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Our Staff

John Wingerter of Council on Aging
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Leadership

Heather Bauer, BA, Equity Advocate

Executive Director

Ext. 1312

Heather started at Council on Aging in January 2020.

“In addition to my professional aging services background, I grew up as the oldest in this generation of over 40 grandchildren with great respect for the elders in my life. I moved to Buncombe County as a child from northern New Jersey. After having attended UNCW and living on the NC coast, I returned to western North Carolina in 2010. I spent 13 years in non-medical home care in Human Resources, Outreach, Education, and Care Management – my first job in senior care was as a professional caregiver. I have a BA in English and Professional Writing, a minor in Women’s Studies, certificates in Gerontology, Photography and Grant Writing, and ongoing education credits in serving older adults, people with cognitive impairments and caregivers as well as specialty certificates (such as Web design for seniors, home safety, workforce development, health equity, and falls prevention). I facilitate evidence-based falls prevention programming as a Master Trainer, serve on Age-Friendly Buncombe Advisory committees, and on steering committees for groups, such as Dementia Friendly WNC and the Buncombe Aging Service Alliance (BASA). I am a local Rotarian, volunteer my time on projects for literacy, design, and consultation.

As a daughter, mother, sister, and friend I cherish my relationships and my calling to listen to the needs of others, meet people where they are, and seek solutions to challenges we face throughout our lives. I enjoy any time spent with family and friends, Yoga, conscious movement, hiking and camping, music, creative expression, reading, food, and adventure! It brings me great joy to lead a life of service, one where my next step is always guided by a vision to live well at any age, with growth and authenticity being paramount to wholeness.”


Bruce Birdsall

Director of Medicare Services

Ext. 1304

Bruce started at Council on Aging in 2017.

“As the Director of Medicare Services, I direct three of COA’s programs: the SHIIP Medicare Program, the Navigator Program for the Affordable Care Act, and the Benefits Enrollment Center. I have served in non-profit management for over 25 years.

In my free time, I love golf, pickleball, and boogie boarding.”


Julia Buchanan, MBA

Director of Finance and Administration

Julia started at Council on Aging in June 2022.

“As COA’s Director of Finance and Administration, I oversee the project, program, and organizational expenditures and budgeting as well as all required financial reporting. My role in administration is to lead COA in a strategic direction based on sound financial principles and an emphasis on successful human capital management. With over 15 years in nonprofit management, I offer expertise in financial management, development, marketing, statistical analysis, database management, and change management. 

I am a Lenoir-Rhyne University MBA graduate and earned a BS in Health Service Management with a minor in economics from Indiana University.. In July 2022, I will complete my MBA with a healthcare concentration from Lenoir-Rhyne University. 

I am a certified Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) educator, an  Association of Fundraising Professionals member, and a Six Sigma green belt.”


Susan Wilson, MA, JD

Affordable Care Act Program Director

Ext. 1321

Susan started at Council on Aging in 2013. 

“I began working for COA in November of 2013 during the first open enrollment period for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Marketplace. 

Needing a new challenge and burned out on domestic law, I joined the Council as one of the first Navigators helping people get insurance through the ACA Marketplace.  As challenging as the first year was with technical snafus and confusion over the new program, the relief expressed by people with preexisting conditions able to purchase health insurance made it all worthwhile.  Every year brings new challenges and changes but the gratitude of my consumers keeps me energized.

My wife and I live in a bi-species household with three dogs and currently only one cat.  We have nine (9) wonderful grandchildren who keep us entertained even if only on Zoom calls.”


Emily Carleo, MA

Director of Congregate Nutrition

Ext. 1316

Emily started at Council on Aging in September 2021

“I started my journey of working with older adults at age 12 volunteering with the Adult Life Center in Conover, NC, and fell in love. I knew from that moment I wanted to make a difference in the lives of older adults. Working with the Council on Aging’s senior dining program does just that. Offering nutritious meals, activities, and solicitation with people in the same age group feeds people’s bodies, minds, and spirits.

I grew up in Hickory, NC then attended UNC Charlotte for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I graduated with a Master’s in Gerontology. For the last 20 years, I lived in Charlotte and the surrounding area. Previously I ran a similar program in Iredell County.

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my cats, listening to podcasts, and reading. I am really looking forward to exploring my new home!”


Rachel Miller, BS

Director of Community Services

Ext. 1305

Rachel started at Council on Aging in March 2022

“As a multi-generation family caregiver, I am passionate about caregiver support and simplifying resource navigation.  I’m a Buncombe County native and graduate of Western Carolina University.  I am part of the Buncombe Aging Services Alliance, past representative for the Buncombe County Aging Advocacy committee, member of the North Carolina Coalition on Aging, and participate on the Buncombe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day committee.

