Branch named to state commission

Feb. 20, 2014 @ 07:25 PM

In January, Gov. Pat McCrory appointed Jim Branch of Oxford to the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service.

This will allow Branch an opportunity to share on a wider stage what he has learned over the past nine years working with community organizations in Granville County.

“We’re delighted to have Jim’s knowledge and experience on the commission,” said commission chairwoman Ellen Whitlock. “Each seat is filled for a certain kind of expertise. He holds the seat reserved for expertise in the educational, training and developmental needs of youth, particularly disadvantaged youth.”

Branch knows about volunteerism and community service. He is active with several community organizations. He is a member of the corporate board of directors of Boys and Girls Clubs of North Central North Carolina, which serves Granville, Vance, Franklin and Warren counties.

“He was very instrumental in getting the Granville unit off the ground,” said April Scott, interim chief professional officer of the organization.

She described the effort Branch made to help the local Boys and Girls Club obtain a building as a center for activities.

Branch persuaded the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company to donate its old building after it moved to new quarters. The large lot the facility occupies was a bonus.

“With that building came some empty land that we’re going to use to start a garden for kids to tend,” Branch said.

In another of his community undertakings, Branch is food room coordinator for Area Congregations In Ministry, the Granville County-based food bank.

“He got us into backpack buddies,” said Mary Anne Lumpkins, who works with Branch on ACIM activities.

That project provides food for children at their schools on Friday to guarantee that they have nourishing meals over the weekend. Branch said a backpack contains food for two days. School counselors identify children who need extra nutrition during the weekend.

ACIM uses several strategies to acquire food for its distribution efforts.

“Jim made us aware of how to get food for the food bank,” Lumpkins said.

Part of the food ACIM distributes comes from the Department of Agriculture, Branch said. The rest comes from donations from individuals and churches.

A member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, Branch represents his congregation on the executive committee of the Granville-Vance Faith Initiative for Community Action, which coordinates the activities of a number of congregations to improve health, education and economic development in the community.

“It’s a process of getting like-minded people together to improve the lives of people in the county,” he said. “We go to people and ask for help. We say, ‘Let’s do this thing and explain the merits.’ They volunteer time, donate money. I can’t think of a time I was turned down.”

Branch was born in Chapel Hill, where his father, James Arthur Branch, was business manager of the University of North Carolina.

He attended public schools in Chapel Hill and completed high school at the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn. Returning to Chapel Hill, he attended UNC, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and political science.

He married Mary Evans of Oxford.

After working for Colonial Press and the Chapel Hill Weekly, he accepted an offer from Siemens Automobile Corporation and moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he worked in sales and marketing for 32 years.

Nine years ago, he retired, and he and Mary moved to Oxford.

“When I first got here, I got into Leadership Granville,” he said. “I was especially impressed with the non-profits. I got to see what they’re doing. That’s what impressed me, the dedication of the people that ran them on a shoe string.”

Branch said the Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service has met twice officially since he became a member. It will develop a state plan to encourage community service as a way to improve the quality of life for residents of North Carolina.

Whitlock, the group’s chairwoman, described the commission as part of a national effort that includes a similar commission in each of the 50 states. Commission members are appointed by the governor and serve at the pleasure of the governor.

“I was appointed by Gov. Perdue and re-appointed by Gov. McCrory,” she said.

The idea of community service focuses on problem solving without going to government, Branch said.

“The grassroots approach makes us more attuned to what the needs are,” he said.

His appointment to the commission was met with approval by his local co-workers.

Former Granville County commissioner and current ACIM volunteer James Lumpkins said, “He’s qualified, and he gets the job done.”

Meanwhile, Branch will continue his volunteer efforts in Granville County.

“I don’t expect to change the world,” he said. “I do what I can and drag some people along with me.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.