NEWLAND — Few institutions in Avery County are as loved and revered as Yellow Mountain Enterprises, although such organizations do not become what they are today without superior leadership. For the last 10 years, David Tate has led the organization from the brink of bankruptcy to where it is today. For this reason, he is now looking toward the future ahead and retiring from the nonprofit once the organization finds his replacement.
“I’ve worked too hard and too long for it not to continue,” Tate said. “My motivation for retirement now is not so much personal, but this is a good time for the organization. Things are more financially stable than they have ever been.”
Tate is one of the original founders of Yellow Mountain Enterprises and served on its board of directors when the program was formed in 1985. This will be Tate’s second retirement after working for New River Behavioral Health for 30 years in a variety of roles, including as a clinical psychologist, the Avery County Program Coordinator and as the Director of Planning and Program Evaluation.
Tate holds a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Appalachian State University, and throughout his career he has served those with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and adults with developmental disabilities, with the latter being the group he has dedicated much of his life toward throughout the decades.
“I really enjoyed the developmentally disabled population. So when I heard that the program was in trouble, and I was free through my most recent retirement, they talked me into coming up here and working on this. It’s been a long haul, but we’ve been able to basically double the size of the program,” Tate said.
In the 10 years that Tate has served as the organization’s director, the nonprofit has paid off the mortgage on the building, as well as built and paid off the Yellow Mountain Thrift Store. Know as the Treasure Box, the store offers the adults in the program an opportunity to work, where they assess items, accept donations, handle pickups, accept deliveries and display products on the showroom floor.
“The thrift store has been a great way for us to provide jobs for the clients. Yellow Mountain Enterprises could be seen as kind of a day program for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults. They want to do what everyone else wants to do. They want to have a job, be useful, be with people during the day, go home to a different set of people if they can and that’s really what we’re all about: helping intellectually and developmentally disabled adults have as a normal a life as possible, and be as involved in the community as possible,” Tate said.
YME has been able to consistently keep about 26 to 28 clients active in the program, while also improving upon and increasing the number of staff, while simultaneously expanding the range of jobs offered to the clients. Staying true to the “enterprising” aspect of the nonprofit’s mission, YME clients now have the opportunity to work in the trophy and T-shirt shop, bake doggie treats (which is a work in progress), make and sell arts and crafts, perform yard maintenance, and contribute to the mass mailing of postcards and other items.
“I actually named it Yellow Mountain Enterprises, because I thought Yellow Mountain was undervalued in this county. It is the third highest mountain in the county, but it’s not as famous as Grandfather or Beech,” Tate said.
Additionally, YME houses a group home that serves up to six clientele at a time that provides each of them their own personalized bedroom, which they can decorate however they want. The home is designed to operate as a family setting, where clients eat together and share responsibilities like cooking meals and performing household tasks.
Tate’s extensive experience in the field of psychology was aided early on by his family’s background. Tate’s grandfather was Dr. William C. (W.C.) Tate, who came to Banner Elk in 1911 and founded what would later become Cannon Memorial Hospital. Tate’s father was Dr. Lawson Tate, and his two older brothers were also surgeons, including the late Dr. William “Bill” Cummings Tate II.
While staying true to the family’s roots in the medical field, Tate took up a different specialty than his brothers, choosing to focus on the mind instead of the body. The choice, he says, was simplified by his uneasiness with blood.
“I threw up easily,” Tate said. “My grandfather and father were both surgeons in this county. My two older brothers were planning to go into medical school and be surgeons too. But I got nauseous really easily, and I didn’t think that was a good direction to go in. I got into psychology, because I liked the study. I got my degree at Appalachian State. I was one of the first classes in their clinical psychology program all those years ago.”
Upon graduation, Tate took an internship with New River Behavioral Health, where he gained experience working with psychiatrists and mental health nurses. As part of his internship, he advocated for improving funding for the mental health center. The advocacy proved effective, as the commissioners doubled the funding for the program, prompting NRBH to hire Tate on in a full-time capacity.
A native of Banner Elk, Tate would go on to provide his specialities and gifts to a multitude of organizations both locally and throughout the region. Apart from working as the Executive Director for the Avery Association of Exceptional Children (which supervises YME), Tate has served as the executive director for Burke United Christian Ministries, executive director of American Red Cross of Burke County, as an hourly instructor at Western Piedmont Community College and in a number of roles during his 30 years with NRBH.
In addition to being an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church and dedicating his time to numerous community organizations, Tate also served as Mayor of Banner Elk for 10 years (and as a town councilman for seven years), a post that both his grandfather and father occupied before him.
“Part of what I learned from my family is to serve other people, and you do that through your work; you do that in your community. You may need to be mayor, or you may need to serve in a number of different ways. A good life is about serving others, not grabbing what you can get and stuffing your own pockets,” Tate said.
Looking back on his career, Tate took a moment to reflect on why out of all of the various clients he has served, he ultimately decided to dedicate so much time and effort helping adults with developmental disabilities.
“Because I loved them the most,” Tate said. “The intellectually and developmentally disabled population in many ways are just like everybody else. They want to have involvement. I’m not trying to put down the mentally ill or the substance abusers, but they struggle in a different sort of way. When you have limited intelligence, you are faced with a different set of challenges than if you hear voices or if you have an addiction, which can ruin your life. They’re a very loving, patient group of folks. When I’ve talked to some of my clients here, they say, ‘We don’t want you to retire!’ I tell them that I will still come and visit. Don’t worry.”
As far as retirement goes, Tate said that he is not sure how long he will be retired this time. Considering his wealth of experience, he will surely be in demand, and folks around the community can be assured that he will not be spending his retirement on the golf course. No matter what Tate decides to do in his ample free time, he says that he is confident someone new can step in and lead YME toward a bright future.
“One of the reasons I wanted to do a retirement announcement is to let local people know that this position is going to be open, and maybe there is somebody that we’re not aware of out there who might like to apply for the job. What I told the board is that I would stay until we get a good replacement, and if needed I will be glad to help the new person get acclimated. I’ll still come back and visit them,” Tate said.
Tate elaborated further on his vision for the future of the organization.
“It’s been a lot of work and taken a lot of dedication to get the organization on the right standing. I’m leaving this program in good financial shape,” Tate added. “I’m sure the next person will do just as good a job and keep expanding. We paid off our thrift store, and now we’ve got the opportunity to expand (our main building) and make it larger. We just bought the lot next door where we can expand this building into it. There’s a lot of good opportunities for the future for the next person. It’s been a real pleasure and an honor to work here. It’s not always easy to be insightful to say, ‘David, you’re getting too old for this.’ A younger, more energetic person might have the capability to come in with new energy, new ideas, new expansions and new enterprises. I want to really hire somebody good, and attract somebody good to this position.”