Kathey Avery has made it her mission to improve the health and well-being among underserved and uninsured African-Americans in the Asheville area of North Carolina, including all of Buncombe County.

Avery, 63, is available to anyone who needs services — driving those who don't have a ride to follow-up appointments or frequently visiting people with chronic conditions to ensure they're staying on track, adhering to their medications and doctor's orders.

All of this is part of her work as the nurse educator for the Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement, a not-for-profit organization that works to eliminate health disparities in the African-American community. For her many years of serving the local communities she has been chosen as the recipient of this year's Lillian Carter Exemplary Acts in Nursing Award.

An oncology nurse for more than 20 years, Avery joined the ABIPA in 2008 as a part-time employee. But she quickly learned her need in the community required full-time attention.

Avery has become a well-known figure in the city of Asheville and throughout the county by going door-to-door to raise awareness about ABIPA and the services it can offer. ABIPA provides people with health screenings, transportation services and “whatever else it is they need,” Avery said. She has also used money from her own pocket to help community members pay rent, school tuition, doctors' bills and get bus passes to go to work or see a provider.

The organization gained more widespread community interest when it launched the Praise program two years ago. Under the program, in partnership with Asheville-based Mission Health and local churches, ABIPA works with residents to educate them about their health. ABIPA has served about 7,200 people so far.

As part of her work with the agency, Avery has expanded the Sister 2 Sister program, a breast cancer support group, to include healthy cooking and eating, and organized block parties focused on wellness and health screenings. At the annual block party, usually attended by about 400 people, residents can receive health assessments.

Avery has also helped organize for the past two years a farmer's market in the area to encourage healthy eating. “If we can educate people, especially the underserved, on living better and having better health, then we can save more people,” she said. —Maria Castellucci