Carlvena Foster is High Point Enterprise's Citizen of the Year

January 2, 2020

HIGH POINT — Many nights throughout the week, Carlvena Foster doesn’t get home until 8 p.m. Sometimes her days will stretch until 10 p.m.

Foster is the executive director of the Carl Chavis YMCA in High Point and she serves on more than 20 boards. Yes, 20. She has served as a Guilford County Commissioner since 2014. Before that, she was a member of the school board. She’s a member of the High Point Economic Development Board, Communities in Schools, and the Downtown Catalyst Project Executive Board, to name just a few.

She’s known as an advocate for High Point, for education and for children.

“She goes and she goes and she goes,” said her husband of 42 years, Otis Foster. “My wife’s the Energizer bunny. We don’t know how she does it. She’s always going somewhere, on her computer, on her phone. She doesn’t say ‘no’ except to me.”

Foster’s work, advocacy and passion for High Point are recognized today as she is named The High Point Enterprise’s Citizen of the Year for 2019. She was chosen by previous winners, a practice that has been in place for more than 50 years in High Point.

The decision is made in early December and kept secret until it’s announced on this page, the first of the new year. Foster will learn of her award when she opens this morning’s paper or when early risers start calling her phone, whichever happens first.

An advocate for High Point

Fellow County Commissioner Skip Alston has known Foster for 15 years. He recalled an example of Foster’s commitment to High Point and her leadership. Ironically, it was when she lost a fight.

In 2017, High Point had asked commissioners to divert the county’s share of new property tax revenue from future growth within the area around the city’s new stadium to help repay construction debt on the facility. At a raucous commissioners meeting that September, the board voted 8-1 to put off a decision on the city of High Point’s request. The only vote against the delay was Foster’s, who was the lone forceful voice for the High Point proposal on the board.

High Point would move on to build the stadium without help from the county.

“She was adamant about that project, even though she didn’t have the support,” Alston said. “She wanted us to know she wasn’t going to back down. Even in defeat, she was a champion. She doesn’t hold grudges. She can fight against you one day and then vote with you the next day. And she always has High Point front and center, and we all know that.”

Foster keeps High Point as a focus in budget negotiations, Alston said, from support of the furniture market to the Coltrane Festival to sponsoring local students to attend a football game. Fellow commissioners look to her as their expert in education, he said.

“She’s an excellent advocate for her community without question,” he said. “High Point should be proud to have her on the county commission, to have her speak so forcefully for her community.”

The Rev. Frank Thomas has preached at services held at the Y, and has worked with Foster on local projects and initiatives. Over the years, he has seen her speak for all of the community. “There is no higher advocate for High Point, especially the youth,” Thomas said.

She was instrumental in getting the name for Kivett Drive changed to Martin Luther King Jr. in 2015. In the last year, Thomas noted, with her support of High Point’s growth, “She makes sure that the least and the left out aren’t left out. She makes sure all High Pointers are supported and valued.”

During her campaign for High Point mayor last year, which she lost by 195 votes, she worked to bring the discussion of crime to the forefront, noting that crime, wherever it happens in the city, is an issue all High Pointers should care about.

“Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” Thomas said.

In 2015, High Point University President Nido Qubein recognized Foster with HPU’s presentation of the lead gift for a splash pad to be built at the Carl Chavis YMCA. The splash pad is named in her honor.

“I’ve always admired her graciousness and appreciated her ability to connect people of all backgrounds in wonderful ways,” Qubein said. “Carlvena’s guidance at Carl Chavis has enabled hundreds if not thousands of children to live a better life. She is the epitome of a servant leader who clearly loves High Point and advocates at every chance.”

At home, she’s Nini

At meetings and events, Foster is impeccably dressed. Her nails match her high heels. She wears bright colors. Her style and her talent to speak out make her stand out. Even at 5-foot-1, she's hard to miss.

“Her glasses have to match her outfit,” said Foster’s daughter, Keesia Pettiway, who grew up in High Point and now lives in Pennsylvania, where she travels as a consultant for a computer company. Pettiway talks to her mom every day.

“She calls me every time she gets in the car,” Pettiway said. “She’s always saying, ‘I’ve got to speak here or have to go do this. … I’ve got on red glasses, I got to go back home.’ Even though she looks glamorous, she’s just a down-to-earth High Point girl.”

Foster is a native High Pointer. She attended Fairview Elementary, A.J. Griffin Middle School and graduated as a member of the last class in 1968 from William Penn High School.

Otis Foster can’t remember when he first met his wife. They grew up together. Her father and uncle coached him when he played for the Southside Dodgers. He remembers Carlvena when she was a child, sucking on her middle and ring fingers. Then, as a pretty girl, cheerleader and athlete. He asked her out for the first time after a meetup at the mall.

