Our Team

DeWayne Barton
Founder/CEO

I’m still chasing the memories of my childhood – when community members created opportunities and showed consistent patterns of support to not only the young people, but the entire community. It was an extended family. That support came in the form of their time: always volunteering a encouraging word; their treasure: only given for report cards, odd jobs and running errands; and finally, their talent: I can recall countless days of elders sharing their skillset to all those who would listen. Growing up with a father who was very active in the Washington DC area gave me another example of helping others and the daily maintenance communities sometimes need. Since that time, I’ve always been drawn to grassroots leaders that use what they have to improve their environments. No matter where I was in the world, I sought out these leaders and I was always a UI (under instruction). It wasn’t until I moved back to Asheville that I felt forced to step up into a leadership role of helping to transform my neighborhood, initially serving as president of our community association. What started with picking up garbage led to the creation of the Peace Gardens, the co-founding of Green Opportunities and the creation of Hood Huggers International.

Safi Martin
COO

Like DeWayne, I grew up in deep community – filled with collective work and collective fun. As I grew older, however, I noticed a dark shadow hovering around the edges of this deep community: unacknowledged and untreated trauma – both individual and collective. This launched me into a 20+ year career in the field of child & adolescent mental health where I learned that “behavior problems” are often survival skills and that trauma can affect brain development with impacts which, left untreated, can last a lifetime. As a mental health professional, I also know the power of gardens and green spaces to heal and restore, to transform a wounded spirit and bring us home to ourselves. So in 2003, DeWayne and I created the Peace Gardens – which has evolved into both a healing space for transforming trauma and a social enterprise that provides opportunities for neighbors and visitors alike. And, in 2021, I made the leap from a career in public mental health to join DeWayne in the ever-growing work of Hood Huggers International.

Angie Hines
Administrative Specialist

I’m a wife and mother of 4. I have spent 24 years in the medical field, advocating for adult, elderly and children’s health, as well as continuing to advocate for equal education for African American students and students with medical disabilities within the school system. Joining Hood Huggers International in 2017 gave me the opportunity to also support my brother DeWayne’s vision and help make a difference in my hometown of Asheville, NC.

Selin Nurgun
Microfarm Manager

Selin Nurgün (they/she) is a Turkish American urban farmer, activist, educator, and somatic practitioner from Seattle, Washington. She is a certificate holder in Embodied Social Justice (The Embody Lab), The Work that Reconnects, and Permaculture Design. She also holds a Masters of Science Degree in Environmental Behavior, Education, and Communication from the University of Michigan. As a member of the Climate Psychology Alliance – North America, Selin facilitates trauma-informed spaces for folks to process and move through grief associated with climate change, loss, and transition. She has farmed internationally as well as locally, from the Dominican Republic to Florida, focusing on agro-tourism and aquaponics. It is her wish to inspire the next generation of farmers, leaders, and social justice warriors to prioritize self-care as a way to create more space for liberatory work and extend the capacity needed to transform systems that perpetuate adversity. 

Catherine Siravantha
Communications Specialist

I was brought up in a really large family; we all took care of each other in our different ways–holding, nourishing, toughening, all the sorts.  Growing up in this environment of close communing laid this foundation of nourishment and giving within me.  From a very young age, I’ve always sought the work of a helper that pushed me towards working in medical fields, behavioral health research and academia, and nonprofit organizations.  Within these experiences, I learned a lot about being a helper, but there was always a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) feeling of misalignment with the work I was putting my energy into.  Then, there was a moment where I realized the unsustainability of helping without acknowledging the healing that needs to be had in order to have the capacity to embody the nourishment being offered.  This aspect of healing to help and rebuild the community and rebuild ourselves within our own bodies is what brings me to the work of Hood Huggers International where restoring ourselves is restoring the community.

Jolene Mechanic
Administrative Coordinator

My interests and ultimate education drew me down the path of Philosophy where I learned critical thinking skills and began to realize that there are many ways to solve issues and improve the quality of life for ourselves and those around us.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”  What we do, matters.  It is an honor and a privilege to work for an organization that understands this and strives daily using a variety of methods to bring communities together, by working conjointly, learning from and teaching each other

Devin Jones
Youth Coordinator & Hood Tours Guide

I am a third generation native of Asheville, North Carolina. I hold the title of spoken word artist, lyricst, mentor, Tour Guide, and Youth Coordinator. Most of my writing has revolved around changing narratives within my own community. I’ve always tried to challenge my listeners and peers to step inside the mind of someone else to gain perspective. While in Middle and High School I vigorously competed in poetry slams. I am Asheville’s 2016 Grand slam champion, and a 2x former Nationals team Captain. I was also blessed to be a key part of our 2015 team that finished 5th out of 60 teams. I have spent the last few years making music and working closely with DeWayne. He has helped instill a strong passion for environmental reform, generational wealth, and equity for all of our brothers and sisters on this planet. There’s always a hustle when it comes to justice, and I truly believe my hardest work has yet to be done. I’m excited to be apart of something so transformational, and I can’t wait to see y’all out there.

Daniel Suber
Hood Tours Guide

Daniel Suber is a tour guide with Hood Huggers International. Daniel is someone who has gone through amazing experiences that led to him meeting many people here in Asheville that have shown him how important community is. He grew up in the city and graduated from UNC Asheville with a degree in Sociology. He wants to connect communities with support and resources in a way that can help to better our city as a whole. Daniel values how people smile when they are a part of positive change and when they feel that they are appreciated. And so he wants every little kid to have the things that they need to be great as they learn who they want to be. All the while, Daniel may be found gazing into the deepness of the stars and pondering the dreams of this planet with both joy and sadness in his heart.

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