Health and Well-Being for All

04 Apr 2024

Josh Bryson and the mission of Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation



As a former athlete with a 20-plus year career working in college athletics, Josh Bryson is comfortable not knowing what the outcome will be. Sports taught him to live and thrive in that uncertainty, and he’s used that superpower to handle the demands of his role as the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation.

“Each day brings new challenges, along with new possibilities to connect with people and organizations to expand health and well-being for everyone in our community,” explains Josh. In his current role since 2022, he is committed to “bringing to the forefront all of the special things that are happening in the background in our community.”

Josh is a 5th generation Highlander. He still has family in the area, and his mom was a teacher at Highlands School for over 30 years. After graduating from Highlands High School, he headed to Chowan University, where he earned a degree in sports management. He enjoyed stints in athletics administration at the Southern Conference, College of Charleston and Florida State University before moving back to Highlands in 2019.

Early on, Josh had a passion for community service, and one of his favorite initiatives when working with student-athletes was encouraging them to go out into the world and engage with and contribute to their communities. He also had the opportunity to work with the sports marketing department at the College of Charleston and learn some graphic design. He's been able to tap into these diverse skills and interests in his current role with the Health Foundation.

“It has been so good to be back in Highlands,” says Josh. “I have always loved the Highlands community, and my wife, Carrie, and I knew it would be the perfect place to raise our girls. My family is also very involved in the community. Carrie and our daughters Maddie and Emmie come with me to many of the events sponsored by the Health Foundation and other non-profits.”

Josh’s eldest daughter, Maddie, is on a pre-law track in college and interned last summer with Highlands Food Pantry. This summer she’ll be working with the International Friendship Center (IFC). His youngest daughter, Emmie, is a sixth grader at Highlands School. She plays volleyball and is on the middle school cheerleading team.

Along with Josh, the small staff at the Health Foundation includes newly hired Executive Director Charlotte Muir and Director of Operations Rhonda Oakley. The Health Foundation’s mission is to lift the health and well-being for all in Highlands, Cashiers, and surrounding Western North Carolina communities by supporting a host of initiatives and healthcare grants. They strive to partner with organizations whose transformative, lasting solutions will advance their mission.

A main focus for Josh and the Health Foundation has been supporting the projects, programs and services that increase access to behavioral health services, reduce stigma and bolster community awareness, education and understanding of behavioral health and mental health issues.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and last year the Health Foundation, in partnership with the Counseling Center of Highlands, started a BEE Kind community program that proved to be very successful. “Mental health begins with kindness,” says Josh, “and it doesn’t cost a thing to be nice to people. The response to our initiative was overwhelming. More than 20 organizations wanted to partner with us to spread the word about the importance of mental health.”

Locals and visitors to Highlands could see BEE Kind signs and stickers on the windows of businesses all over town. The Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust hosted a hike to the top of Satulah Mountain; the Highlands Biological Station hosted forest therapy walks; the Bascom provided youth art programs. The mayor of Highlands signed a proclamation declaring May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Highlands, which also reduced the stigma around mental health.

The BEE Kind initiative started a conversation for many about mental health, and it has continued. Strangers walk up to Josh to tell him their personal mental and physical health stories. Because of the program’s success, the Health Foundation is planning on a late-summer initiative that will focus on giving people the knowledge and resources to get and stay healthy. The initiative is still in the planning stages, but offerings could include exercise, stress reduction, nutrition and other educational programs.

Additionally, the Health Foundation works to bring in speakers to discuss health and wellness with the community. Former Duke University women’s basketball coach Joanne P. McCallie spoke to a crowd at the Highlands Performing Arts Center about her bipolar diagnosis at age 30. “The audience was really receptive to her message and learning about the challenges of living with a mental health condition,” says Josh.

The Health Foundation began in 2019 as the successor to the Highlands-Cashiers Hospital Foundation. Since the beginning, the Health Foundation has sought to address the unique healthcare challenges in our rural community, which include a shortage of healthcare professionals, a seasonal economy, and a significant amount of uninsured individuals. So far, the Health Foundation has awarded over 100 grants to more than 75 organizations.

As the central source of healthcare funding for the Highlands-Cashiers area, the Health Foundation seeks to collaborate with organizations that offer transformative, lasting health solutions. From providing critical primary care through the Blue Ridge Health – Highlands Cashiers clinic to supporting school nurses at local schools, their partnerships are the central way they help improve health and well-being for all on the plateau. 

Josh is proud of all the grants the Health Foundation has awarded, but as a parent, he is particularly thankful the Health Foundation has been able to put registered nurses back in schools, which is no longer the case for many public schools in the US. A school nurse is now available to help students at Blue Ridge School, Highlands School and Summit Charter School.

“I’m so proud of the work we’ve done in our community to increase access to healthcare among all people living in the plateau,” says Josh. “And we are fortunate to have the incredible talent, resources and possibility for connection here with people and other organizations. Like every community, we have our challenges, but we also have a very generous community who believes in our mission.”


Josh Bryson

Director of Marketing & Communications, Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation.

Hometown: Highlands

Fun fact: When Josh was 7 years old, a Hollywood casting director came to town searching for a child to cast in a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie called Foxfire. Josh auditioned and won the role. He said a highlight was working with John Denver, who played his father, and Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, who played his grandparents. “They couldn’t have been nicer and truly treated me like their grandson,” said Josh. The film won a Peabody Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Miniseries in Television or Film.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in sports management from Chowan University

Family: Wife Carrie, daughters Madelynne (Maddie) 19 and Emory (Emmie) 12.

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