I enjoy making with craft cocktails, trying new restaurants, hiking, and most of all, I love laughing with my husband and our two young adult daughters.”


Program Staff

Marina Kovalyova, BSW

Lead Resource Coordinator

Ext. 1315

Marina joined Council on Aging and the resource team in February 2022

“After spending over 17 years in aging services with non-profit and government agencies in Henderson County, I am delighted to join the team at Council on Council of Buncombe County. I moved to Hendersonville in 1997 from the UK, where I graduated from Keele University with a joint honors BA in Social Work and Russian Studies.   

My social work skills enable me to work and communicate with individuals from many different backgrounds, identify challenges and offer solutions. I enjoy working with the senior population; connecting people with services, programs and community resources. Outside of work, I like to spend time with family, friends and my dog Bella. I practice yoga, enjoy painting, travel, cooking and swimming. I am a native Russian speaker and a Human Rights advocate.”


Gayland Welborn

Gayland Welborn

Services Coordinator: Battery Park Apts.

Ext. 1319(828) 252-7995

Gayland started at Council on Aging in 2017. 

“I am a retired North Carolina educator, having worked 33 years as a teacher, counselor, coach, and school administrator. I hold a BA from Guilford College and an MA from Appalachian State University. Since retiring as a state educator, I’ve worked as an adjunct supervisor for the UNC-Asheville Teacher Education Department and in the same capacity for Mars Hill University.

I started working for COA as a part-time resource coordinator serving the Fairview/Fletcher communities. In September of 2019, I moved into a similar position as the Service Coordinator at Battery Park Apartments in downtown Asheville.   

My work for COA came at just the right time.  After retiring from one career, I was looking to stay active and involved in something that was both challenging and meaningful. My role as a service coordinator has been all of that and more. Aging with meaning and integrity is something we will all aspire to do at some point in our lives. My work has allowed me to find that meaning for myself and support others who are trying to do the same.”


Susan Hebach

Service Coordinator at Vanderbilt Apts.

Susan started at Council on Aging in 2022

“I have always enjoyed working with people and connecting them with services and other resources so being the Service Coordinator at Vanderbilt Apartments will give me the opportunity to do just that.

I have worked primarily with children and families but am excited to be able to work with seniors.

I grew up in New York and moved to North Carolina in 1997 after my parents retired to Henderson County.

I enjoy watching TV and movies about science, psychology, history, and anything funny. I love animals especially cats. I live in Henderson County with my mom.”


Whitney Emrick

Services Coordinator

Ext. 1302

Whitney started at Council on Aging in March 2022.

“I am native of Charleston, SC and have been in the Asheville area for about six years. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Psychology and Master`s in Social Work. I feel very blessed to join COA to help aging adults/ family members navigate resources to have more fulfilling lives.

I am passionate about supporting others, easing worries and being a positive influence in the community. In my free time I enjoy hiking, dancing, yoga, crafting with dried flowers or spending time with my husband and our two cats.”


Kari Cable

Services Coordinator

Kari started at Council on Aging in 2022.

“I am native of Hendersonville, NC. I attended UNC Charlotte and received my Bachelors of Social Work. I have worked almost 20 years in the aging services field in different areas. I am passionate about helping older adults to age safely in their homes and stay engaged in their communities.

When not at work I enjoy spending time with my husband and our two children. We also enjoy traveling and being active outdoors.”


April Tinker

In-Home Aide Care Manager

Ext. 1309

April started at Council on Aging in September 2021.

“I have a passion to assist the senior community and find fulfillment in being able to help anyone in need whether the need is large or small.

As the In-Home Aide Care Manager, I am excited about the opportunity to create a relationship with clients and to support them to find a program in the community that supports their needs holistically. It is a priority that clients are served not only physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially. The responsibility of the In-Home Aide Care Manager is to manage each case through home visits or calls and to assist to provide economic, emotional, social, environmental support.

When not at work, I enjoy exploring Asheville restaurants, shopping, or just hanging out with family.”


Jennie Pressley

Family Caregiver Specialist

Ext. 1308

Jennie started at Council on Aging in 2020

“I am thrilled to join the team at the Council on Aging after working in senior care for the past six years. Prior to that, I was with the Alzheimer’s Association, the Red Cross, and other non-profits. Making a positive difference in the community and helping others means a lot to me. I attended UNC-Chapel Hill and graduated from Mars Hill College with a degree in history. My Master’s of Arts in Bible and Theology is from Sioux Falls Seminary.  


