Behind Carolina Memorial Sanctuary is a team of dedicated individuals who do this work out of love and passion with the desire to be of service to their community. Regardless of their individual roles, everyone on the Sanctuary team assists with burials and the support of guests. Below you can learn more about each of the Sanctuary’s dedicated staff and the path that led them to Carolina Memorial Sanctuary.
Caroline Yongue – Founder & Director
In 1995, Caroline began working towards a greater understanding of the death and dying process when she discovered her own fears around the transition and journey each of us will take. That was over 20 years ago and since that time, as a Death Care Midwife and Doula for the Dying, Caroline has been offering education and assistance through the Center for End of Life Transitions. In 1999, Caroline met Billy and Kimberley Campbell, founders of the first conservation burial ground in the United States: Ramsey Creek Memorial Preserve. That meeting sparked the dream of offering this type of burial in the Asheville area. Many years and many conversations later, Carolina Memorial Sanctuary became a reality when we purchased our land in December of 2015. Aside from death care assistance, Caroline does have other interests: Her Buddhist spiritual practice, Jasper and Boysenberry – her furry family, using her hands to create art, and baking. When asked why she has chosen to follow this path: It’s not often that a person has the opportunity to create a community sanctuary which allows the meeting of open hearts. There is nothing else I’d rather do. Death will touch each of us. No one will be left out. It is a gift and honor to be part of this transition.
Cassie Barrett – Director of Cemetery Operations
Since she was a kid, Cassie has felt a natural connection to death and a deep desire to serve others. Feeling drawn to providing comfort and companionship to the dying, she started volunteering with hospice in 2010. Cassie has a psychology degree from Warren Wilson College and a love of business, with a background helping businesses grow and succeed. In addition to helping with the day-to-day operations of the Sanctuary, she is passionate about using education, art, and conversation as a way to help people and culture become more comfortable with death and dying. Cassie’s role at Carolina Memorial Sanctuary is a perfect confluence of her interests, allowing her to use her business skills and lead a life of service – a dream come true. Cassie loves creating aesthetic beauty, her favorite band is The Cocteau Twins, and she LOVES Macaroni & Cheese. When asked why she has chosen to follow this path: The idea of people dying alone really touched my heart, which is what originally inspired me to volunteer with hospice. I feel called to death work out of a deep love for others and the desire to provide comfort through such a difficult time. Although death can be difficult, it also captures the beauty of life and how precious it truly is.
Michele Skeele – Administrative + Burial Support
Michele’s role at the Sanctuary is a melding of her primary interests and experiences. With a B.S. in Biology, years of administrative experience in other organizations, twenty years of studying end of life care, and serving as a Home Funeral Guide and End of Life Doula – Michele is able to inhabit a role at the Sanctuary that satisfies her love of nature and commitment to a good death. Michele finds balance playing in the woods or on the water, hiking, canoeing and foraging for wild mushrooms, making music with voice or flutes, and traveling pretty much anywhere that offers new vistas and experiences. When asked why she has chosen to follow this path: The opportunity to be a part of this essential move towards family centered death rituals and green burial practices is a dream come true. I’ve literally waited my whole life for this job!
Ben Gordon – Sanctuary Steward
Ben likes to think of his role as steward to the sanctuary as that of a diplomat, in which he strives to negotiate and foster a harmonious and fulfilling relationship between humans and the more-than-human life that we share this area of land with. His responsibilities include general groundskeeping and facilities maintenance, digging graves and assisting with burials, and anything else it takes to maintain the sanctuary as a place of rest, grief, beauty, play, and connection for our guests, our beloved dead, and all the beings that spend time here. His backgrounds and interests in environmental education, organic agriculture, massage therapy, and contemplative practice all inform his approach to learning about and caring for the sanctuary. When not at the sanctuary (and often while there), Ben likes to laugh, hug people, hug dogs, hug anything, and talk about football and marvel comics. When asked why he has chosen to follow this path: Death is perhaps the truest thing about us, and how we relate with it speaks volumes about how we relate with truth. I am grateful everyday to learn about and serve a place that nurtures our relationship with death with such respect for the world we are a part of.
Jasper – Ambassador of Goodwill & Sanctuary Greeter
Jasper was born for his role as the Ambassador of Goodwill and Sanctuary Greeter. When Caroline first saw a photo of Jasper waiting to be adopted (he was 5 years old), she realized that she and Jasper were both looking for healing, love, and fun. Jasper continues to heal from the trauma of his first five years of life; Occasionally something will cause him concern and he will seek shelter. It’s almost as if the history of trauma in his early life allows him to now be a compassionate being for others. Now, three years later, Jasper is filled up with these qualities and he has plenty to share. He instinctively knows when it’s time for fun and time for a gentle, healing snuggle. Since Jasper did not come with a book of instructions, he has been teaching Caroline the tricks he already knows. “Shake” was one he pretended to not know – for 7 days! He’s a smart fellow, he gets more treats during the training period than for the actual trick. He is excited by food, very excited! Jasper goes everywhere with Caroline. In meditation, he even bows at the appropriate times. CD’s of chanting Buddhist monks seem to calm him. He is deeply loved and treasured and a friend to those he meets.