy Gaston celebrated another successful year with 10 Gold, 12 Silver, 7 Bronze and 12 Organizations on their Wellness Journey

  • Annual Healthy Gaston VIP Award was given to the Gaston County Commissioners for their county-wide no tobacco products policy

  • Health in All Policies Team continued their work with municipalities (ten to date) and received grant funds to conduct a community education HiAP workshop in 2020

  • Gaston Controlled Substances Coalition: 1) Developed the Faith Fighting Addition initiative; 2) Collected 247 lbs. of prescription drugs through Medicine Tack-Back events; 3) Created the Opioid Prevention & Treatment Champions; 4) Hosted 1270+ community members in opioid awareness programs

  • Hosted over 90 officers and Clergy/Law Enforcement Breakfast

  • Renewed the Clergy-Law Enforcement Covenant in November at the Rotary Pavilion


Annual Report