As the Family Caregiver Specialist, I work with families in Buncombe and Madison counties to access respite grant funding and other caregiver resources. I also facilitate the monthly CAPES Support Group which is open to any type of caregiver located near or far away. 


Florida is where I grew up but after getting married in 1998 to a local boy, I have lived in the mountains. In my free time, I play tenor horn with the Smoky Mountain Brass Band and trumpet at my church. “


Janice Payne

Elder Justice Navigator

Ext. 1303

Janice started at Council on Aging in November 2022

“I am Janice Payne, the new Elder Justice Navigator (EJN) for Council on Aging Buncombe County.  

As the new EJN, I am responsible for effectively and respectively strengthening our community in preventing and addressing elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.  

My job includes case management for clients by navigating them through services that can help bring justice to an unfortunate situation.  Partnering with a variety of community agencies such as Dementia Friendly WNC, Pisgah Legal, and numerous other agencies, affords me an opportunity to address issues that affect seniors living with cognitive and other health impairments.  I hope to bring awareness to the community and ensure that seniors can continue to age in place with dignity and respect.

I look forward to working and meeting with everyone.”


Erin Whiteaker

Volunteer Coordinator

Erin started at Council on Aging in 2021. 

“I am truly blessed to join the team at the Council on Aging. I have a strong background in the medical field and with insurance and am excited to help people navigate the Marketplace to make their experience as easy as possible. Being able to help others in the community is a true passion of mine.

I spent the majority of my adult life in Charlotte, NC and Pensacola, FL. I have family that resides here in Transylvania and Henderson County and am now proud to call Western North Carolina my forever home.

When I’m not working I’m usually spending time with my amazing three year old son and other family and friends. “


Insurance Staff

Vance Goodman

Benefits Enrollment Specialist

Ext. 1314

Vance started at Council on Aging in 2019. 

“I am a native of Asheville, NC.  When I started at the Council on Aging, I began as a Service Coordinator at Vanderbilt Apartments in downtown Asheville before assuming the role of Benefits Enrollment Specialist. 

Prior to my time with COA, I pursued a Masters in Divinity and worked as an interfaith chaplain in a trauma-one pediatric hospital in Dallas, Texas.  I am glad to be back in Western North Carolina, closer to family and the mountains I adore. 

 When I am not assisting lower income adults with benefits enrollment, I am on my bicycle, hiking, reading good books or writing poetry.  I have an amazing family and super friends.  I also enjoy films and engaging speaker events.”


Michael E. Sprengelmeyer

Affordable Care Act Navigator

Michael started at Council on Aging in 2022. 

“As a Federally Certified Marketplace Navigator, I help people overcome confusion or other hurdles to find and secure health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Gaining access to affordable health insurance can be life-changing for people of all ages, and I’m excited to help — in either English or Spanish.

Helping people has been the focus of my second career. Before moving to the Asheville area in 2018, I spent 30 years as a newspaper reporter and publisher. That calling took me all over the world, including Washington, D.C., the battlegrounds of Afghanistan and Iraq, and even to a scrappy little newsroom in Santa Rosa, N.M. In journalism, I got an up-close view of some of the struggles people face in their everyday lives, and I wrote stories to cast light on issues society needs to face. Still, I craved a chance to help people more directly. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about my new role.

I’m a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where I majored in journalism with minor concentrations in political science and Spanish literature. In my spare time I am an avid bird-watcher, photographer, songwriter, accordion player, student of American Sign Language and artist who transforms discarded laundry soap jugs into colorful ‘plastrickery’ mosaics.”


Administrative Staff

Arlyn Villafuerte

Arlyn Villafuerte

Media Support Specialist

Arlyn started at Council on Aging in February 2018. 

“I am the Media Support Specialist for Council on Aging. My role is to provide program support to staff for outreach and marketing materials in English and Spanish through various forms of media. I have a BA in Sociology and Spanish. I love helping out in the community and I am very happy to be here.

I was born in El Sallvador and have lived in Asheville since I was three. In my free time I enjoy being outdoors. My favorite activities to do are mountain biking and hiking.”


Jasmine Hanks

Administrative Assistant

Ext. 1300

Jasmine started at Council on Aging in March 2022

“As the Administrative Assistant here at the Council on Aging, my job is to act as a human GPS connecting our clients to the correct resources so that they can reach their destination. I have been working administratively for the past 12 years and this is my third non profit. I am an Asheville native so my heart is really with the community.


When not at work, I have a teenage daughter who keeps me busy. When I do have a few moments of true down time, I enjoy the restaurant scene here, journaling, reading, and binge watching Netflix.”


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