5 Ordinary North Carolinians Making an Extraordinary Difference

5 Ordinary North Carolinians Making an Extraordinary Difference

Laura Saavedra Forero, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, co-founded By Immigrant Hands, a small business whose mission is to empower immigrants and give back to the community through its sales. (Photo courtesy of By Immigrant Hands via Instagram)

By Vanessa Infanzon

September 7, 2023

These North Carolinians didn’t let age, money, time, or any other factors stop them.

Ordinary people in North Carolina are making a difference on local, regional and international levels. They’ve followed through on an idea by harnessing their dedication and passion for a specific issue.

We often blame perceived obstacles for reasons why we can’t affect change. The people in the list below didn’t let age, money, time, or other factors stop them.

Seth Alvo

Mills River

5 Ordinary North Carolinians Making an Extraordinary Difference

Photo courtesy of Seth Alvo

Seth Alvo was a web designer when he began posting mountain biking videos on his YouTube channel, Berm Peak. When he saw an opportunity to help his local community in western North Carolina (WNC), Alvo leveraged his popularity with his 2.5 million subscribers to build a free public bike park that also solved erosion and water control issues in a tract of land in Canton. Berm Park, a 10-acre mountain bike park, is part of Chestnut Mountain Nature Park.

Hometown: Long Island, New York

What’s important: “Setting a good example is the most important thing, as projects like Berm Park are only possible through my reach on YouTube,” Alvo said. “It’s likely that people all over the world are using Chestnut Mountain and Berm Park as case studies with which to model their own projects. A good example can have positive cascading effects.”

Motivation: “I’ve seen other projects all over the country similar to Berm Park, and realized there were very few examples like this in our region. I wanted to show everyone that it would also work here in WNC.”

Advice: “Follow opportunities, not dreams. When a lot of parties are involved, you will need to pivot, compromise, and adapt. If you want to make a difference, embrace the journey and try not to get hung up on the exact route you take.”

Social: Berm Peak, @sethsbikehacks

Deeper dive: Asheville’s Seth Alvo builds mountain biking park

Bobby Davis Sr.


5 Ordinary North Carolinians Making an Extraordinary Difference

Bobby Davis Sr. (Photo courtesy of Scott Muthersbaugh)

Bobby Davis Sr. designs, builds and sells birdhouses to raise money for his church’s food truck ministry in Kernersville, resulting in about $6,000 for the ministry each year. He uses salvaged and donated wood to construct the birdhouses.

Hometown: Giles County in Southwest Virginia

What’s important: It is very gratifying to take trees that would have wound up in the landfill or ground up into mulch and turn them into houses for a declining songbird population,” said Davis. “It is also important to me to be a person who helps others.”

Motivation: “If we would all just share what we have been blessed with, our time and our abilities, we could go a long way in solving the problems we are faced with such as hunger and food insecurity. I will soon be 79 years young, and I mean that literally. I have a purpose for getting up every day.” 

Advice: “Find a place to use what you have been blessed with and in some small way give back to others.”

Deeper dive: For the Birds

Tracy Hopkins


Tracy Hopkins, owner of Dare to Rise, LLC, creates platforms for people to connect, understand and invest in each other through her roles as a transformational coach and an organizational growth consultant. She belongs to CoThinkk, a social change philanthropy based in Asheville that connects people and organizations that positively impact communities of color.

Hometown: Born in Seoul, South Korea and raised in southern Illinois.

What’s important: “What is most important is creating pathways of belonging, especially for those who sit within the margins and at the intersections,” Hopkins shared. “Collective rising and shifting from surviving to thriving are what lives at my core and so issues such as health equity, racial justice, gender equity, LGBTQIA+ rights are all at the top of my list.”

Motivation: “What keeps me motivated is essentially the four steps Bryan Stevenson speaks about when it comes to achieving peace and justice and changing the world. It is through getting proximate to those who are impacted, changing the narrative, remaining hopeful and learning to be uncomfortable because it is in those spaces of discomfort where change emerges.”

Advice: “We have to start deepening our understanding and significance of what being a co-conspirator is and how being an ally is only the beginning of the journey towards co-conspiratorship. Being able to move from ally to accomplice and onto co-conspirator, in my belief, is how we will make a deeper impact for social change that is sustainable.”

Social: @dare2rise

Deeper dive: Story Chaser Speaker Series, Tiny Mic Conversations

Laura Saavedra Forero

Chapel Hill

Laura Saavedra Forero, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, serves as co-president of the Campus Y, UNC’s social justice hub. She is also a member of disability rights and Latinx cultural organizations while volunteering as a clinical interpreter at the Student Health Action Coalition clinic. Saavedra Forero co-founded By Immigrant Hands, a small business whose mission is to empower immigrants and give back to the community through its sales.

Hometown: Charlotte

What’s important: Reproductive justice, disability justice and immigrant rights

Motivation: “My identity as a young, disabled, queer, daughter of immigrants has shaped my entire life and greatly influenced my presence in the organizing and activist communities,” said Forero. “When I first got involved with mutual aid efforts for migrants at the Greyhound bus station, my eyes were opened to the compounding effects of many issues. The interconnectedness of oppressive systems and the countless lives being lost due to this oppression made me realize there was no time to waste.”

Advice: “Be Bold. You have to hold onto your values and be willing to make sacrifices. Find Out. There are many ways to get involved, so find the places where you will influence most. Step Back. Make sure to decenter yourself from the work you’re doing. It’s not about you! Act Now. Waiting around is a privilege and it won’t help the folks who need it most. Hold On. It’s going to be a long ride and the work is going to be difficult, but our people deserve it.”

Social: @laurasaavedra21, @byimmigranthands

Deeper dive: After ‘dehumanizing’ experience, college student highlights wheelchair accessibility issues

Huston Shinal


5 Ordinary North Carolinians Making an Extraordinary Difference

Photo courtesy of Lance Cpl. Isaiah Gomez

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 5 Huston Shinal has been locating Montford Point Marines—the first African-American recruits in the Marine Corps who ended the military’s long-standing policy of racial segregation—and their families to award them with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor since 2011. 

On Aug. 26, Montford Point Marine Day, more than 60 Montford Point Marine families will be present at the medal ceremony at Montford Point Marine Memorial in Lejeune Memorial Gardens in Jacksonville. 

Hometown:  Yazoo City, Mississippi

What’s important: “Advancing their story and the historical importance it holds while some of them are still living,” Shinal explained. 

Motivation: “I was lucky enough to meet many of them personally during my time on active duty.”

Advice: “Join or partner with the Montford Point Marine Association to learn much of the history firsthand and share it with others.”

Deeper dive: Who Were the Montford Point Marines? Five Montford Point Marines posthumously honored with Congressional Gold Medal


READ MORE: Where are the Most Beautiful Places in NC for Outdoor Fun (+ Great Pics)?


  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to NC for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding at the Whitewater Center.

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