Growing up in Binghamton, N.Y., Sauni Wood was not accustomed to small towns when she and her husband, Ken, moved to Davidson 35 years ago. Ken had just taken a job at Davidson College as the director for experiential education, which was a new and progressive concept for the school.
Much of Davidson looks the same now, but Wood remembers having to travel a fair distance to buy things for the Woods' four children.
"People here in Davidson made us feel so at home, but there were aspects of small-town living that took some getting used to," Wood says.
The Woods had lived several places in the Northeast and Midwest, and, before their move to Davidson, Sauni had been the director of the Head Start program in Ohio.
When her family moved here in 1974, her experience working in child and family education landed Wood the position of executive director of the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson.
"When I arrived there, Ada Jenkins was experiencing a lot of growth," she said. "They were offering food stamps, legal aid and other support programs to address the needs of poorer families in Davidson. But the center was also adding Parks & Rec classes, sewing classes and Davidson community theater classes so that it could be a center that addressed the needs of the full community."
Wood's arrival at Ada Jenkins was only about 10 years after desegregation had started in the area, so from the beginning, serving the community across the racial divide presented challenges.
"The vision of the Ada Jenkins Center was to bring the whole community together with arts, support services and recreation," she said. "I think locating the center in west Davidson (which is historically black), but providing services to everyone, was a real boost for the community and certainly demonstrated the town of Davidson's commitment to ... integration."
Wood felt a special affection for her job and the people she served in her role at Ada Jenkins, and she knew it had been a good way to get to know so many people in the community.
Her position at Ada Jenkins enabled her to move on in her career to serve as the director of the associate degree program for early childhood and family development at Central Piedmont Community College. She oversaw programming for teachers, the Head Start program and other professions that came into contact with the community's children and families.
"I hosted a call-in show for CPCC that aired on local cable," said Wood. "I really felt like more needed to be happening for parents in the area of childhood development and this was one way to reach them."
Another way to reach that audience, as she soon found, was through a weekly show on WFAE wherein she was interviewed on a regular basis on a variety of topics.
Using these mediums that might have been less traditional at the time soon gave Wood the idea of taking the education to a major local network - WSOC-TV, the ABC affiliate. "I really felt that there should be some type of programming based on families and children on TV - not entertainment, but something educational as a part of the news broadcast," she said. "I took the idea to Janet England, who was one of the anchors at the time. She was a mom, so I think the concept resonated with her."
Wood's idea soon became "Family Focus," a segment on family and childhood development that still appears on the air within newscasts today. After the segments began to air in the early '90s, Wood continued to support the program as a researcher, feeding ideas to Janet England and others at WSOC-TV.
Wood continues with the same focus on community development aimed at supporting and enabling families in the area.
When she and husband Ken are not travelling to national forests to serve as volunteers - a way that both are able to nurture the outdoor enthusiasts within them - she's active trying to change the aging scene in Davidson.
After helping a friend navigate the long-term care system that was providing care for an ailing spouse, Wood realized that there were tremendous gaps in the services being provided to Davidson residents and others in the Lake Norman area.
"I approached then-mayor Randy Kincaid, then-director of Ada Jenkins Bill Johnson and others in the community about developing an aging taskforce to look more closely at these issues," says Wood.
The Davidson Aging Taskforce is almost in its fourth year and has already addressed transportation and safety issues affecting seniors in the Davidson community.
"I see so much potential for the community to address these unmet needs so that the people who call Davidson home can really remain here to 'age in place' for the rest of their lives," says Wood.