Otis Foster was a local baseball star. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1975 after playing for High Point College. He remains the Panthers’ only first-round major-league draft pick.

During his travels for baseball, his wife would visit him. She learned to keep score and kept notes in a notebook. “She’d say, ‘This is what you did today. Here’s what you need to work on.’”

After 42 years of marriage, Otis Foster is still in awe of his wife.

“I see her do stuff and I say, ‘Doggone, that’s my wife,’” he said. “I’ll be getting dressed and she’s there writing a speech. And she can write. It’s a gift from God. She can write a speech and bring you to tears. I’ve seen people clap after she spoke at a funeral. A funeral!”

Even though she is often on the move with obligations in the community, Otis Foster said, his wife is the foundation of their family, which is the most important part of her life.

“She calls us her three heartbeats,” Pettiway said. “Me, my brother (Britton) and her grandbaby.”

That grandbaby is 6-year-old Cabria, Britton’s daughter. And to Cabria, Foster is “Nini.”

“She’ll be in a meeting, a parade, a brunch, at work at the Y, and then she’s got to be with Cabria,” Britton Foster said. “The sun rises and sets on Cabria.”

Britton Foster said he and his sister have heard over and over from strangers how their mom has helped change someone’s life. “Even our friends and cousins will say, ‘Being around your mom and your family has helped me see a better way.’ That’s the story for a lot of people in High Point,” Britton Foster said. “Now she is showing Cabria the way. She has to make High Point, the world, a better place for her.”

Reach Megan Ward at 336-888-3543 |

About the High Point Enterprise Citizens of the Year

Previous winners meet every year to select someone for the honor based on signicant accomplishments during the year and for a history of achievements and contributions in years past. The 50-plus previous recipients are men and women who gave unselfishly of themselves — and many are still giving — to make our city stronger. Better. A happier place to live. They are citizens who have given unselfishly of their time, skills and thought, and who have made a lasting difference in our community. Citizens of the Year, through their hard work and dedication, inspire others to find innovative ways to improve the community and find creative solutions. Nominees must live within the newspaper readership area. The winner is selected by previous winners and announced on the front page of the Jan.1 Enterprise. The Enterprise donates $1,000 to the local charity of the winner’s choice in his or her name. The Enterprise welcomes nominees from the community in September and November.

Past winners:

1966 - P. Hunter Dalton*

1967 - James H. Millis*

1968 - Leo J. Heer*

1969 - T. Lynwood Smith*

1970 - George A. Covington*

1971 - Holt McPherson*

1972 - Henry A. Foscue*

1973 - Ed Mendenhall Sr.*

1974 - Dale Montgomery*

1975 - R.T. Amos Jr.*

1976 - Meredith Slane*

1977 - Charles Hayworth*

1978 - Robert B. Rankin*

1979 - Nancy Lyles*

1980 - Herman Smith*

1981 - Roy B. Culler Jr.

1982 - Herman Bernard*

1983 - Thomas S. Haggai

1984 - William A. Horney*

1985 - Fred Alexander*

1986 - Elizabeth Wall*

1987 - George Erath*

1988 - John Thomas*

1989 - Esther Culp*

1990 - Charles A. Greene*

1991 - James F. Morgan

1992 – Bill McGuinn Jr.

1993 - John C.* and Marsha B. Slane*

1994 - Rebecca Smothers

1995 - Nido R. Qubein

1996 - William G. Ervin*

1997 - David S. Miller

1998 - Judy Mendenhall

1999 - Dr. Otis Tillman*

2000 - Earl N. “Phil” Phillips Jr.

2001 - Christine J. Greene

2002 - George Marsh*

2003 - Max Meeks*

2004 - C. Jeffrey Horney

2005 - Robert J. Brown

2006 - Jeffrey S. Miller

2007 - David R. Hayworth

2008 - Arnold Koonce*

2009 - Ed Price

2010 - Coy O. Williard Jr.

2011 - Dorothy K. “Dot” Kearns

2012 - Ann and Vann York*

2013 - Louise Foster

2014 - Charles Cain

2015 - Kitty and Earl Congdon

2016 - Owen Bertschi

2017 - Ken Smith

2018 - Bobby Smith

2019 - Carlvena Foster

* = deceased

The Citizen of the Year Fund: A new tradition

In 2019, the previous winners of The Enterprise’s Citizen of the Year started a fund which will be another way they will continue to make a meaningful and lasting impact in the community. When the group meets again late this year, they will decide which cause or charity to contribute to in honor of the 2020 winner.