Our Team

DeWayne Barton

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

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

Operations Director


I am a dedicated advocate, healthcare professional, and proud mother of four. With over 24 years of experience in the medical field, I have devoted my career to advocating for the health and well-being of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges faced by underserved communities and the erosion of our cultural heritage. Motivated by a desire to make a difference in my hometown, I joined Hood Huggers International in 2017, where I have been able to support my brother DeWayne’s vision and contribute to positive change. Through my work at Hood Huggers International, I have had the opportunity to uplift and empower marginalized communities, advocate for equal access to education and healthcare, and preserve our cultural heritage. I am passionate about creating a more equitable and inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. In addition to my professional pursuits, I am deeply committed to my role as a wife and mother. My family is my greatest source of inspiration, and they fuel my determination to make a difference in the world.


Millad Nooraei
Youth Development Director

I moved to Asheville from the Bay Area California in 2022 and brought with me 20+ years of experience working with children and families in educational and mental health settings. Hood Huggers will be my first experience working outside school walls and I’m excited to help instill the love of learning in a broader sense to the young adults in my community.

When I’m not working you can find me hiking and looking for waterfalls, playing basketball and volleyball, listening to and playing music, spending time with my family and our tiny dog Monty and overall enjoying my new life here in the mountains. I feel lucky to live where others vacation and I’m honored to give back to my community in a way that inspires others to do the same.

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

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