When Jill Swain arrived in Huntersville in 1992, she would take her toddler son to see the "moo-cows" roaming the pastures at the corner of McCoy and Gilead roads.
A lot has changed since then, but it was the thought of the town's inevitable growth that led Swain, who now serves as Huntersville's mayor, to public service.
"I started thinking, 'wow, if this is really going to grow I want to be part of it growing the right way,'" she said.
Swain first got involved with Huntersville's town planning board in order to make sure that the area would maintain its small-town feel. She would later go on to become the chairwoman of the town's land use committee before being elected as a town commissioner in 1999.
In the past decade, Swain has worked on projects that range from Huntersville's downtown revitalization to advocating for the completion of the proposed North Corridor Commuter Rail, which would connect downtown Charlotte to Mooresville.
Swain said projects that require long-term planning are key to why she's still involved in government.
"Never in a million years would I have said that I'd do this for a dozen years though," the 49-year-old admits.
But Swain emphasized that she wouldn't have made it this far without Town Hall's dedicated staff .
"They're the ones who have all the skills - they're the professionals," she said.
Swain explained that her family's support has been another important factor for her tenure. She said that her husband, Dan, who works in the banking industry, was actually the one who encouraged her to get involved.
"He knows that this is my thing and that my heart is in it," said Swain, adding that he's understanding and supportive even in today's difficult economic times. Swain's position as mayor is part time and pays a salary of $10,000 with a technology stipend of $50 a month.
The mayor said that her 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter have had a lot to do with her hard work.
"When I got involved in this it was very important to me that I showed my kids that this is what you do - you give back to your community," she said.
Swain, who was re-elected as mayor last year, said that her favorite part about what she does is the people she gets to meet - whether it's working with the town commissioners trying to resolve an issue or working with concerned citizens.
"I love it when people - angry or not - actually come the effort to come to a town board meeting and tell us how they feel, " she said.
Swain said that it's surprising how many hours she spends working.
She said that the job is so hands on that it would be nearly impossible for her to go back to work full-time in advertising.
The Kansas State graduate has worked in that field for more than two decades.
Swain got into advertising right out of college when she got a job in direct-response advertising. Swain, who majored in journalism and had minors in public relations and Russian, said she instantly fell in love with her profession.
"I just seemed to gravitate toward that," she said. "Coming up with ideas for clients is just fun for me."
Swain, who still works in marketing and advertising independently, said her experience in her field has come in handy in her current role.
"To me a lot of governing is marketing what's going on to the community," the mayor said. "You want everyone to know what you're doing."
One of the ways her background has helped is with the creation of the "Destination Huntersville" program, which gives leaders representing local attractions - such as Discovery Place Kids and the Carolina Raptor Center - a chance to meet and find ways to work together.
But even with her schedule, she still finds time to do some of the things she loves.
Swain coaches a volleyball team for a girl's rec league, which she started doing seven years ago when her daughter was in second grade. The mayor also spends time substitute teaching at local schools.
Swain said that she originally got into subbing because if fit well with her town commissioner schedule, which required her to attend night meetings. But her motive quickly changed.
"As I got into it though, I fell in love with these kids," said Swain. "These are our future leaders, and they make me feel like homecoming queen when I come in."
She enjoys teaching so much that she admits that if she had the time she would go back to school to get her teaching certificate.
Swain said she has to work hard on her time management. Although she said her family is her number one priority, one aspect of family life - fixing dinner - often seems to be the one that suffers.
"I'm not the greatest cook, so it's OK," she said.